Over the past few years the Fall auction season in New York has been the centrepiece of the art world calendar. The long business-getting period, from the late June Auctions in London to the mid-October catalogue sign-off, allows for the very finest works of art to be unearthed by the triumvirate of Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillip’s. This year is no exception and over one long week, and 16 auctions, $1.8 billion in paintings and sculpture will be up for grabs at rostrums across Manhattan from 11th-16thNovember.
My highlights are multiple, but two sales stand out – the Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale at Sotheby’s (12thNovember) and the auction of the Ebsworth Collection at Christie’s (13thNovember). The choice cuts of the Sotheby’s sale are from a private London collector whose family I knew well. The collection boasts several strong oils by Kandinsky (from his three key periods: early Murnau, Abstraction and 1930s late abstraction) as well as some of the most exciting Vlaminck Fauve masterpieces to be seen for a decade. All of these works were hanging at the Courthauld Institute in London for many years, but the recent refit of the museum has led to the sale of this astonishing collection. Sotheby’s also have a brilliant Le Corbusier, Femme à la bougie I at a relatively modest 1-1.5m USD in the Evening sale. It was completed over the course of WWII – late but wonderful – it looks like terrific value.
Christie’s Impressionist and Modern highlight is the 1889 Van Gogh painting entitled Coin de jardin avec papillons estimated at 40m USD. The other great coup at Rockefeller Plaza will be the Ebsworth Collection which is made up of some of the biggest names in American art and even includes that pillar of American Art History: ‘Chop Suey’ by Edward Hopper. Ebbsworth collected all the American Abstract Expressionists including Pollock, de Kooning, Mitchell and Gottlieb. Watch out for the Elsworth Kelly which is simply astonishing too.
In the Contemporary art orbit Christie’s also have the most eagerly awaiting Modern British Painting for sale in recent times: Portrait of an artist (Pool with two figures) by David Hockney. This work was suffering from a slight lack of interest sue to the ‘sticker shock’ of 80m USD being bandied around. In light of this Joe Lewis (the owner) has decided to offer the painting without a reserve – unheard of at this level and proof that there is quite some confidence in the top echelons of the Art Market. Hockney’s extraordinary work, arguably, depicts the new-found joy of California’s sexual, and emotional, freedom under a bright sunny West Coast sky. (Although the artist himself self-deprecatingly thought the ripples of the pool water looked good and left the interpretation of the rest of the painting up to the viewer!)
All the sales are as strong as ever and I would urge everyone to flick through the catalogues online as these may well see record numbers (despite the perception of clouds on the horizon of the art market). Personally, I feel quality reigns and that with paintings as good as these up for sale the art market will remain in rude health.
Remember, if you are interested in works of art at these auctions and are considering bidding do use an advisor to check the pieces physically. Errors are costly, and a neutral opinion should always be sought.