Review: The Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary Sales: 26th February – 8th March 2019

The auction results this season were pretty solid despite some bumps in the ‘Hidden Treasures’ auction at Christie’s. This was due to pushed estimates which repelled a savvy and price-sensitive group of bidders. However, there were some superb results elsewhere and those works with attractive estimates and great provenance fared wonderfully well.

Sotheby’s Evening sales got the first week off to a great start with a wonderful Claude Monet Venice scene depicting the Doge’s Palace of 1908 making 36.2m USD. It had been with the same family since 1926 and had all the hallmarks of a picture that would be well received at the rostrum.  Other highlights included an impressive Egon Schiele painting, Triestener Fischerboot(1912) that made 14m USD and very rare Oskar Schlemmer painting, Tischgesellschaft, which fetched 3.4m USD. The Schiele painting was a bit of a surprise given the paintwork was a little thick to be considered his signature style – the technique was a little clumsy and inelegant in application to make it a real masterpiece – Sotheby’s did well to get such a huge price. Immediately following was the Surrealist sale which exhibited a few small gems including a wonderful Magritte, L’Etoile du matin, (one of many in the week’s auctions) which made 7m USD. The overall feeling from the auction was one of relief as the sale had not been hugely well received by the trade and Brexit fears were put to the back our minds as bidding was truly international. Japan was active with my old colleague Yasuaki Ishizaka on the phone, bidding heavily with a client throughout.

The day sales fared well too with the gorgeous Theo Van Rysselberghe, A l’ombre des pins(1905), on the cover of the catalogue fetching 1m GBP (1.3m USD). A huge result in light of the 400,000 GBP low estimate.

Christie’s Evening Sale was a larger auction with a far bigger selection of work on view due to the single owner collection that they had secured for sale. This collection, ‘Hidden Treasures’, was a bit of a damp squib with the top lot, an over-estimated Monet waterlillies, failing to sell. That said the overall results were strong with some of the prices were off the charts. Paul Signac’s Le Port au soleil couchant, St Tropez(Opus 236) fetched 26m USD and deserved every penny. Genuinely Pointilliste paintings are very hard to find, and of this size and quality I doubt more than a handful are in private ownership. Caillebotte’s Chemin Montantmade 22m USD and, for me the star of the auction, Paul Cezanne’s exquisite still-life Nature Morte de peches et poires, made 28m USD. 

The Christie’s day sales had good sell through rates too and there were particularly strong prices for a richly worked Fernand Leger painting and a multitude of late Renoir oils. There is still an appetite for works of art by late 19thCentury painting and this is hugely important to the health of the market as it shows that acquisitions are taking place across the demography of collectors. Not everyone yearns for Basquiat, Richard Prince and their work.

Moving on to the contemporary sales and there were outstanding prices for the David Hockney Masterwork ‘David Geldzahler and Christopher Scott’ which fetched 50m USD. This was the top price of the week and it made half of the entire Christie’s sale. I do anticipate a slowdown in Christie’s business-getting with the loss of Francis Outred and Loic Gouzer over recent months. It will give the younger members of the departments an exciting challenge to try and fill their shoes.

At Sotheby’s the great talking point was the lack of bidding for two works: the monumental Jenny Savile painting, Juncture, and the Lucian Freud, Head of a Boy, both of which should have made more given their importance and recent prices. That said it was a superb sale overall and handsome results for Riley, Dubuffet, Condo and Basquiat saw Sotheby’s significantly outweigh their rivals.