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Auction Action

Highlights from November’s Impressionist & Modern Sales

Happy holidays everyone! I am going to tell you about some artwork you will probably not be receiving as a holiday gift from your loved ones (sorry in advance for the disappointment).  At the beginning of November, Sotheby’s and Christie’s held their Impressionist and Modern sales and they had some pretty interesting results.

Christie’s began the week with a sale of works from the Jan Krugier Collection (two sessions) which included works by Picasso, Basquiat, and a long list of other blue chip artists. Of the top 10 lots, 6 were Picasso’s, and leading the way was Claude et Paloma, with a selling price of $28.1 million (est. $9-$12M). Of the 155 lots, only 29 were unable to find buyers (81% sold) … sounds pretty good, but the total only hit $113.7 million and the pre-sale estimate was $171.5-$255.6M.  Turns out, many of the works were from Krugier’s inventory (he was a dealer) and had been on the market very recently.  But hey, this was only the beginning.

The first of the two houses to hold their main evening sale was Christie’s, which featured just 46 lots. Leading the pack was Alberto Giacometti’s Diego en chemise ecossaise, bringing $32.6M (est. $30-$50M) which is a world auction record for oil by the artist. This was far and away the highlight of the sale as it accounted for over 22% of the total take. Coming in a distant in second was Kandinsky’s Schwarz und Violett, selling for $12.6M (est. $4.5-$7.5M) … funny to think that $12.6M is a distant second … and close behind in third was Femme au beret orange et au col de fourrure by Picasso selling for $12.1M (est. $8-$12M). Another interesting lot was van Gogh’s La maison de Vincent a Arles selling for $5.4M (this same work sold 10 years ago for just $1.4 million … a 289% price increase). Christie’s also took a few hits which included a Modigliani and Picasso each failing to find a buyer with a lofty $25-$35M estimate range. In the end, 35 of the 46 lots offered found a buyer, yielding a sell through rate of 76% and bringing in a total of $144M, well short of the $188.8-$277.7M presale estimate range.

Christie’s followed up their evening sale with their works on paper and day sale on the 6th. Offering a considerable amount of product, I was surprised to see it statistically outperformed the evening sale. The top lot of the day was a colorful Picasso, Mousquetaire, buste at $1.8M (est. $600-$800K). Leonard Foujita’s Nu allonge a la toile de Jouy nabbed the second spot at $1.2M(est. $500-$700K) followed by Pissarro’s La foire de Gisors selling for $893K (est. $400-$600K). In all, 229 of the 288 lots sold (80%) and the sale total was $35.6M, just breaking into the $31-45M estimate when the buyer’s premium was added in.

The evening of the 6th was Sotheby’s crack at the Impressionist and Modern market and it was pretty impressive.  I will just come right out and say, Sotheby’s won the battle this week. The top five lots from this sale alone topped Christie’s entire evening sale ($148.5M vs. $144M). Giacometti’s Grande tete mince, purchased by Acquavella Galleries, claimed the top spot as it just broke the $50M mark (est. $30-$50M). Works by Picasso took 2nd and 3rdTete de femmeand Mousquetaire a la pipe sold for $39.9M (est. $20-$30M) and $30.9M (est. $12-$18M) respectively.  In addition, a Jacques Lipchitz sculpture sold for $2.6M (est. $700K-$1M) after selling at Sotheby’s NY in 2006 for just $576K (356% price increase) and a beautiful Pissarro sold for $4.2M (est. $2.5-$3.5M – this last sold in 1997 for $464K, a 815% price increase), while Balla and Picabia both achieved new auction records. Major blows to the sale included a Miro (est. $9-$12M) and a Mondrian (est. $6-$8M) which both failed to find buyers. Now, as I said earlier, Sotheby’s was the winner this week as they sold 52 of the 64 lots (81%) for a whopping $290M, nearly reaching the high end of the presale estimate of $216-$313M.

The Sotheby’s day sale began on the morning of the 7th and the results were a bit more comparable to their counterpart. The top lot was Marc Chagall’s Les Amoureux dans le bouquet de fleurs selling for $2.28M (est. $1.5-$2M). In second was a work by Monet, Le Golfe Juan, bringing $1.68M on an estimate of $600-$800K followed by Les Pins, effet de soleil a Saint-Honorat, by Francis Picabia at $1.56M (est. $600-$800K). Of the 324 pieces offered, 243 found a buyer (75%) and they were again on the high end of the estimate range at $57.6M (Est. $44.4-$64.5M).

Looking at the two auction houses, there are clearly some discrepancies when it comes to strategy.  While both offered quality works, estimates were far from comparable and it showed in the results.  Christie’s high (and a bit unreasonable) estimates may have diverted interest, while Sotheby’s appeared to present the works with far more reasonable (if not low) estimates which more than likely enticed more interest.  You should always remember that someone ‘makes up” the estimate range and it is not an exact science.  Unfortunately, those estimates can skew the perception of the market and sales results.  Regardless, over $600M worth of art sold between the two houses and that bodes well for the impressionist and modern market as a whole

About Alyssa T. Rehs

Alyssa Rehs is a fourth generation Art Dealer at her family owned art galleries, Rehs Galleries, Inc. and Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc., New York City, New York. She received an Art History degree from the University of Rhode Island in 2012 as well as interned at Christie’s Auction House, New York City. Using her art historian degree, gallery experience, and a summer spent working at the auction house, she has a well rounded understanding of the art market. Alyssa appreciates the market from multiple standpoints; art lover, art buyer and art seller!

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