The London art market breathed a general sigh of relief last week after Sotheby’s and Christie’s Part I Impressionist and Modern sales belied the atmosphere of economic uncertainty with a clutch of high prices for classic works by the major names of late 19th and early 20th century art.
Coincidentally, both houses notched up identical totals of £33.4m with healthy lottage selling rates of 75 per cent. However, the overall total of £94.5m achieved by all Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist, Modern and Post-War offerings, including the Part II and Works on Paper sales, was £7.5m down on last year and buying by US collectors was also slightly down.
Christie’s Part I total of £33.4m on June 27 was their highest for an Impressionist and Modern sale in London since 1989, but only 28 per cent of the lots were bought by Americans, who can usually be relied upon to buy between 40-45 per cent of these London Part I sales.
In terms of individual lots, Sotheby’s Claude Monet canvas, Meules, Derniers Rayons de Soleil, was the undoubted star of the week when it sold on Tuesday evening to an anonymous telephone buyer for £9.2m underbid by London dealer Ezra Nahmad in the room. Number 3 in Durand-Ruel’s famous 1891 exhibition of Monet’s ‘Grainstacks’ series, the privately-entered painting had never been offered at auction before and carried an estimate of £5-7m. No fewer than five works exceeded £2m at Sotheby’s with Henry Neville of Mallett the conspicuous buyer of Monet’s Au Parc Monceau and Van Gogh’s Eglogue en Provence – Un Couple d’Amoureux at £3.4m and £2.6m apiece.
The previous evening at Christie’s Maurice de Vlaminck’s 1905 canvas Peniche sur la Seine confirmed the current demand for Fauvist painting with a sale-topping £4.3m from London dealer Thomas Gibson, closely followed by the record £4m paid by the Lefevre Gallery for Juan Gris’s 1914 Cubist canvas, Le Guéridon, prices which were both at least double their estimates.
By contrast, demand at Christie’s £4m Post-War sale which immediately followed was much more muted. With quality works by major names in short supply, no lot exceeded £700,000 and the only work to trigger seriously competitive bidding was Eduardo Chilida’s unique 1987 iron sculpture, Besaka, which sold to a European collector for a record £460,000. After the sale senior staff at Christie’s intimated that their policy of presenting Post-War art in a separate catalogue on the same night as the Impressionist and Moderns in London may be up for revision.
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