The first summer sales of London



In two days (21 and 22 June 2011), Sotheby’s and Christie’s posted more than £207m vs. £233m in 2010, £61.5m in 2009 and £246m at the market’s peak in 2008.

This year, Christie’s outsold Sotheby’s with a total of £122m from 80 lots at its evening sale of 21 June. Unsurprisingly, Pablo PICASSO picked up the best results… rising as the sale progressed: his Buste de Françoise (one of the artist’s lovers in the 1940s) was the first to go for £10.6m, followed by Jeune fille endormie for £13.4m and lastly Femme assise, robe bleue which fetched £17.9m vs. an estimate of £4m – £8m, producing the sale’s best result. The latter work, completed in October 1939, is a portrait of Dora Maar, the artist’s mistress considered as the most important icon of Picasso’s work.

With £37m less (£85m), Sotheby’s total looked very lacklustre compared with its rival’s, especially as its low estimates amounted to £111m. However, it generated the best result of the 2 days of Impressionist & Modern art sales with Egon SCHIELE’s urbain landscape that sold within its estimated range for £22m!
Painted in 1914, the work entitled Maisons avec linge de couleur, banlieue II is one of the Austrian artist’s rare urban landscapes still in private hands. The subject is Cesky Krumlov, a town in Bohemia in the south of the Czech Republic where the artist lived with his companion Wally. Aged just 24 in 1914, Egon Shiele was at the peak of his carrier. He died four years later from the Spanish influenza.
Schiele, whose paintings market is particularly limited, had not signed an auction result above £10m since November 2006 in New York (another similar urban landscape entitled Einzelne Häuser/Monk I, fetched $20m [£10.5m] on 8 November at Christie’s). Only three Schiele urban landscapes have been offered at auction in the last ten years (2001-2011) and each time they push the artist’s record higher.Among the other big results at Sotheby’s there was an Alberto GIACOMETTI bronze Trois Hommes qui Marchent II that fetched £10.6m and Picasso’s Homme à la pipe et nu couché that went under the hammer for twice its low estimate, at £4.8m.

The biggest disappointment of the two days of sales was in fact the keystone of the Christie’s sale: Claude MONET’s Nymphéas (provenance: Beyeler gallery) was bought in against a hefty estimate of £30m to £40m. The work will return to the collections of the Swiss Beyeler Museum.
In effect, the extraordinary result recorded on 24 June 2008 for Bassin aux Nymphéas at £36.5m, (£12m above the high estimate, in a period of market euphoria) had pushed up estimates for this subject although it seems few collectors or investors are willing to pay that kind of sum. Remember that on 23 June 2010, another of Monet’s Nymphéas paintings failed to sell at Christie’s when offered at £17m – £24m.

Nevertheless, the overall climate of the sales was buoyant with a strong representation of investors, particularly Asian. The auctioneers are therefore offering well-stocked catalogues and promoting their masterpieces in Asia in order to maintain the profitable flow of Western records in the Impressionist & Modern art segment.