The sales this season were slightly later than usual but the usual fireworks were delivered – great prices for top pictures, and even some mediocre ones too. The reasons given for the later sale dates were apparently the Chinese New Year and even the UK half-term holidays but neither were true – these sales were postponed to give the experts greater time to put the sales together. It is simply too hard for them to find great pictures for sale when a major auction series in New York has taken place in late November (genuinely pushed back due to the election date).
There were several highlights but the most important sale of the week was perceived to be the Gustav Klimt, Bauerngarten, at Sotheby’s. It was a sumptuous painting, late of date but still one of the finest of the period. Bauerngarten had sold on the reserve at Christie’s in 1994 yet last week it fetched 48m GBP! I am informed it was bought by a foundation in Austria, in order to replace restituted works. Andrea Jungman was on the phone during the sale and hailed the winning bid – we doubt it was with Mr. Ronald Lauder (owner of the Neue Gallery in New York).
My favourite work of the season was a superb Yves Tanguy from a Private German Collection. The work was part of a larger consignment that Christie’s had secured from their rivals across Piccadilly. Sotheby’s had estimated another picture from the collection too highly last year – causing it to remain unsold at auction. Such is the way of auction-house business getting – it is a fine line between over-reaching on estimate levels to secure consignments and then actually having to sell them. The net result was that Christie’s had carte-blanche to offer the Tanguy at a conservative estimate and it flew to 1.5m GBP. A superb result especially given the cracking to the top of the canvas and along the stretcher mark.
Three superb large canvases by Le Corbusier were also offered at Christie’s and they each made great prices. The best of the lot: Accordeon, Carafe et Cafetiere from 1926 and signed Pierre Jeanneret (his former name) – made nearly 3.2m GBP. Personally I prefer the earlier purist works to the larger, slightly classical, figurative works from the later 20s and early 30s. His knowledge of balance and composition in painting is clearly as much down to his mathematical, architectural, brain as his artistic talent.
Paul Gauguin’s work did very well although according to ‘The Times’ Mr Rybolovlev, apparently, lost a huge amount of money on Te Mare (bought for circa 85m USD and sold for 20.3m GBP!) at Christie’s. However, the prices of all his pieces were still in line with their worth in these market conditions. The Impressionist sections of both sales achieved prices beyond expectations too – a lovely snow scene by Sisley fetched 7.4m GBP and Christie’s did well with a riverbank Monet of no real class when it made a staggering 3m GBP.
Amongst the Day Sale works the cover lots stood out with Christies’ making nearly 1m GBP for their Achille Laugé work of 1893. To achieve a price like that really shows the appetite for great Pointillist pictures even when executed by second rate painters. Laugé was by no means a Signac or a Seurat but this work was a particularly good example and deserved a strong result. Sotheby’s had a wonderful 1927 Max Pechstein which sold for 1.38m GBP – quite a result in light of the relatively late date.
I shall be writing from TEFAF (9th-19th March) soon and if you are going along please do gather as much advice as possible before writing that cheque – advisors are worth their weight in gold when buying from the trade!