Art Market Review: The February 2016 Impressionist & Modern Art Sales

The general feeling in the art trade going into last week was one of slight paranoia about where 2016 was going to take us visit our website. As it happened there was adequate proof that the market remains strong for good, market-fresh kit and specifically in the mid-market range from 250,000-5m USD. Obviously, we do wonder if the days of multiple 30m USD paintings in each sale are now numbered. It was very clear that Sotheby’s and Christie’s had been very careful in estimating the property available for sale. Unless a real gem was under the hammer bidders were often rewarded with conservative reserves and less competition throughout. Private sales, even around 50,000 USD, may well be the key to acquisitions this year as fewer buyers want to be seen spending publicly.

 

I felt Christie’s had the superior, though less showy, Evening sale although Sotheby’s had better figures across the three sales as a whole. A large 1920s Chagall, Les Maries de la tour Eiffel was just about the perfect subject for the artist and a price of over 7m GBP was a superb result. Chagall’s paintings are universally considered a blue chip acquisition- easily recognisable and with a reputation firmly ensconced in Art History, up to the late 60s he is certainly an artist to buy for the long term.

 

Although there were several works this week that failed to raise the same figures as compared to previous sale seasons, one notable exception was the large Miro oil on canvas from 1968: Femme et oiseaux dans la nuit, which made over 5.7m GBP having fetched 5.2m GBP in 2013. I recalled the piece well and firmly believe that his work will continue to grow in popularity. Miro straddles the modern and the contemporary, that makes him very collectable – he is a blue chip artist with a very ‘now’ aesthetic.

 

Other major works included a superb Ernst The Stolen Mirror, perhaps his masterwork (7.6m GBP), and a Schiele self-portrait which was the real gem of the season (7.2m GBP). Yet overall there was a gasp of relief that the sale had pulled through without any major unsold works.

 

Over at Sotheby’s the auction was more subdued but the lots found buyers even though the prices fell short of expectations at the top end. A beautiful Picasso depicting Marie Therese Walter made 18.8m GBP but it had fetched over 40m USD when it was bought from the same house back in 2013. The three other top lots did well with the Delvaux on the front cover of a slightly underwhelming Surrealist sale making 7.3m GBP. The Matisse cover lot was not his finest work but still deserved more than the 10.8m GBP it fetched. As for sculpture the Iris by Rodin doubled in value since being acquired in 2007, for 4.6m GBP, with a final price of over 11.5m GBP. For the majority of the sale it seemed that clients such as Samir Traboulsi and the Nahmad family were willing to invest and take advantage of a temporary blip in the market. There was apparently no Asian bidding and Russian biding was also negligible. We learnt that the market is still good but perhaps not in the same quality-unconscious way it has been in the recent past.

 

Overall it could be said that 2016 is a great time to buy. I think there will be numerous opportunities, especially when buying privately, to take advantage of this topsy-turvy financial climate. Never has there been a more important time to use an advisor and focus on the very highest calibre of painting and sculpture.

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