Upcoming Impressionist and Modern Art sales


Over to London for the first series of prestige Impressionist & Modern Art sales of the year… with catalogues promising a number of superb treasures for major dealers and collectors.

The hammer starts falling today, 26 February 2019, with two sales at Sotheby’s: the first dedicated to the great Impressionist and Modern artists, with works by Monet, Schiele, Kirchner, Giacometti, Picasso and Chagall; the second reserved for Surrealists. For the following two days (February 27 and 28) Christie’s takes over with a set of major works, all from a private collection that was little known, but which Christie’s – the world’s most powerful art vendor – has described as “the largest private collection of Impressionist and Modern art to appear in London for a decade”. Highly aware of market demand, the two companies are gambling on the most in-demand safe-bet artists of the moment, including Claude Monet and René Magritte.


Claude Monet on the cover

The two auctioneers have both put a Claude MONET (1840-1926) on their catalogue covers. And that’s logical: an absolute giant of Art History, the figurehead of Impressionism is also the most successful artist on the global art market behind Pablo Picasso. Last year, 36 of his works generated nearly $357 million, including a new record of $84.7 million for Nymphéas en fleur en mai (Water Lilies in Bloom in May) (1916-1919) at Christie’s New York. So… not surprising to see Nymphéas on the cover of Christie’s catalogue for its February 27 sale. Artistically, the work represents perfect modernity; financially it represents an excellent investment, and is very likely to attract aggressive bidding. The work in question is larger than the Water Lilies sold in May 2018: the star lot measures nearly two metres high by 180 cm wide and depicts a weeping willow in front of the famous water lily pond. Although the estimate for this masterpiece has not been disclosed, the result could be among the best for this key period in the the artist’s career… less than a year after Monet reached a new auction record.

The star lot at Sotheby’s is a view of the Ducal Palace painted by Monet during his first trip to Venice in 1908. The artist was clearly bowled over by the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia which he described as “too beautiful to be painted”. Nevertheless… providing a perfect opportunity for his favourite subjects – sky reflect in the water and infinite nuances of light – he painted it for three months. Monet started 37 paintings during his time in Venice and completed the works in his studio in Giverny between 1911 and 1912. Only three works focus on Ducal Palace, and the one offered by Sotheby’s – in the same collection since 1925 – is expected to fetch between $20 and 30 million.

In all, the upcoming prestige Impressionist & Modern Art sales are presenting few works (14 at Sotheby’s and 23 at Christie’s), all of museum quality. The sales dedicated to Surrealist artists meet the same quality criteria with a slightly larger selection of 10 works at Sotheby’s and 34 at Christie’s. This time round, the undisputed star of the Surrealist sales is clearly René Magritte, expected to fetch the highest prices.


Betting on Magritte

Among the 34 Surrealist works proposed, no less than 11 are by the most popular Surrealist of the moment, René MAGRITTE (1898-1967), whose auction record has more than doubled in 10 years. The latest summit for a Magritte work was hammered three months ago at $26.8 million for The Pleasure Principle, a 1937 painting for which Sotheby’s was expecting, at best, $20 million (12 November 2018 in New York). No less than seven different collectors took part in the bidding contest to acquire the painting (worth just $74,000 some forty years ago)… proof of a real and genuinely motivated demand. As a result, the two majors have given priority to the artist, with four works in Sotheby’s catalogue, including L’Etoile du matin, a curious Janus depicting an Indian adorned with a feathered headdress on one side and the face of the artist’s wife on the other. The work, kept in the same collection since 1939, is estimated at between £3.5 and 4.5 million ($4.4 to 5.6 million).

Of the seven Magritte works at Christie’s, some are particularly appealing, including Le Lieu Commun (100 x 81 cm), which challenges artistic representation in a typically Magrittian manner… including his famous bowler-hatted man. With the estimate undisclosed, the suspense is being maintained until the bidding starts. For the other six works, however, price ranges have been given, including Composition on Sea Shore at $2.5 – 3.8 million compared with its sale price of $1.29 million in 2008. The prices of Magritte’s best paintings have indeed doubled in 10 years… but that can sometimes lead to overestimates. This was the case for The Poetic World, a difficult subject representing a winding optic nerve that points its eyeball at the viewer. The work failed to seduce buyers last November with an overly optimistic estimate of $3 – 5 million (11 November 2018, Christie’s New York). This time the work is being presented with a more modest estimate of $1.9 – 3.2 million, which, if it sells in that range, would still ensure a handsome profit for its current owner, who paid $142,600 in June 1995… also at Christie’s in London.