The Impressionist & Modern Art Sales in London, 3-5th February 2015

This season saw one of the most extraordinary weeks of high prices and heavy bidding I have ever witnessed. All across the board, from the top end to the lesser lots at the back of the catalogues, we saw spectacular results.

 

The depth of bidding was strong, and unlike previous sales: unfussy. In my last post I wrote that I expected stronger bidding at the 1-5m USD range and that was borne out this week. Over at Sotheby’s on Tuesday night (3rd) we saw good but ‘run-of-the-mill’ Sisleys making prices far beyond their value a year ago. The two finest works of the week were both at Sotheby’s – a Seurat work on paper entitled Etude pour une Baignade, Asnieres (a study for the masterpiece at the National) made 7.8m GBP from an estimate of 5-7m GBP, and the stunning Matisse, estimated strongly at 9-12m GBP made 15.9m GBP. I thought the Sotheby’s sale, overall, was well curated and though there were a few sub-par works at the end of the Surrealist section that is to be expected in any sale. What was most interesting is that even these works were finding buyers.

 

Perhaps the surprise of the week was the lack of bidding on the Monet Le Grand Canal. Perhaps the ubiquity of chocolate-box Monets, which have been flying at every auction until now, has reached saturation point. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the piece was up at auction before – at Sotheby’s in 2005 where it also scraped through at 11m USD from an estimate of 12-16m USD generic ventolin online. The better painting, lot 21, entitled Les Peupliers a Giverny was a knockout and exactly the type of picture for which Monet deserves his praise – it rightly made its heavyweight estimate as it sold for 10.8m GBP.

 

Over at Christie’s the pattern was the same with lesser, end of sale paintings making big bucks and the top paintings, such as the three Miros in the Surrealist section, making top prices. My neighbour in the auction remarked that there was a dearth of ‘real’ quality this season – i.e. a November-like blockbuster such as the Modigliani Tete or the Van Gogh Vase aux Maguerites et Coquelicots. I don’t put this down to the market or the dearth of supply. Those kinds of paintings tend to be sold in the NYC November sales since the houses have the longest business-getting period between late June and the early October deadline. Christie’s highlight of this week’s sales was the Cezanne, Vue sur l’Estaque et le chateau d’If, a superb painting from the Samuel Courtauld collection. This painting was on the market for the first time since 1936 and it was well worth the price – 13.5m GBP.

 

The Day Sales were also a triumph for the houses – great works on paper quite rightly made great prices and I would certainly examine that avenue as a collector were I to be starting out. A fabulous Cezanne drawing Fils Dormant made 173,000 GBP from an estimate of 20-30,000 GBP which goes to show: estimates are never to be trusted as buying guides! Over at Christie’s my favourite Day Sale painting was the Juan Gris of 1925, Broc et carafe, which deserved all of its 420,000 GBP.

 

Overall, as I have highlighted, this was a great sale series for the art market. The strong dollar, the new loosening of fiscal policy in Europe and the cosmopolitan market place of London town made for a pretty perfect week. It will be interesting to see what happens next week in the topsy-turvy world of the Contemporary arena!

 

Please do bear in mind that before spending these types of sums use the guidance of an advisor. Every single auction has its pitfalls and its fair share of duds(!) – a neutral consultant can help.

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