Over the course of the last two evenings in London, the major auction houses rounded out an uneven, occasionally disappointing series of sales in the British capital, casting some doubts over the prolonged strength of the Impressionist and Modernist market in the UK, EU and beyond. Missing out on major fireworks at both houses, save for a few auction records already anticipated to fall, the evening sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s have posed some hard questions regarding the market’s current health, and just how markets are responding to an increasingly foggy Brexit picture.
Of the two auction houses, Sotheby’s seemed to have the more balanced outing over the last week, Focusing its offerings around a marquee selection of works that saw 21 of 24 pieces find buyers (including works withdrawn before the sale), bringing the evening’s final tally to a strong £71918,400. Claude Monet’s Le Palais Ducal was a strong early lot, selling for a final price of £27,534,000, within estimate, while a few lots later, Egon Schiele’s Triestiner Fischerboot exceeded its estimate to arrive at a final price of £10,678,000. Wassily Kandinsky’s Deepened Impulse also performed to expectations, achieving a final price of £6,093.800 (within estimate). The evening sales continued with a paired Surrealism sale, which saw 5 of the 47 works on hand go unsold to achieve an additional £13,789,400 in sales. A René Magritte achieved a strong entry at Lot 36, with a powerful composition finishing at £5,323,500, while a swirling, complex Francis Picabia piece brought a final price of £3,728,900.
This evening, however, the sales at Christie’s seemed particularly sluggish by comparison, with a final tally of £165.7 million for its three sales this evening. Making its first entry in the evening with a curated sale from “a distinguished private collection,” the auction house saw a number of sluggish lots and high-profile works, 9 pieces in total go unsold. The sale failed to get out of the gate with any meaningful momentum, and despite an impressive £21,203,750 sale for Paul Cézanne’s Nature more de Pêches et poires, the auction house was unable to spark much additional interest in high-priced works, as a Claude Monet work priced initially at over £30 million stumbled out of the gate and went unsold, as did a Vincent Van Gogh portrait valued at £8 million. The main sale of the evening managed to restore some momentum, however, with 5 works going unsold.
Topping the sale highlights was Paul Signac’s watery, pointillist, landscape, which met expectations to set a new world record for the artist at £19,501,250. Gustave Caillebotte also reset his auction record, achieving an impressive £16,663,750 final price. A Claude Monet landscape was also among the strong achievers in the later moments of the sale, meeting estimates to finish at a final price tag of £5,313,750. Rounding out the evening was a strong Surrealist sale, which saw works by René Magritte achieve a number of strong results over the course of a 30-lot offering. Chief among these was Le Lieu Commun, which achieved £18,366,250, drawing close to the artist’s previous auction record.
The attention now turns to the Contemporary and Post-War Sales next week, where the auction houses will look to fan the flames of a smoldering market.
— D. Creahan
Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale [Sotheby’s]
Hidden Treasures: Impressionist & Modern Masterpieces from an Important Private Collection [Christie’s]
Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale [Christie’s]