London sales: second round



On 23 June, Christie’s will be offering 45 Impressionist & Modern works in London and the following day Sotheby’s will present just 27 pieces. The catalogues feature works by Picasso, Claude Monet and Giacometti. On 25 and 30 June, the two auctioneers will open their Contemporary Art sales (41 lots at Christie’s and 40 at Sotheby’s) presenting safe-bet artists such as Peter Doig, Lucio Fontana, Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons and Gerhard Richter, with only a very modest place reserved for Indian and Chinese artists.

Christie’s is opening its London sales with two major Impressionist paintings: one by Monet, and another by Pissaro. Camille PISSARRO’s Le Quai Malaquais et l’Institut, dated 1903, was despoiled by the Nazis during the war and recently returned to the heirs of the Bermann Fischer couple. In May 2003 in New York, another view of the quai Malaquais (which Pissaro’s Parisian flat overlooked), bathed in the early morning light, was bought in against a low estimate of €2m. The work presented by Christie’s on 23 June does not have the same warm light, but the scene is more animated. This rare piece, in excellent condition and charged with history, is making its debut auction appearance and it stands a good chance of reaching its high estimate of £1.5m.
Another masterpiece, Claude MONET’s Au Parc Monceau, is being sold by an American collector and already has an auction history. In June 2001, it went under the hammer for £3.4m at Sotheby’s. Eight years later, Monet’s price index is roughly at the same level as 2001 and Christie’s hopes to fetch between £3.5m and £4.5m. The painting is considered of major artistic importance: a painting from the same series has a key position in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

On 24 June, Sotheby’s will be offering Monet’s Route de Giverny en hiver dated 1885 and estimated at £3m – £4m. In December 2006, a less accomplished painting of the same road fetched €1.25m (£843,000) at Christie’s in Paris. Among the 27 lots on offer at Sotheby’s, there will be three sculptures by Alberto GIACOMETTI (Buste de Diego in bronze estimated at £2m – £3m, Buste d’Annette estimated at £1.2m – £1.8m and Diego in painted plaster estimated at £1m – £1.5m) and four Pablo PICASSO works including Homme à l’épée created in 1969 and featured on the cover of its catalogue. Carrying a price tag of between £6m and £8m, the piece is the most dearly estimated work on offer during the 2 days of Impressionist & Modern sales.
The following day, Sotheby’s opens its Contemporary Art sales with three major pieces by Andy WARHOL: Mrs. McCarthy and Mrs. Brown (Tunafish Disaster) estimated at £3.5 – £4.5m; Hammer and Sickle estimated at £2m – £3m; Diamond Dust Shoes estimated £600,000 – £800,000 and a portrait of Yves Saint Laurent estimated at £300,000 – £400,000. Only last month (27 May 2009) another portrait of the famous French fashion designer fetched the equivalent of £546,000 at Christie’s in Paris. Among the other high-price works, there will be two pieces by Alexander CALDER, both estimated at £1.2m – £1.8m, a painting by Peter DOIG (Almost Grown, £1.4m – £1.8m) and Untitled (The Band) by Richard PRINCE carrying an estimate of £500,000 – £700,000 based on the sale of a similar (but smaller) work which fetched the equivalent of £414,000 (€450,000) in Paris on 17 March 2009.

The youngest artist in the sale, Raqib SHAW, is a 35 year-old Indian settled in London since 1998 and supported by the White Cube Gallery (of Damien HIRST fame, among others). Sotheby’s £40,000 – £60,000 price tag for his After Hokusai hopes to erase the memory of the artist’s untitled work that was bought in on 20 October (low estimate of £30,000) at the same auction house.
The estimates for the few works by Chinese artists being presented do not appear to have been revised down particularly. Sotheby’s has priced a double portrait by ZHANG Xiaogang entitled Comrades (1958) at between £300,000 and £400,000. A sculpture by AI Weiwei is estimated at £80,000 – £120,000. A similar Ai Weiwei piece entitled Divina Proportion did indeed fetch the equivalent of £99,000 in March 2008 in New-York; but there are only two copies of that piece whereas there are 10 copies of the sculpture being offered this month.
Christie’s has adopted a different strategy by proposing a more attractive estimate for the painting Untitled (Boy) by ZENG Fanzhi (£200,000 – £300,000). Although smaller, the last similar work that sold at auction fetched HK$5m, i.e. £420,000 (Ravenel Art Group, Kong-Kong). We were in Hong Kong in December 2008 and were impressed by the effervescence surrounding contemporary Chinese art.
At that time, the art market confidence index (AMCI) was fluctuating between 8 and 11 points. The London Modern & Impressionist art auction starts tomorrow at Christie’s and the AMCI is indicating a positive value of 19 points. Only 38% of the voters remain optimistic about the economical situation. However, collectors do not hold back their purchase desire: 70% of them are planning to buy art.