Last week’s Impressionist, Modern & Contemporary auctions saw outstanding results across the board with Christie’s realising a total of 640m USD and Sotheby’s 635m USD. My main takeaway was a notable lean towards the strongest of blue-chip markets: paintings by Claude Monet, Andy Warhol, David Hockney and Jean-Michel Basquiat realised awesome prices this week. Considering that Christie’s website was down for all the main events, many in the trade were duly concerned with the effect this would have on the market and how it might lead to some buyers avoiding the sales series completely. It is always tricky to read how something so fundamental will steer buyers. They may be encouraged to bid as the lack of online information is perceived to alienate bidding, or it may be a good reason to leave the whole sale season alone. Anyway, as it proved, the works of art stood for themselves and prices went through the roof in many instances.

Sotheby’s NOW, Contemporary and Modern Sales took place first with women artists to the fore: Joan Mitchell’s quartet of works (from each decade of her career) sold for a combined 45m USD and ‘Noon’ fetched 22.6m USD – Mitchell has been the darling of the auction house world for a few years now but I wonder when a truly great 1950s painting will appear, along the lines of her masterpiece, ‘City Landscape’ (1955) in Chicago? I reckon we would see a price north of 50m USD for her very best mid 1950s paintings; such is the power of her work and her following. Yet the highlight of the Modern Sale, and possibly the week for me, was the stunning result for a painting by Leonora Carrington, ‘Les Distractions de Dagobert’, which sold to Eduardo Costantini (owner of the Museo de arte latinoamericano in Buenos Aires) for 28.5m USD. How the worm has turned as she has overtaken a host of male Surrealists (including former partner Max Ernst) in top prices at auction. There was also a cracking price for the marvellous colour-field artist Helen Frankenthaler in the sale of her masterpiece: ‘Acres’ for 3.7m USD at Phillips.

While I have always championed the work of Laszlo Moholy Nagy I thought the result for a late work: ‘CH for F1’ was a real breakthrough – the elegance of the picture and the link to the Bauhaus aesthetic is clear but 2.2m USD is a huge sum for such a picture. In a similar vein was the magnificent price made for the Archipenko sculpture – a practically life-size, 70 in., ‘Woman Combing her hair’ which was particularly well followed and realised over 5m USD. The appetite for the modern, 1920s and 1930s aesthetic is strong, and I wonder when we will start to see the market for the Puteaux group (Gleizes, Lhote, Metzinger et al) and those other secondary Cubists start to revive.

As ever, like a broken record, I will write about the sterling performance of Monet’s market at auction. Ever since the slight dip at the start of my career (over 25 years ago!) Monet’s star has never faded and, indeed, continues to brighten. The works on offer this week continued to improve upon previous results and the top Monet of the week was a rather sub-par ‘Meules’ which fetched 35m USD and showed the depth of his market. Personally, as I wrote in my preview, I thought the best image was the northern coast Brittany scene at Christie’s entitled ‘Roche Guibel’ (10.2m USD) which employs all of Monet’s greatest gifts – the colour, the composition and the brushwork is so ahead of its time.

Christie’s, across the UES / Midtown divide, had, as I wrote in my introduction, a nightmare during the build-up to the auction week. It seems that their website was hacked and thus there was no way for clients to access the full cataloguing for any works in their sales. The result was a huge number of emails to the departments who did a sterling job in keeping their head above water.  The highlights in their astonishing 20th and 21st C. sales were varied with Basquiat again making a strong showing: ‘The Italian version of popeye…’ fetched 32m USD and was my favourite by the artist of the week. it eclipsed the Phillip’s painting by being tighter and more worked whereas the Phillips picture: Untitled ‘Elmar’ was just a little too empty (and yet still realised 46m USD). Huge prices were seen for the most famous of 1960s names too with the vast Warhol ‘Flowers’ making a remarkable price at over 35m USD and the glorious LA Hockney ‘A Lawn being Sprinkled’ fetching 28.5m USD.

More superb results for Georgia O’Keeffe as the glorious painting ‘Red Poppy’ made 16.5m USD. It really was a crackerjack work, and the size was so unusual (being large at 36 by 30 in.) making it a sublime, all-encompassing painting. On a bit of a tangent, I was impressed by the 1969, large, unique, travertine stone by the inimitable Henry Moore entitled ‘Animal Form’ which raced past its estimate to reach 2.2m USD – large unique works, no matter how abstract in form, always command a premium over editioned bronzes. I would always advise buyers of Moore, Hepworth, Nicholson (and other post-war British luminaries) to look around and try not to focus solely on the Modern British market in London. They have an international following and as such can be sold all over the US (though do get them checked by an advisor first!).

Kerry James Marshall’s works continue to do well, and Sotheby’s had the biggest result for this titan of contemporary art: ‘Vignette #6’ achieved a striking price of 7.5m USD and sold to the Irrevocable Bid. A purposefully sugary scene of European, 18th Century, influence the ‘Vignette’ paintings are a play on the absurdity of situation: a black couple, surrounded by pink hearts, encompass a scene from one of Fragonard’s famous ‘The Progress of Love’ series.

Finally, a word about Magritte and the staunch following his market enjoys. Two wonderful works at Sotheby’s ‘La Main heureuses’ both sold well but the gem of the week was the large painting that was exhibited in the finest spot in Sotheby’s galleries: ‘Le Banquet’ of 1955-57 which made 18m USD. A few years ago, this would have been inconceivable but now I feel these large paintings are always 15m plus.

Please do get in touch if you would like any advice in acquiring works of art, either at auction or privately. The market is full of pitfalls and sharks, and it is always a good thing to get decent, neutral, advice when spending significant sums!