As expected the Autumn Impressionist & Modern Art Sale series was an outstanding success. Nearly 700m USD changed hands over four sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s last week.


I thought Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale on 4th November was the best I had ever come across, for a mixed owner sale, in 15 years. To have three highlights of real rarity and quality was a very special occurrence: Vincent Van Gogh’s Nature morte, Alberto Giacometti’s Chariot and Amedeo Modigliani’s Tete.


Perhaps the only slight disappointment was that the sale of Giacometti’s Chariot was slightly anti-climactic given the quality of the work – estimated in the vicinity of 100m USD it just about made the reserve; with David Norman (Sotheby’s department chief) on the phone with the buyer. Frankly, though it was a weighty masterpiece in art historical terms I felt it lacked the signature impact of the Homme qui marche that sold at Sotheby’s London back in 2010. That said 101m USD is a very good price for a sculpture by any artist.


Van Gogh’s painting of flowers in a vase was slightly flat, unsigned and no more than a good (not great) example of his late work. However, they exhibited all the hallmarks of his style and it was a finished, large format work. It turned out to be pretty perfect for the Chinese market and was sold to an Asian buyer for 62m USD. The Chinese seem keen to acquire signature works by the biggest names in much the same way as Russian collectors have been doing over the past 10 years. I think that a final price over 60m USD is too much for this picture but when a truly average Mother and Child made almost 30m USD in June it seems the Van Gogh market is really flying – perhaps back to the levels of ’89 and ’90 when Japan cornered, and almost broke(!), the Impressionist & Modern art market. It is worth mentioning that, apparently, the painting was available for sale prior to sale.


Without question my favourite work of the week was the Modigliani Tete, made from a limestone block stolen from the building site of the Paris Metro. Modigliani’s art is heavily indebted to the Egyptian objects in the Louvre and the work of his friend and fellow genius: Constantin Brancusi. Tete is a rare, rare object and perhaps the last of this quality we will see for many years. It is the last of the truly elegant faces that we will see at auction and it is not to be confused with the earlier direct carved stones that show a more primitive feel. It fetched 71m USD, and deservedly so given the price of his paintings (one of which has made over 60m USD).


Claude Monet’s work fared very well and his superb, though saccharine, Alice Hoschede au jardin made over 33m USD at Sotheby’s. Monet’s market is as strong as ever and keeping up with the more modern artists that we would consider the more fashionable – it just goes to show that quality paintings, by top class artists will always command a premium.


Following the 74 lots at Sotheby’s on York Avenue over at Christies it was a smaller affair with only 40 lots offered. This was understandable as the quality of the Christie’s sale was lower yet their sale strategy was brighter, in not allowing their catalogue to be diluted with ‘day sale’ lots. At the Rockefeller Centre ‘only’ one masterpiece was up for grabs – an Edouard Manet of high class that fetched 65m USD. Printemps, depicting the actress Jeanne Demarsy, shows all the hallmarks of his genius including the stunning use of pure black in the subject’s bonnet scarf and the swift, spontaneously worked profile of her face.


Another gem to appear last week was also at Christie’s: Joan Miro’s early work entitled Tuilleries de Mont-Roig. It was a rare painting that deserved to fetch 8.7m USD. It also served to underline what astonishing value can be had in even this market. I would place this painting in the same bracket, regarding quality, as his late 1920s paintings that are commanding prices in excess of 20m USD at auction.


Good prices could be seen for Magritte, as ever, who is now making prices of up to 5m USD every single sale season. The Surrealist market is very hot at present and I envisage a 20m USD plus price for a Dali or Magritte within the next 12 months.


Overall the sales were superb and shows that there is a great deal of life in the Impressionist & Modern Art market. At the top end of the market the same advice applies: collect slowly, buy the best you can and use an adviser!


Photo: Sotheby’s 2014

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