London’s art market stands firm



With the Brexit result falling right in the middle of the major London sales, the pound fell against both the euro and the dollar overnight, making the declared prices substantially more attractive to non-UK buyers. The major international buyers have once again shown their awareness of art’s undeniable safe haven status in an uncertain environment, and although the turnover at this year’s prestige art sales has been much reduced, the current lull in the market also appears to have been largely anticipated by its major players.
Compared with the extraordinary results of 2015, the latest Impressionist & Modern sales have indeed posted substantially smaller totals: down -47% at Sotheby’s and -39% at Christie’s (21 and 22 June). However, this has not prevented certain masterpieces from fetching sky-high prices: Picasso’s Femme assise (1909) fetched $63.5 million and Amedeo Modigliani’s Jeanne Hébuterne au foulard (1919) sold for $56.7 million (at Sotheby’s). Once again, the art market is proving its remarkable capacity for resistance in contexts of political and economic turmoil.

The recent Contemporary art sales (23 to 30 June) produced much the same observation. The totals were a long way below the 2015 performances, with Sotheby’s posting $97.5 million from three sessions (the Boundless sale on 23 June, the Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 28 June and the Day Sale the following day) compared with $209.6 million from its Contemporary Art sale on 1 July 2015 (alone). True, last year, Sotheby’s posted the best performance in its history of European operations. Over at Christie’s, their 2015 total for the same session (June 30) was $150 million. This year, it was only $66.8 million including the Day Sale (29 and 30 June 2016). However the sale was successful and driven by strong demand. The unsold rate was just 8% at the Evening Sale on 29 June and 10% at the Day Sale the following day, compared with an average annual global unsold rate of over 30%. In addition, Christie’s organised a particularly successful sale of British art (Defining British Art, June 30) that generated the encouraging result of $129 million included $27.1 million for a masterly canvas by Francis BACON (Version No. 2 of Lying Figure with Hypodermic Syringe) as well as a new record for Henry MOORE at $33.1 million (Reclining Figure: Festival 1 of 5 copies). The week of sales also produced new auction records for sales Bernard Buffet, Lynn Chadwick, Alexandre da Cunha, Stanley Cursiter, Duncan Grant, Frederic Lord Leighton, Samuel Peploe, Carol Rama, Bridget Riley and Sean Scully.

The results recorded at Phillips on 27 and 28 June were even more reassuring ($22 million and a 30% unsold rate) with a powerful canvas by Anselm KIEFER fetching $3.2 million at four times its high estimate (Für Velimir Khlebnikov: Die Lehre vom Krieg: Seeschlachten). Another result was particularly welcome for the Chinese Contemporary art market (that has been suffering in recent months): YUE Minjun’s canvas Untitled (Magritte Stone) fetched nearly $1.3 million at Phillips, almost nine times its estimate! According to Phillips’ management, the painting elicited the company’s best-ever bid from a mobile application, a sign that the world’s biggest art buyers are definitely integrating mobile technology into their bidding habits.

At the beginning of July, Sotheby’s and Christie’s pursued their programmes with major Old Master sales that included five paintings by the Antwerp artist Peter Paul RUBENS (1577-1640). One of these, entitled Lot and his daughters, fetched $58.1 million at Christie’s, the artist’s second best auction result after Massacre of the Innocent ($76.6 million at Sotheby’s London in 2002). The robust prices should reassure market players anxious since the Brexit referendum result: Artprice’s AMCI confidence index has contracted 7 points since July 1….