Over the course of the two sale weeks in May more works of art will go up for auction, at higher prices, than ever before. This is the week in the art market calendar when we all hold our breath: as not one but two Impressionist and Modern paintings exhibit low estimates of over 100m USD.
At Sotheby’s the top lot is a tall, large Vincent Van Gogh, L’Allee des Alyscamp, which lacks the vibrant brushwork of his best work but still exhibits bright coloration at an estimate in the region of 40m USD. I saw the work in London at the preview exhibition and it looks a dramatic image, though perhaps the subject matter lacks real importance and dynamism. When compared with the final sale price of the Still life last year (70m USD) it actually looks like good value within estimate.
The presence of a Monet Nympheas at Sotheby’s has become common in recent times with Christie’s offering a similar work in May last year and the November before. The estimate of 30-45m USD underlines the draw of such a strong subject although I fear this painting lacks the punch and colour of others that have been seen in the rooms recently. The blue in the top left is flat and overworked in contrast to the scrappy paintwork of the top right. I far prefer the Monet depicting Vetheuil (lot 28): a tremendous piece of a painting. The colour is sharp and bright; displaying his extraordinary ability to depict sunlight. I expect it to make in the region of 10m USD. Although Monet’s market will be tested this term, with nine works by the artist being offered in the two evening sales alone.
Picasso’s Femme au Chignon is another highlight with an interesting provenance: having belonged to Samuel Coldwyn of MGM fame. The work itself appears untidy in parts and really, from the 1940s, one wants a clean, tight brushwork from Picasso (more in keeping with the still-lifes of ‘45-’47). That said it exhibits a strong, dynamic impasto and the subject (Francoise Gilot) could not be better for a work of the period. It deserves every cent of its low estimate 12m USD.
Over at Christie’s the sale has been cut in two with the finest examples being shown in Loic Gouzer’s ‘Looking Forward to the Past’ sale (11th May). In trying to show the top works in the Impressionist and Modern Section in the same auction as the Contemporary highlights I think Christie’s are making every effort to encourage Contemporary art buyers to increase their holding of Impressionist and Modern art. I have no issue with the idea but I hope the sale does not backfire and the astonishing Pablo Picasso (Femmes d’Algiers), Claude Monet (Parlement, coucher de soleil) and Alberto Giacometti (l’Homme au doigt) find buyers within this new sale format. Both the Picasso and the Giacometti boast pre-sale estimates well in excess of 120m USD. They are outstanding but my concern is whether the market will have enough clout to absorb both items, as well as the other Contemporary highlights, in one week. The stunning 50s painting, Femme d’Algiers, by Pablo Picasso was pointed out to me by my former colleague Philip Hook when I started at Sotheby’s in 1999. He relayed the extraordinary story of the Ganz collection (the original owners) and the sale of 1997 that initiated the vast collecting appetite for Picasso through the noughties until the present day. It is a masterpiece that deserves to make upwards of 150m USD in a 2015 art-world of average Rothkos and Warhols regularly making 50m USD apiece.
As regards the cast of the Giacometti; it relates closely to his finest work: Homme qui marche and is a hand-finished sculpture easily of the quality of the Cohen-bought Chariot which made over 100m USD last year. I cannot wait to see the sculpture in person next week. After the 11th May sale comes the actual Impressionist & Modern Art evening sale at Christie’s on Thursday 14th. Having been filleted by M. Gouzer for his sale earlier in the week the two best pieces adorn the cover: a Mondrian from 1929 at 15-20m USD and the Brancusi of 1912 at (11c) 8-12m USD. Both are exceptional pieces which are somewhat relegated to the background amidst the 11th May Sale!