Any trepidation about the market not performing proved to be way off the mark as Christie’s (2Bn USD), Sotheby’s (856m USD) and Phillip’s (166m USD) boasted mammoth sale results, even following the success of Christie’s ‘Visionary’ Allen sale last week. Two out of every three works of art over the sale season were sold by Christie’s – quite a phenomenal result for them. The Paul G. Allen Collection evening sale total was 1,506,396,000 USD. That looks more like a US telephone number than a sale result, but such was the calibre of the works of art on offer few were entirely surprised.
The Allen sale was well attended and there was much jostling for tickets, but seemingly not paddles, prior to sale. That said, most of the works pre-sold to the Irrevocable Bids (IB) which is essentially a way for auction houses to hedge their guarantees. There was much talk in the trade about Allen’s terms of sale and it appears that Christie’s, in guaranteeing the entirety of the sale, made significant profits following the positive results. I thought the display in London was utterly magnificent even though I only managed to see the highlights. An iconic large Cezanne of Mont Ste. Victoire and a Seurat, Poseuses, of real rarity (the sister painting executed after the ‘Albert Barnes collection’ picture). These two titans made 137m USD and 150m USD but there was much else to report upon. The Concarneau painting of 1891 by Paul Signac fetched 39m USD from an estimate of 28-35m USD. Such a rare picture and everything one could possibly want in a pointilliste painting from the early 1890s – tightly worked brush points, strong colours and a modern composition, the multi-faceted rock in the centre is the hero of this piece. I know that the O’Keefe ‘White Rose with Larkspur no. 1’ was offered for guarantee to multiple clients and the brave soul that took on the 6m USD IB was the recipient of about 4m USD in upside when the painting made 26.7m USD! When guarantees work they really are fruitful. Klimt also saw a vast price of over 100m USD for the Birch Forest scene – proof that the Klimt market is always going to be deep. I was lucky enough to meet Ronald Lauder (the biggest Klimt buyer in the world) last week and, my goodness, he would have been pleased with that result. On a different level the Le Sidaner Venice scene, La Sérénade, was a huge surprise as I thought the estimate crazily high. It made 2.1m USD from an estimate of 1.5-2.5m USD which, in a difficult time for ‘Le Sid’, was a welcome result. Overall, almost everything sold well and even Botticelli’s little roundel made nearly 50m USD. It just showed that, in the stratosphere of the top end, there are plenty of players still willing to spend, spend, spend.
The David M. Solinger Collection, being offered by Sotheby’s in the Various owner sale the following week, was my other highlight of the season. With this collection sold without any guarantees or irrevocable bids it made for an old-fashioned, ‘blind’, auction with some items selling both way above and (oddly) below expectations. There was quite a surprise when one of the works didn’t perform as expected. A colleague in-the-know informed me that the wonderful Picasso, Femme dans un fauteuil, of 1927 was always going to struggle and that the owner had expected a low-key price. In the end I reckon it made the right number: a shade below 10m USD from a 15-20m USD estimate. Picasso’s paintings from the 1920s that fall into that pseudo-Surrealist phase don’t tend to fly but others thought the price was some way under par. That said, the overall sale was hugely successful with de Kooning’s radical collage of 1950 making 33m USD and was helped along by the three superb paintings offered by the estate later in the week. It was lovely to see strong prices for Solinger’s beloved Paul Klee with the macabre masterpiece Landschaft mit dem Galgen fetching well over the estimate of 2.3m USD.
The main Modern sale followed Solinger and from lot 1 the results were solid. Elaine de Kooning’s Charge was an immediate hit and the fact it was the first time Sotheby’s had offered her in an Evening sale context showed the real advances for the market for female artists this Fall. There was a little surprise at lot 104, with the Brancusi being scorned by those in the know for being a posthumous cast – a 1970s cast of a piece conceived in 1919! These are very seldom offered and though I have seen one or two in a retrospective at a NYC gallery some 10 years ago I wouldn’t recommend one. Especially given that Brancusi often worked on his bronzes himself (famously in the case of the Mme. Pogany series). The main event of the night came with the Mondrian, Composition no. II, and if there has been a more important Mondrian offered (accepting the Yves St Laurent sale) I can’t recall. This was a strong, red-filled, 1930 masterwork and it fetched 51m USD; to the gurantee. The buyer was question-marked as Pierre Chen by Josh Baer but we can’t be sure – it was almost certainly being sent to an Asian home. Picasso’s Guitare sur un table of 1919 made 37m USD and came from the collection of William S. Paley to benefit MOMA amongst others. It was a very, very, rare work and one that should have made more considering the Allen results.
After a long evening at Sotheby’s it was back to Christie’s to see their Modern and Contemporary Evening sales in one shebang. Basquiat’s Sugar Ray Robinson headed the show with a huge 33m USD price. The 1982 painting of over 150 cm. was a stunning thing and what a great price, in light of its 2007 Christie’s acquisition figure of 7.3m USD. I am yet to really come to grips with Anna Weyant who to me seems a less impressive John Currin but her market still seems to be sky-rocketing with a price of 1.5m USD for the ‘Loose Screw’ painting of a hysterical drinker… with a bandaged hand. Weyant’s show at Gagosian left me cold too and many in the trade do question her market’s longevity.
Going back to the Modern section there was a great price for a little postcard painting I know well as it was offered in the Mellon collection at Sotheby’s a few years ago. L’autre son de cloche made 3.6m USD and it measures 12 by 19 cm. which seems a little strong. I feel that Magritte is now over-priced and I do fear that the market might thin out with such great female Surrealists as Carrington, Varo and Fini making the kinds of figures they deserve. For me the interesting result was for the Modgliani depicting the artist’s former lover: Beatrice Hastings. This work was bought by a trade pal of mine and his client split with 17m USD for the work. Though a big price there is a huge premium in knowing that this work is recorded in the 1958 Ceroni catalogue raisonné – the only way to tell a genuine work by the artist.
Sotheby’s Contemporary sales were similar in scope to Christie’s successes with figurative painting to the fore: Salmon Toor making a world record for Four Friends of 1.6m USD and Elizabeth Peyton’s Nick with his Eyes Shut fetched a remarkable 2.47m USD too. As regular readers will know I am a huge fan of Christina Quarles’ work and Bits ‘n’ Pieces made 1.6m USD from an estimate of 600,000-800,000 USD – she is now a superstar and her idiosyncratic style, masterful brushwork and unique working methods (much of which is the random movement of thinned out paint on the canvas) make for a prize package.
Overall, this was a stunning season of sales and I hope that you managed to see some of the auctions online. There were certainly a few prices that surprised me but overall, the market remains resilient in the face of awkward geopolitics. If you do want to start collecting or get advice on a current collection, please do get in touch!