The auction season this Summer revolved around a smaller, but better curated, sale series than usual with the newsreel-worthy highlight the stunning 85m GBP paid for the glorious Klimt Portrait: ‘Dame mit Fächer (Lady with a Fan)’. There was strong bidding for big names and trophy works but anything shop-worn or below an A-grade struggled. As mentioned in my preview the main issue surrounding a large Summer series here in London is the bidding appetite following such vast May sales in NYC. Whilst there will seldom be works such as the Klimt up for sale those looking for a mid-market Monet will be satiated in any sale series. It is likely that a US client will look to buy a ‘standard’ work in the US, and not London, as there will be fewer issues with licences and shipping. Just look at the relatively weak Paris sales this year and you can see that bidding in the middle market is, sadly, becoming more localised. This does, however, present opportunities for the well-advised buyer!
Yet, as touched upon above, the top end is still as international as ever. The Klimt saw strong bidding from the Sotheby’s Asian rep and the Hong Kong based advisor Patti Wong (seated directly to my left in the room). This was a sale of a world-class painting that would happily fit any museum collection. In many ways I preferred it to the ‘Bloch-Bauer’ portrait that was sold to much fanfare to Mr Lauder for over 135m USD seventeen years ago. ‘Lady with Fan’ is softer with a stunning use of colour in the skin tone in particular. From the Sotheby’s evening sale, we saw wonderful results for the most special of the offerings. This included a gorgeous little Leonor Fini self-portrait (710,000 GBP including premium[IP]) of real class. I am so delighted that her work is garnering decent attention after all, in 2004 when I catalogued the Sotheby’s Olympia sales, these could be had for 5,000 GBP! Auerbach was well followed as the ‘EOW on her blue Eiderdown VII’ soared to 4.5m GBP IP – the texture of this masterpiece was remarkable and really needed to be seen in the flesh to be believed. It was more of a shallow frieze than a painting and at points was three inches thick in sheer paint! As can be imagined it was a strong night for Modern British with a Freud interior fetching 9.5m GBP IP too. I was a little disappointed with a Kerry James Marshall that brought ‘only’ 3.1m GBP IP – the work was from 2016, i.e. recent, but it was so intensely painted with a staggering rendering of tone on the subject’s face. I think the best market would have been NYC for a Marshall, but I understand that there was little competition (between lots) for such a picture, making London an attractive selling platform. Sadly, it was an uneven night for the Impressionists with a few works going unsold or selling to the guarantee – perhaps London’s Russian diaspora has meant a drop off in interest. Magritte continues to do well with ‘Le Savoir’ making a healthy 4.2m GBP IP. For a gouache this is a vast number but even though we have seen a steady increase in his market for the last 6-8 years I do think now is the time to sell.
Over the road at Christie’s their top lot was a gorgeous, but known-to-market, Paul Signac from 1896. This work was as good as it gets for the time in which it was painted but fell well short of the classic Opus pictures of a few years earlier. The eventual price of 8m GBP IP was a superb result for a work of this type. The other work on top of the marketing agenda was a somewhat over-hyped Basquiat depicting Pablo Picasso. It was not visceral, angry or particularly typical, so I was very impressed that Christie’s had made such a great price for the painting (6.5m GBP IP). Portraits by Basquiat are not so sought after but they can be brilliant. This price was another indicator that his market shows no sign whatsoever of abating. The sale felt a little bit flat after the fireworks at Sotheby’s, but I did feel that the odd painting was missed that deserved to find a buyer. A superb landscape by Gerhard Richter offered at 4-6m GBP went unsold as well as a gorgeous Otto Mueller German-Expressionist painting depicting two lovers at ‘only’ 400-600k GBP. This is not a softening of the market so much as an indication that too much was offered in NYC in May to make June hugely enthralling for clients. I do think November will be an absolute barnstormer as buyers look to avoid inflation and park their money in gorgeous assets such as Klimts and Signacs!
Have a wonderful Summer and if you need any advice or help on the art-front please feel free to get in touch.