AO Auction Recap – London: Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist Sales, February 4th-5th, 2020

February 5th, 2020

Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait de Marjorie Ferry (1932), via Christie's
Tamara de Lempicka, Portrait de Marjorie Ferry (1932), final price: £16,280,000, via Christie’s

With the UK now into its first days of Brexit, attention turned to London this week for a string of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist Sales that looked to take the first test of the market.  Considering the results this week, a path forward seems uneasy but possible, as mixed results between the auction houses made for a series of compelling auctions and unpredictable results

Sales began Tuesday night at Sotheby’s, where the auction house managed a 33-lot sale that moved along with few surprises, and a few missed opportunities to see a final of £49,903,100, with 4 works going unsold.  The sale started strong with a Lyonel Feininger piece that met estimate to a final of £300,000, and had early sales by Joan Miró, whose large-scale painting Personnages et Oiseau Devant le Soleil met just topped estimate at £2,415,000, and Jean Metzinger, whose kinetic depiction of a cyclist beat estimate to a final of £3,015,000.  Yet there were few fireworks to carry the sale along past its initial estimates.  A Kirchner nude was an early pass, a sale highlight that put a dent in both the final tally and in the room’s enthusiasm, while the sale’s two highest priced lots sold at estimate with some necessary coaxing.  Camille Pissarro ‘s Gelée Blanche topped estimate to a final of £13,296,500, while the following lot, Paul Signac’s colorful seascape, sold just beyond its high estimate at £7,601,500.

Camille Pissarro, Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu (1888), via Sotheby's
Camille Pissarro, Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu (1888), final price: £13,296,500, via Sotheby’s

With a sale that lacked many trophy works, this pair of sales seemed to be the high water mark of the sale, and while lots continued to sell at a steady clip. including a Fernand Léger at £2,372,500 (within estimate), there were no breakout works to push the sale any further.  Closing on a Man Ray sculpture that just met estimate at £56,250, the sale seemed to cast a shadow over the following weeks, with onlookers holding their breath to see how Christie’s would fare.

Paul Signac, La Corne D'Or, Matin (1907), via Sotheby's
Paul Signac, La Corne D’Or, Matin (1907), final price:£7,601,500, via Sotheby’s

Rene Magritte, A la rencontre du plaisir (1962), final priceL 18,933,750, via Christie's
Rene Magritte, A la rencontre du plaisir (1962), final price: £18,933,750, via Christie’s

Yet the second sale of the week had its own ideas, with Christie’s refusing to go quietly into the night, instead mounting a steady and occasionally impressive auction that saw a number of new world records for its offerings, as its Impressionist/Modern offering notched a strong £62,890,326 tally over 25 lots (5 unsold), while its second sale tallied £43,935,250 over 24 lots (3 unsold).  The first offering of the evening started steady, with a Giorgio Morandi meeting estimate to sell for a final of £563,250 and working momentum up gradually, as a Pablo Picasso still-life sold at estimate for £4,385,576, before George Grosz’s peculiar street scene, painting in the waning months of WWI in Berlin shot out of the gate to top its estimate and sell for a final of £9,740,250, a powerful mark that set a new auction record for the artist.  Just a few lots later, Tamara de Lempicka’s Portrait de Marjorie Ferry performed as expected, also blasting past estimate to reset the artist’s world record at £16,280,000.

George Grosz, Gefährliche Straße (1919), via Christie's
George Grosz, Gefährliche Straße (1919), final price: £9,740,250, via Christie’s

Sales continued to achieve strong numbers over the course of the night, as another Picasso achieved its estimate at £7,243,250, while a late surprise came from the artist Louis Anquetin, a rosy portrait that doubled estimate to also reset the artist’s auction record at £1,331,250.  The cruised to a close, bringing up a Surrealist sale that threw in a few strong lots of its own, chief among them a Rene Magritte A la rencontre du plaisir that topped its estimate handily and brought a final of £18,933,750. Magritte would chart a number of strong lots over the sale, with works selling at £3,724,750 and £2,891,250 over the course of the offering.

Attention now turns to the Contemporary auctions, which open next week in the British Capital.

— D. Creahan

Sotheby’s Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist Sales [Auction Page]
Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Sale [Auction Page]
Christie’s Art of the Surreal Sale [Auction Page]