Preview: The Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Art Auctions in London, 26th February – 8th March 2019


In recent years we have seen a stratospheric rise in the quality and quantity of top calibre works of art that have come to the rostrum at auction houses all over the world. Rising prices create a vacuum for great works to come to market but it also means that one needs to be very discerning in detecting value. With large auctions come large numbers of weaker work and for this reason it is highly beneficial to use an advisor; now more than ever.

The sales being put together in London have some wonderful pieces in keeping with a pent up market demand over the past nine years of growth: top class works with great provenance and great price tags to match. However, to some extent the big, backed, guarantees have been stopped. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillip’s will only put their banks/shareholders money behind the most obvious bets and that is entirely understandable following rumours of payment issues with 3rdparty buyers last year. 

The real highlights come from the staggering sale of Impressionist gems at Christie’s with a sale entitled ‘Hidden Treasures’. A large but vastly expensive Monet, a fantastic Bonnard and an 1870s Van Gogh being my personal favourites. In the 1880s Van Gogh was executing the types of paintings that would have disgusted the experts of the day. He painted ‘ugly’ peasants from the potato fields of Nuenen plying their trade not in the heroic manner of Millet but with a toil and pain redolent of ‘real’ realism. These 1880s paintings are somewhat undervalued by the market and I hope that the masterpiece ‘Portrait de femme; Buste, profil gauche’ makes the top price for a ‘pre-Arles’ Van Gogh. It is offered at 8-12m GBP. 

Monet’s ‘Nympheas’ paintings fall into several categories: garden landscapes (including the Japanese Bridge), partial sights of the famous lilypond through treescapes and the best works which are the either the neat 1903-08 paintings or the fabulous large semi-abstracts from his later years. The ‘Hidden Treasures’ painting, ‘Saule pleurer et basin aux Nympheas’, depicts a tree to the left of a bright lily pond, which is large and impressive but incomplete (white areas of empty canvas are unfortunate) and slightly disappointing, however, the colours are majestic. I really hope it sells well but I think it may fall short of the type of quality the market yearns.

The two Surrealist auctions at Sotheby’s and Christie’s take place too. The top-class Magritte entitled ‘l’Etoile du matin’ at Sotheby’s is a wonderful work albeit in rather sad condition with paint-cracking throughout the face to the right of the work. Magritte is more greatly collected than ever but the remarkable price guaranteed (in excess of 10m GBP) for Christie’s major offering: ‘Le Lieu commun’ seems to me pure whimsy. The huge results for the ‘Empire des Lumieres’ (20m USD) and the staggering Edward James painting last November, ‘Le principe de plaisir’ (26m USD) cannot be compared with such a late, staid picture as ‘Le Lieu commun’.

The contemporary sales are good and though the catalogues have only just gone to press the three highlights for me are the Lucian Freud ‘Portrait of a Boy’ at Sotheby’s, a superb Jenny Savile, ‘Juncture’, and Christies’ Hockney masterpiece (no hyperbole!) ‘Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott’ from the Ebsworth collection.

If I can help with these sales and for any other Art advisory needs please do not hesitate to get in touch.