The Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Sales review: 8th-18th May 2018

Despite the vast quantity of works of art available for sale over the last two weeks it has been a triumph across the board. Whilst many thought that auction fatigue would set in after the first week of sales there was still a remarkable buzz around each and every Evening sale. Christie’s sales of the Rockefeller Collection over four days raised an astounding 850m USD including premium.

The opening night’s Rockefeller evening sale made 646m USD with highlights being the Picasso, Fillette, which made 115m USD including premium and the large Monet Nympheas which made nearly 85m USD – a world record for the artist. Financially the result surpassed even the total for the Pierre Bergé and Yves St Laurent sale of 2009 (484m USD).

The following week saw a series of multi-owner sales that all did well. Overall Christie’s will be the happier of the two given the depth of bidding in their multi-owner Impressionist and Modern sale which fetched a total of 415m USD. Highlights included the sale of a very rare Brancusi sculpture depicting Nancy Cunard, which was amongst my favourite items of the season, that made 71m USD and a Malevich which made 85m USD. The Malevich was previously owned by the Nehmad family and had been acquired in 2008 for a not inconsiderable 60m USD.

Those prices were, however, eclipsed somewhat by the pre-sold Modigliani at Sotheby’s which was hammered down to the irrevocable bid of 157m USD including premium. Sotheby’s will have made money but perhaps not what they would have hoped before the sale given the size and rarity of a painting swimming in hype prior to sale. The overall sale total for Sotheby’s was 318m USD; short of Christie’s but not by the margin that Christie’s might have hoped. Other highlights in the sale were the wonderful Picasso of 1932, Le repos, which made 40m USD and a 1921 Georgia O’Keefe, Lake George, which fetched 21m USD.

The Contemporary market at Sotheby’s continued to go from strength to strength as buyers flocked from all corners to bid on a range of work from the 1949 oil on paper by Jackson Pollock (which made an astounding 34m USD) to a Kerry James Marshall supposedly bought by the record producer Sean Coombs (reported by Jack Shainman; the artist’s representative). The best result in my view was the price paid for Rothko work on paper – 19m USD for an untitled work from 1969. Collectors in the post-war field are now focusing on works on paper as oils are rarer and rarer and less and less affordable – this is an interesting occurrence and one with which I am familiar in the world of Picasso, Matisse and other Modern titans.

Over at Christie’s they continued to shine albeit with the Double Elvis by Warhol making a subdued 37m USD and Koons’ Play Doh making 23m USD. My favourite work of the period was amongst a group of Diebenkorn paintings:Ocean Park #126 made 24m USD – this was a masterpiece of its type. The buyer is a lucky person indeed. The results were symptomatic of a terrific market for Contemporary art and one that I do not see abating any time soon.