With the opening weeks of 2016 drawing to a close, the London auction houses are preparing for the first entries in the year’s sales calendar, presenting two weeks of offerings that will serve as a bellwether for the year. Considering recent concerns (and numerous articles) over the cooling of the market in the early months of this year, the market should offer an initial indication of just how buyers and sellers may respond, and whether recent notes on an increased reliance on Asian customers will be proven accurate.
Christie’s will open the proceedings this week, presenting a pair of sales on February 2nd, teaming together its Modern and Impressionist lots with a special sale of Surrealist works following immediately afterwards. The first sale, a 50-lot affair, sees a long, dark Egon Schiele portrait (estimate: £6-£8 million) at the top of the evening, followed close behind by a verdant green Cézanne, priced at £4.5-£6.5 million. A sharply rendered Picasso is also available, with an estimate of £4-£6 million.
The evening continues with an auction of Surrealist works, 42 additional lots focused on the increasingly popular segment of the Modernist market, and one which Christie’s seems to quite handily control this week. Leading the second sale is an impressive Max Ernst work, The Stolen Mirror, which is commanding an estimate of £7-£10 million, as well as a a composition in bold primary colors by Joan Miró, which is selling for an estimate of £3-£5 million. Also of note is Mesdemoiselles de L’Isle Adam, a Magritte composition which sold quite recently in a similar sale, and which is back on the block for an estimate of £2-£3 million.
The next evening, Sotheby’s will also try its hand at pairing the Modern/Impression sales with its own curated selection of Surrealist pieces, pushing to stay neck and neck with its competitive rival across town. Its sale is topped by a pristine 1935 Picasso, Tête de Femme, with clean lines and a series of pale, intersecting crescents that will push an impressive price of £16-£20 million. It’s followed close behind by a bold, mid-career Matisse, Leçon de Piano, estimated to achieve £12-£18 million, as well as a blurred Monet Venice painting of the Palazzo Ducale, estimated at the same price.
After a brief recess, the sales will continue with a choice selection of 10 works from a range of Surrealist masters. Considerably smaller in scale than Christie’s similar offering, the second auction seems like something of an attempt by Sotheby’s at staying even with its surging competitor, trading scale for quality among these select pieces. Leading the curated sale is Paul Delvaux, whose masterpiece Le Miroir is commanding early attention, and a pre-sale estimate of £5.5-£7.5 million. A Francis Picabia piece also stands out, with an estimate of £1.8-£2.5 million.
— D. Creahan
Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale [Christie’s]
Christie’s Art of the Surreal Evening Sale [Christie’s]
Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale [Sotheby’s]
Sotheby’s Surrealist Art Evening Sale [Sotheby’s]