London sales: international buyers… but mixed results


Sotheby’s prestige London sale of Impressionist & Modern Art on 19 June found new owners for 26 (72%) of the high quality lots on offer, versus 10 unsold, producing a total of $115.7 million. That’s a sharp drop (-30%) compared to last year’s total for the same session which managed to take in $163.8 million. The following evening, Christie’s had a better night posting a total of $170.3 million compared with $190.3 million on 27 June 2017 (down -10.5%).

More than $84 million for Picasso

In total, eight paintings by Pablo PICASSO generated $84.4 million at the two sales: four at Sotheby’s for a total of $53 million, and four at Christie’s the following day for a total of $31.4 million. The Sotheby’s sale was powered by Buste de femme de profil (Femme écrivant), a 1932 canvas depicting Marie-Thérèse Walter, which fetched $36.1 million, almost 10 times the price it fetched under the title Femme écrivant at Sotheby’s on 12 November 1997. The star Picasso asset at Christie’s was a portrait of Dora Maar, Femme dans un Fauteuil, that fetched $25.6 million. On 26 June 1990 the same painting failed to reach its low estimate of $5 million at a Sotheby’s sale in London. The latest result is relatively positive considering that similar works to this Dora Maar portrait have reached around 22 million dollars in auctions.

A Monet work attracts the best result…

In our last ‘Insight’ article, we predicted that the best work in these sales – Claude MONET’s 1877 La Gare Saint-Lazare, vue extérieure at Christie’s – was likely to fetch around $30 million. That prediction was essentially based on the May 8 sale of a painting from the same series with the same dimensions for $32.9 million at Christie’s New York. Both works take the Gare Saint-Lazare as a their subject and are part of a series of 12 paintings on the same theme, all emblematic of Monet’s experimentation with composition, the dissolution of colours in movement, and his strong interest in modernity. Christie’s was therefore offering a truly museum-quality work comparable to the one in the permanent collections of the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. It finally sold for the same price than the work auctioned in May.

However there was disappointment at Sothebys where three of the four Monet works submitted to bidders remained unsold. Only the largest canvas, La méditerranée par vent de mistral, found a new owner (an American private collector) at the price of $9.4 million, i.e. within its estimated price range.

Two major sculptures…

In volume terms, there weren’t many sculptures in the two sales; but the quality and prestige of two works in particular produced handsome results. At Sotheby’s Alberto GIACOMETTI‘s Le chat was acquired by a private European collector for $16.6 million, an honourable price… but not a record since one of the other seven copies (cast at Susse in Paris) of this emblematic sculpture (created in 1951) fetched over $20 million at Christie’s New York on 4 May 2010.

At Christie’s, a low estimate of $6 million was set for one of the three 86 centimetre casts of Auguste RODIN’s famous Baiser sculpture. The final result at $16.6 million doubled the high estimate… a remarkable result, especially as the exact same piece sold for $2.7 million in 2000. This version of The Kiss is now Rodin’s third most expensive sculpture; the first being a unique work in marble – Eternel printemps – that fetched $20.4 million at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 2016.

Overall, the two sales illustrate a buoyant high-end market but also a very fastidious and discriminating demand, illustrated by the Monet failures for example. Other artists are clearly higher up collector’s current acquisition lists than the doyen of Impressionism; these include Gauguin and Schiele whose works doubled their pre-sale estimates (Fleurs dans un panier at Sotheby’s and Schiele’s Kniendes Mädchen at Christie’s).

Several Asian collectors placed winning bids on masterpieces of Western art, including Camille PISSARRO’s Boulevard Montmartre, hammered down at $4.6 million, and Alberto GIACOMETTI’s Buste, acquired by a Japanese collector for $3.8 million. Indeed, the international appeal of Western Impressionist and Modern art is itself one of the most impressive aspects of these two days of London sales, with art buyers from more than 30 countries registered to bid.