Following up on a set of sales that can best be described as unsteady last week, the London auction houses return again today for a trio of sales that will once again test the market strength for the upper echelons of the Post-War and Contemporary segment. Taking over the British capital for the last bout of auctions before a long summer recess, this set of sales should see an attempt to overcome sluggish interest and achieve a strong closing note for the first half of the year.
This note is perhaps most felt by Christie’s waning presence during the week, replacing a major evening sale with a daylong string of auctions June 28th under the title Post-War to Present. Looking to skip out on the fatigue setting in across the art world following the crush of Art Basel, the auction house’s movement seems to follow in its recent moves towards playing more conservative, considered strategies for steering the auction house forward in an uncertain market. Its lead sales over the week include a Pierre Soulages work estimated at £2,500,000 – £3,500,000, one of the only pieces priced at over £500,000.
The marquee sales, however, begin tomorrow at Sotheby’s, where a 44-lot sale is set to open the week, and likely provide some of its biggest highlights. Leading the sale is a masterful Lucian Freud portrait, Portrait on a White Cover, which carries a pre-sale estimate of £17,000,000 — £20,000,000. The piece, a portrait of Tate publishing’s Sophie Lawrence, should make for one of the trophies of the evening’s offering, and is joined by a masterful David Hockney landscape, Double East Yorkshire, which boasts an estimate of £10,000,000 — £15,000,000. Considering the recent popularity of the artist’s work at auction, and his new auction record of £21.1m, it’s a possibility that, with sufficient interest, the artist’s record may once again get a reset. A pair of Jean-Michel Basquiat pieces also lead the sale, carrying an estimate of around £7,000,000 — £10,000,000 each.
Sales continue the following evening at Phillips, where a 31-lot offering will look to thrive in a distinctly less competitive week of sales. The auction house seems undeterred by more conservative market behavior, and is bringing a series of works including a striking, moody Francis Bacon from early in the artist’s career, carrying an estimate of £3,000,000 – £5,000,000. Also of note is a Joan Mitchell canvas carrying an estimate of £2,500,000 – £3,500,000.
With auction house’s playing it increasingly safe, it would seem that the days of high-flying estimates and big ticket firefights may be a thing of the past, at least for now. Even so, the sales must go on, and kick off tomorrow in London at 7pm local time.
— D. Creahan
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction [Sotheby's]
Christie’s: Post-War to Present [Christie's]
20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale [Phillips]
At London’s Art Auctions, the Middle Is Where the Action Is [WSJ]