Art Market Report: The Impressionist & Modern Art Sales in London, 23rd – 25th June 2015

Yet again the art market continues to shatter expectations. The two main Evening Sales were markedly different in quality and result, yet both did well as regards percentage sell-through rates. Often the best barometer of a strong market is high prices for comparatively low quality works of art. Christie’s (84% sold by lot), practically by their own admission, did not have a strong set of paintings to sell and they made a solid but unremarkable 71.5m GBP in total. The cover lot was a shop-worn Monet Irises that they got away for almost 11m GBP. Many of their major lots had been seen on the market in the recent past. I did feel sorry for their specialists as the last sale in NYC was in mid-May giving them precisely two weeks to find a 100m USD sale. Incredibly hard and credit to them for pulling it off.

Without question the key point of the Christie’s sale was the seemingly endless desire for Magritte gouaches. Two small gouaches made almost 4m GBP between them and they continue to attract buyers. I recall the early 2000s when a standard estimate range for a 25 by 35cm. Magritte gouache was 150-200,000 GBP! Otherwise the sale was fairly flat with top prices going to a late Picasso Tete and a sexy Van Dongen, Anita en almee, probably the same work as seen at Dickinson’s stand at TEFAF in March ventolin online canada.

Over at Sotheby’s (also 84% sold by lot) the Evening Sale was the highest value multi-owner sale ever put together; making over 170m GBP. It had some exceptional items offered for sale, especially considering it was a June sale at the end of a very busy seven months of consignments. The finest picture was a Henry Moore work on paper that made 2.2m GBP from an estimate of 300-400,000 GBP. Frantic bidding from 15 bidders to 500,000 GBP was astonishing!

At the top end of the scale a Degas Bronze, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, made 15.8m GBP – a record price for a sculpture series that Degas himself didn’t even conceive in bronze. (Degas’ wax sculptures were cast in bronze at the order of his heirs following his death). Petite Danseuse was executed in wax and many art historians feel that the bronze casting by Hebrard takes away from the very concept. Still, it is an iconic work of art and the casting quality is simply superb.

The Manet, Le Bar aux Folies-Bergere, was previously owned by an English entrepeneur and it fell a little flat. Perhaps the Manet buyers in today’s market prefer his less Impressionist and more finished, ‘chocolate box’ paintings such as the 65m USD Le Printemps sold at Christie’s last Autumn. For Folies-Bergere to make ‘only’ 16.9m GBP was a shame since it was amongst the most important items up for sale this season.

Melancholy though she seemed The Portrait of Gertrud Loew by Gustav Klimt fetched almost 25m GBP with some very slow bidding involved. I don’t begrudge increments of 100,000 GBP from the auctioneer’s point of view but 15 minutes of bidding on one lot does take the fizz out of an evening sale – even with Henry Wyndham taking the sale.

Another restituted work, also at Sotheby’s, was the Lieberman, Zwei Reiter am Strand nach links (Two Riders on a beach), that came from the infamous Gurlitt stash. It was an unremarkable painting but I was delighted that it fetched nearly 1.9m GBP. Lieberman has not been fashionable in recent years but I consider The Bleaching Ground at the Wallraff-Richartz in Cologne as one of the peaks of German Art. He is certainly underrated as an artist on an international scale. This recent result will assist his market and should lead to other paintings of quality appearing at public auction.

Finally, the Malevich, 18th Construction – a 1915 suprematist masterwork at Sotheby’s and sold for 21.4m GBP. Finding a genuine Malevich is remarkable and getting one for sale is a real achievement. 18th Construction is a stunning work of art created at the cusp of a new approach to painting. Perhaps the reason the work failed to fly at auction was merely the lack of Russian interest in the art market at present. These are tough days in Moscow and with the oil price low too perhaps we will see heavier bidding from Russian collectors in November when/if the situation stabilises.

Never has an art advisor been more important than when strong prices are being seen across the board for both quality and inferior works of art. Do feel free to contact us should you need any assistance buying or selling top class paintings and sculpture.

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