Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art Sales Review: 9th – 13th May 2016


The sales week in New York was a mixed affair but by Friday evening both Sotheby’s and Christie’s could feel that they had a solid set of results to reflect upon. Although the happier auction house will be Christie’s who had a combined total in the Evening sales of 462m USD to Sotheby’s 386m USD. Both sales were profitable.

Much had been made in the early part of the year about the importance of US buyers in this Global economic climate. The US share of the market has grown 4% in the last year and that surge has continued. Old buyers and bidders are back after being over-shadowed in recent years by new-wealth from China, Eastern Europe and the Far East. It was New York’s David Norman (who will be sorely missed) that did much of the bidding at Sotheby’s and not Patti Wong from Hong Kong. Interestingly, I was reliably informed that there was some bidding action from the Russians too so there is clearly an appetite from Moscow despite their political and economic woes.

Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern sale saw a terrific Vlaminck (lot 14) make 16.4m USD, a superb Rodin marble fetch over 20m USD and a small but perfect Signac depicting St. Tropez sell for $10.7m. It was an auction that summed up the market perfectly – overcrowded Evening sales with too much kit result in flabby results and a high ‘bought in’ rate – in Sotheby’s case it was 34% unsold. The specialist teams had too much to sell and too much conflicting property – trying to sell a major ‘06 Derain at the same time as a major ‘05 Vlaminck was pushing the market too much. Their Derain was clearly a marvellous work but for a piece from his London series perhaps it lacked truly Fauve colours and obvious London landmarks (his Waterloo Bridge of 1906 at the Thyssen in Madrid would have made 15m Usd with ease).

Over at Christie’s I actually thought that their sale was weaker – and yet they had the same numbers as Sotheby’s which was quite a feat. Somehow they managed to find a buyer for a pretty but loose Nympheas by Claude Monet from 1919 as it was hammered down at 27m USD Hammer. Other great results included a large Picasso which David Nehmad bought for 8m USD – probably to protect the late Picasso market which took a hammering at Sotheby’s. The Modigliani, Margherita, made 12.7m USD despite not being listed in the early Ceroni – which was surprising (although I do note that it had been on the auction market in recent years). The late but wonderful Braque, lot 19c, Mandoline, fetched a cool 10.3m USD and was a great price for an often under-priced artist. Otherwise it was a sale of low reserves but plentiful transactions – Christie’s will be delighted.

Over in the Contemporary sales there were top prices for almost every sector as Sotheby’s closed on 240m USD and Christie’s on 320m USD. Good results were everywhere from a vast Basquiat which sold to a Japanese collector for 57m USD at Christie’s to a superb work by Clyfford Still that made 29m USD in the same sale. Sotheby’s had a happy time too with a great stabile by Calder making over 8m USD and a diptych by Bacon making 34m USD.

Overall a good week for all and the market saw no sign of jitters for good, well-priced, works of art. Where the issues lie are in the weaker paintings and sculpture filling out these sales. As I always write: use an advisor when spending big money and don’t forget to collect slowly and cautiously to avoid costly mistakes down the line.

X