May auction sales: the ascent continues…



The recovery in art prices is accelerating. At least, that is judging by the ambitious estimates announced by the major auction houses for their forthcoming Impressionist and Modern Art sales on 4 and 5 May 2010.
Although the market’s recovery since the autumn of 2009 certainly allows for a degree of optimism, the prices announced for these sales are particularly high, especially for works being “re-sold” relatively quickly. The results will of course tell us if these estimates are really in synch with the market. With morale substantially repaired, the auction houses have started offering guaranteed prices again. These commitments, amounting to tens of millions of dollars for major works, reflect the auctioneers’ confidence in the market’s recovery.

Guaranteed quality…
The recourse to price guarantees has allowed the auctioneers to obtain exceptional works for these May sales. This is particularly the case at Christie’s whose sale is relying on works from four prestigious collections: Mrs Brody, Raymond and Miriam Klein, Bernard Golberg and Michael Crichton. The collection of Mrs Sidney Frances Brody (27 lots) has attracted a lot of media attention and justifiably as its total revenue capacity could be around $150m! In fact, the high estimates for Christie’s evening sale amount to a total not far short of $300m, not including the star lot by Pablo PICASSO whose estimate is still confidential. That work dated 1932, is entitled Nude, Green Leaves and Bust and is being sold by Marie-Thérèse Walter. Its price is guaranteed like all the other masterpieces in the Brody collection such as Henri MATISSE’s Nu au coussin bleu (estimated $20m – $30m) or Alberto GIACOMETTI’s Grande tête mince (estimated $25m – $35m). The four bronzes by Giacometti could generate between $50m and $73m according to Christie’s forecasts (Le Chat, estimated $12-18m, Brody collection; La Main, estimated $10-12m, Torse de femme, estimated $3-5 m). On 11 May 1994, an identical cast of La Main (being offered this 4 May with a low estimate of $10m) fetched $800,000 at Sotheby’s NY.

Among the works returning to auction within a relatively brief timeframe, Christie’s is adjusting the estimate of Paris, Le pont de l’Archevêché by Maximilien LUCE to $500,000 – $700,000 after the work was bought in on 5 November 2008 against an estimate of $700,000 – $900,000. But an identical cast of Henri Matisse’s sculpture Grand nu accroupi (now quoted at $2.5m – $3.5m) sold for $1.95m on 9 May 2007at Christie’s.
On 5 May at Sotheby’s, the large number of “resales” carrying relatively high prices bears witness to the general mood of optimism: Le boulevard extérieur, boulevard de Clichy et Angle de la rue by Pierre BONNARD, which failed to sell in 2001 against an estimate equivalent to $2.8m, is now being offered at $4m to $6m; Fernand LÉGER’s sketch for a quadruple portrait which fetched the equivalent of $841,000 at a Christie’s sale on 26 June 2002 now carries a $3m – $5m price tag. Indeed the list of considerably inflated estimations is long. The Babouin Sacré Hamadryas by Rembrandt BUGATTI quadrupled its estimate at the height of the last market bubble in 2006 when it fetched a record bid of $2m for this subject. Its price has apparently not budged judging by the low estimate of $2m accorded to the work by Sotheby’s for its 5 May sale. In fact, between then (2006) and now, Buggati’s price index contracted 46%… Has Paul SIGNAC’s Comblat-le-château really accreted in value by one million dollars since it was last sold in May 2002? In any case, that is what is suggested by the estimate of $1.25m – $1.75m. Will Henri Matisse’s Le Nu au fauteuil, jambes croisées reach its lower estimate of $2.5m after going unsold in November 2006 with an estimate of just $2m? Has Juan GRISVerre et carte à jouer (1915) really doubled in valued over the last 5 years? Sold for $2.2 m in 2005 by Christie’s, their rival is now expecting a minimum of $4.5m. Will Picasso’s Femme sous la lampe (1962) manage to completely demolish its auction price of $470,000 in November 1993? Has Edvard MUNCH’s Halvakt (Half Nude) more than doubled in value in just one decade (it fetched the equivalent of $552,615 in 2000 and is now being proposed at $1.6 – 2.2m in 2010)? Naturally the answers to these questions will allow us to gauge the strength of the market’s recovery.

A number of new world records are also expected. Sotheby’s hopes to upset the auction podium for both Salvador DALI and Auguste RODIN. Dali’s current record, unchanged since 1990 when his Assumpta corpuscularia lapislazulina fetched $3.7m, could well be toppled by his Spectre du soir sur la plage announced at $4m – $6m, that is… unless his Décor pour Labyrinth II offered in the same price range by Christie’s doesn’t generate an even better result. Sotheby’s is also expecting a record at between $4m – $6m for a Penseur by Auguste Rodin cast in 1917. The top price paid so far for this version, in its original dimensions, is $3.54m. This result was generated on 17 June 2009 at a Parisian sale organised by Mathias – Baron Ribeyre & Associés, Farrando Lemoine SVV. The success of Sotheby’s sale on 5 May largely depends on Henri Matisse’s Bouquet de fleurs pour le 14 juillet which is estimated at $18m – $25m) and on the superb Effet de printemps à Giverny that Claude MONET finished in 1890, estimated at $10m – $15m.