The New York sales this Spring show a mixed calibre of paintings and sculpture with much of the sales made up of wall-filler to boost the size of the catalogues and, theoretically, auction house earnings. That said there are some truly special works available with Sotheby’s obtaining three of the finest paintings of the season in a Derain, Vlaminck and Signac. Christie’s sale is built around a rather late, lifeless, Monet waterlilies – not in the same league as his earlier Nympheas which are the more prevalent and important works in my view.
Sotheby’s fauve era Vlaminck (lot 14) is superb – a real gem of a work from a great date and just as you would expect from the artist. I expect this to make its high estimate of 18m USD. Another fabulous example of Fauve mastery is the Derain (lot 24) – from a 1906 London series. Not seen on the market since it was acquired from Knoedler in 1951 this work is the highlight of the sales this spring. I can’t wait to see it again in the flesh. The Signac (lot 8) depicting St. Tropez is from the perfect date and is as commercial as a pointillist image can possibly be: superb colours, intricate paintwork and typically Signac in the dexterity of the points/dots. Average pointilliste painting (see the Petitjean in the Christie’s Day Sale) is blocky and flat whereas Signac and Seurat perfected the development of form using this extraordinary technique.
On a lesser note the Bonnard at Sotheby’s – lot 28 – is an excellent example of his Marthe nudes and at 2-3m USD it represents seriously good value considering some of the other estimates the original source.
Over at Christie’s there are one or two gems hidden away in the catalogue. A superb marble Camille Claudel (lot 30c), Rodin’s lover and muse, is unique and ‘only’ 800,000 USD low estimate. That looks like value in consideration of the Rodin marble in the Sotheby’s sale which is up for a cool 8m USD low estimate.
Perhaps the hidden work of the season is the Christie’s Hepworth (lot 4c) – oddly being sold in NY as opposed to London – it is unique, painted, from 1946 and looks to be pretty marvellous. At an estimate of 1.2m USD it will need the wind behind it to find a buyer but I think it has every chance.
I am sure this will be a good season for the top works but the lesser chaff will remain unsold. I fear high bought-in rates but that will not mean a lesser market – merely a dearth of real quality on the market this season. Good luck if you are bidding and do use an advisor if you are spending large sums!