London posts vigorous start to year…



After a week of New York sales dedicated to Old Masters, London’s auction market emerged from hibernation with Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist sales posting solid results. Both Juan GRIS and Camille PISSARRO buried their previous auction records by several million.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s combined total of $143 million from their Old Masters Week in New York (28 -31 January 2014) was a respectable result and generated one new record when Gerrit VAN HONTHORST’s A Merry Group Behind A Balustrade With A Violin And A Lute Player fetched twice its high estimate at $6.6m at Sotheby’s on January 30 ($7.557 m including fees). The Old Masters were nevertheless substantially less lucrative than their Modern peers who generated twice as much for the two market leaders on 4 and 5 February in London.

On Tuesday 4 February, Christie’s held its The Art of the Surreal and its Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale. The combined total from the two sessions produced their best-ever London result on this segment: £179 million including fees ($292m) despite the last minute withdrawal of the Joan Miro collection (see our Flash News of 6 February). Thirty-five works generated results above one million pounds (43 above one million dollars) and four new artist’s records were recorded: Juan GRIS, Carlo CARRA, LE CORBUSIER and Dorothea TANNING. The top bid of the London week was for a masterpiece by Juan Gris (1887-1927) entitled Nature morte à la nappe à carreaux estimated £12 – 18 million and eventually sold for £31 million (£34.8m including fees – [$57m]). This significant work from 1915 doubled the artist’s auction record previously held by his Violon et guitare which fetched $28.6 million including fees at Christie’s New York in 2010. In effect, Juan Gris oil paintings are rare commodities (between 3 and 10 per year at auctions) and paintings of this quality are particularly unusual on the market.
Less spectacular numerically, the £260,000 for Dorothea TANNING’s A Mrs. Radcliffe Called Today nevertheless confirmed the substantial revaluation of the artist’s works since 2006. The painting fetched five times its low estimate on February 4! This American artist who married the Surrealist Max ERNST in 1946 was a latecomer to the Surrealist circle. Before 2006, her work fetched between £4,000 and £10,000 pounds on average, but her prices have between rising fast ever since.

The following day (Wednesday 5 February) at Sotheby’s, Camille PISSARRO’s Boulevard Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps fetched £19.6 million including costs (nearly 9x more than another smaller version of the same view, Boulevard Montmartre par temps de pluie, l’après-midi which fetched $3 million on 12 May 1993 at Christie’s New York). So what prompted bidders to add £10 million to the artist’s previous record of $13 million for Les quatre saisons: L’hiver/Le printemps/L’été/L’automne (6 November 2007 at Christie’s New York)?
Boulevard Montmartre, Matinée de Printemps (1897) is considered one of the most important Impressionist paintings submitted to auction in the past 10 years. The work also received substantial media coverage after being returned in 2000 to the heirs of its rightful owner Max Silberberg, a Jewish industrialist and collector from whom the Nazis had stolen the piece. In short the work is a very significant painting of rare quality seldom seen on the auction market with a strong link to the tragic history of the 20th century. In recent years the work has been exhibited at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem … It therefore had all the right qualities to establish a new record.

Another rarity at the Sotheby’s sale was a late work by Vincent VAN GOGH completed in Saint Rémy in October 1889 shortly before his death. This deeply melancholic genre painting entitled L’homme est en mer tripled its estimate, finally fetching £16.9 million including fees. Although by no means a record for Van Gogh (still held by his Portrait of Docteur Gachet which fetched $75m at Christie’s New York in May 1990), it counts among the artist’s five best auction results and posts a gain of £12.6 million since it was acquired in 1989 by the American collector John T. Dorrance, Jr. (Sotheby’s New York, 18 October 1989).

The major sales of Post-War & Contemporary Art will take place on February 10 – 12, with the catalogues including works by Richter, Warhol, Twombly, Riley, Koons, and a highly anticipated portrait of George Dyer by Francis Bacon.