Review: The June 2017 Impressionist & Modern Art Auctions in London

The evening sales this Summer were both as successful as ever, and certainly more promising than the equivalent sales in 2016 – they were both small yet well curated. The dispersed sale dates and diminished auction attendances did not take away from a rich vein of bidding at both week’s blue-riband events.

 

I wondered if the weak GBP would help the middle market (100,000-1m GBP) and though prices were stable there were some staggeringly good buys to be had if one had been paying in USD or Euros. I was amazed by the price of one work on paper by Pablo Picasso – a Dora Maar portrait of 1942 (Christie’s lot 196) which was sold for the USD equivalent of 980,000 USD. This was a 2m USD work of art if one were looking for such an object in the trade. The buyer should be delighted.

 

In the evening sale at Sotheby’s the top lots didn’t disappoint with a bidder in the room acquiring a 1913 Kandinsky (lot 53) to some fanfare for over 33m GBP. I would not have gone so high but the overwhelming sense of occasion was enough to tempt two bidders to crack on beyond a reasonable price range – buying at auction can be an expensive business if you do not set a limit. I thought the Murnau Kandinsky (lot 47) was equally impressive, albeit far less sought after on the night, selling for 21m GBP.

 

Perhaps the Constellation Miro (lot 45) could have done better: making 25m GBP which was just above the low estimate. However, given the size of the work and the ‘image-driven’ nature of the auction market these days an ‘average’ price was somewhat understandable. Academic works are not the rage in China (a major market for these sales) and this was some proof – cursory perhaps but proof nonetheless.

 

Over at Christie’s Larry Gagosian bought the stunning 1937 work by Max Beckmann entitled Holle der Vogel (lot 11) for 36m GBP – a world record for the artist. Such a strong, difficult image clearly appealed to a Contemporary collector and what a masterpiece it was – visceral, tough, grotesque and magnificent – Beckmann at his most political and best.

 

My favourite work in the sale – a painting after a Millet entitled Le moissonneur by Vincent Van Gogh (lot 6) made nearly 25m GBP and deserved every penny. The colours, the wheatfield subject and the fearless brushstroke were signature Van Gogh.

 

A terrific Picasso depicting Marie-Therese (lot 8) made 35m GBP. Works from this series seem to be the superstars of these sales like the Monet Water-lillies would have been a few years ago. Tastes are certainly changing. Every sale is hung around a late 30s or early 40s Picasso oil: and what a wonder they are – staggering artistic mouldings exhibiting influence from Matisse to Braque to Cocteau.

 

Other highlights saw an underestimated coastal Monet, (lot 13) le chemin creux, (a view from beneath the famous customs hut) make over 5m GBP. I think Monet’s best works will always command a price simply because they are so good – not because collecting fashions will temper their popularity. The main issue is getting a supply of his better oils to market.

 

Over in the Day sales we saw Picasso works on paper do well and surprisingly there are some good prices for Vlaminck, Utrillo and Buffet. Sadly the German-Expressionist works on paper market is a struggle but that will bounce back as contemporary buyers discover their importance and relatively low price-points. Both houses saw totals near 20m GBP which is staggering in light of the close business-getting period to the May sales in NYC.

 

Hope to see you at Masterpiece (28th June – 5th July) and have a good Summer.

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