Market review: The London Impressionist & Modern Art Sales 19th-21st June 2018

Perhaps the most surprising factor of this sale week has been the sheer desire for works of art in light of the huge sales that we saw recently in New York in May. Despite the strong overall sales results Sotheby’s had a tricky evening sale with only two thirds selling in a small auction of only 36 works. The highlight was the vaguely cartoonish but beautiful 1932 Picasso which fetched 27 m GBP including premium. In light of recent results for paintings from Picasso’s ‘golden year’ I thought this was a very good acquisition. Only one bid, to Sam Valette on the phone, saw the irrevocable bid take the picture. Le Chat by Giacometti was another great piece but perhaps would have done better in a less ‘sale-fatigued’ market as it scraped through at 12.6m GBP – in 2010 the same work brought 21m USD.

Over at Christie’s we saw a different story, with the top works sold at great prices and some absolute gems making records. Unquestionably the most talked-about price in the trade this week was for the Franz Marc work on paper Drei Pferde: 15.4m GBP. The reason for the price? Countless top collectors have been searching for a fresh to market Marc of this size and calibre for 15 years and nothing has appeared on the market. The last strong Marc to appear was at Sotheby’s London in 2008 and this recent offering was far more interesting.

Perhaps from a historic perspective the most interesting result was the La Gare St Lazare, vue extérieure by Claude Monet which sold at 22m GBP hammer price. These are rare as hen’s teeth and only 12 were painted of this key Impressionist scene. Three including this work are in private hands and the remaining nine are with museums. It followed hot on the heels of the 32m USD price for a similar scene sold last month. When one big price is achieved then others magically appear on the market! In the Day sales there were huge results for a Degas self-portrait and a fabulous Wouters painting, which was a little surprising.

One thing that was immediately obvious to those in the trade was the significant reduction in irrevocable bids sold to third parties. In previous years almost every guarantee would have an irrevocable bid to back up the guarantee and to ensure that the auction house would not be exposed to items going unsold. That was not the case this term and despite solid prices I doubt that Sotheby’s, in particular, would have made much money from their evening sale. However, overall the atmosphere was one of relief as the salerooms can head into the Summer firm in the knowledge that the art market is pretty buoyant and this collecting crowd are keeping keen mid-2018.