Over a busy week of sales there was a clear market signal here in London that, unlike most of the country, some services were operating as normal. Great prices for great works of art were mixed with ropey prices for the mediocre. Despite a few words of warning from Scott Reyburn in the Art Newspaper there wasn’t a clear sign of a downturn. I do think that some genres are on the wane in the UK, however, with German Expressionism apparently faring better in Germany than London.

The main prices and major bidding wars at Sotheby’s were not for the marvellous large ‘Murnau mit Kirchen II’ by Kandinsky (sold to the irrevocable bid (IB) for 37m GBP) but for the likes of bleeding-edge contemporary painters such as Caroline Walker and Mohammed Sami. And thus spake the market – lots of bidding for the contemporary names and little for the rather so-so Modernists: the Pissarros, Kirchners and Van Dongens. Michael Armitage fetched a record 1.8m GBP for his ‘Muliro Gardens’ painting of 2016 and I think this could be the first in a long line of great prices as more of his mid-2010 paintings come out to market. Yet the main contemporary winner this week was Caroline Walker and her narrative-driven Palm Springs paintings. I reckon the two large paintings from Sotheby’s and Christie’s were as good as anything I have seen since her show at Stephen Friedman – what a splendid painter! ‘In every Dream Home’ made 620,000 GBP and The Pupeteer 690,000 GBP. I was delighted to see that the intricate 1912 oil by Frantisek Kupka at Sotheby’s, ‘Complexe’, commanded a lot of attention: fetching 6.7m GBP from a 2.2-2.8m GBP estimate. Kupka is unique and his beguiling works on paper are also stunning – (David Levy has some crackers at TEFAF). Sotheby’s did well with their Maya (RIP) painting and, though unsigned, it was as good as one could get from that period for under 20m GBP. The flashy ‘Debbie Harry’ painting by Andy Warhol made 6.5m GBP and there was some hectic bidding for once in the saleroom: subject is most important with the late portraits and I was surprised to see a Warhol depicting Lichtenstein on the wall with Van de Weghe at TEFAF for one sixth of the price! There was a great result for the Munch painting of his two former loves ‘Dance on the Beach’ executed for the Reinhardt Theatre Frieze in 1906-07. There is seldom a work like it up for sale and this made a superb 17m GBP. It was a restitution-department painting and as with the Kandinsky it seems this is the best way for London to attract such quality to their rooms; in light of Brexit headwinds.

Over at Christie’s there was only one major Evening auction with the top end Impressionist paintings sold with the top end Contemporary – this made for a tighter, smaller, sale season and worked remarkably well. Lucian Freud’s ‘Scillonian Beachscape’ fetched 4.6m GBP from a remarkably punchy 3.5m GBP low estimate. Early Freud is very much sought after at present with the later work perhaps becoming a little overexposed (excuse the pun) by the market. Liu Ye, the Chinese cutesy painter, fetched 3.1m GBP in a fierce bidding war for ‘The Goddess’, a painting of a famous Asian film star who died young and clearly had some wealthy admirers in the far east. I was so delighted to see the staggering 5m GBP price paid for a superb early Renoir, ‘La dormeuse’ of 1880. The market for Renoir is so often defined (wrongly) by his late works but this was a genuine masterwork that should lead to some more early gems coming to market. Much was hinged on the large Picasso which is a painting I know well from a Spanish collection. The work sold, I believe, to the IB and made 17m GBP. It was a large but underwhelming work and shows the depth of Picasso’s market despite the concerns aver his abhorrent behaviour. Judge the art not the man – at least the market agrees. The wonderful German Expressionist offerings didn’t fare to well as the market seemingly becomes less International. Ketterer Kunst in Munich has been making waves in selling their Beckmann for 20m Euros in a recent sale. I don’t blame the market for Brexit but it is sad to see such wonderful works as the Kirchner ‘Rosa’ in the Christie’s evening sale being passed at 2.4m GBP. Under the helm of Olivier Camu, Christie’s Surrealist sale did very well, and the Magritte market continues apace. Great prices for Dominguez and even some Paul Delvaux paintings sold (PD has had a rough time since the Russian’s have left the market). Yet overall, this was a triumph for Christie’s as clever business-getting (a Giacometti Chandelier made 3m GBP!) and creative Surrealist sale marketing made for some super results.

Phillip’s had a bit of a rough time as their gorgeous Richter was withdrawn from sale. The top end of the market depends on so few bidders that on occasion paintings are taken off the market to prevent them being ‘burnt’. Yet there was still a solid 6m GBP for a late de Kooning and a Caroline Walker made nearly 1m GBP. What a week she has had!

It has been a solid week and, as ever, I urge you to use a good advisor when spending significant sums on works of art. There are so many pitfalls to be avoided and with the cost of buying at auction increasing (Sotheby’s now charge 27%+tax up to 1m USD) it is good to have someone keeping an eye on the gallery/dealer market these days too.