The London art market received a major lift in the salerooms last week when Sotheby’s and Christie’s attracted remarkably strong levels of international demand for their February round of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary auctions.
Contrary to the gloomy mood prevailing in a number of London’s galleries, Christie’s Part I sale of Impressionist and Modern art on February 4 grossed £37.4m – their highest total in London since November 1989.
The sale boasted no fewer than 11 lots exceeding £1m and three artist’s records, led by the sale-topping £6.5m given by an anonymous telephone buyer for Maurice de Vlaminck’s 1906 Fauve landscape, La Seine à Chatou. Shock of the night was the triple-estimate £4.7m paid by another telephone bidder for Edvard Munch’s large, but little-admired 1905 oil Haus in Aasgaardstrand. The latter result was widely interpreted in the trade as symptomatic of the way in which demand has outstripped quality of supply in the Impressionist and Modern field. In terms of quality Sotheby’s £14.2m Impressionist and Modern sale the following evening was, by contrast, one of their thinner offerings.
Nonetheless, though the total was over £7m down on last February, Sotheby’s did, like Christie’s, find buyers for some 82 per cent of their lots. Outstanding among the few prime quality lots in the sale was Fernand Leger’s 1924 oil Le Siphon, which sold to London dealer Ivor Braka for £2.3m.
Sotheby’s and Christie’s contemporary sales followed a similar pattern of intensified demand for a few trophy lots. Christie’s February 6 Part I sale set a new record for any contemporary photograph at auction when Andreas Gursky’s study of 200 trainers, Untitled V, sold to a Japanese private buyer for a double-estimate £390,000, while the following evening at Sotheby’s Peter Doig underlined his status as a new major name in British painting when the London dealer Thomas Dane paid a record £290,000 for the 1990 canvas, Swamped.
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