Auction series takes art sales to new level
Record crowds packed into Sotheby's and Christie's last week
to see London's auction market for Impressionist, Modern and
Contemporary art soar to truly extraordinary levels.
Sotheby's marathon three-hour £94.9m auction of Impressionist
& Modern art on February 5 ranks as the most expensive sale in
this category ever held in Europe. A remarkable 30 lots sold for
over £1m with Chaïm Soutine reaching yet another new high, the
superb c.1921 portrait, L'Homme au Foulard Rouge, selling for
The following evening Christie's weighed in with another
three-hour offering of Imps & Mods which achieved £89.9m.
Competition for art - and somewhere to stand to see the art being
sold - was even more intense at Sotheby's and Christie's February 7
and 8 contemporary sales.
Sotheby's £45.7m on Wednesday evening set a new high for any
contemporary auction in Europe. Twenty-four hours later this record
was smashed by the gargantuan £70.4m achieved at Christie's for
their 84 lots of contemporary material.
No fewer than 16 works sold for over £1m, topped by the £12.5m
paid by the New York dealer Andrew Fabricant in the room for
Francis Bacon's 1956, Study for Portrait II, which had reputedly
been entered by Sophia Loren. This is the second highest price ever
paid for both a post-War and a British work of art. Only two lots
failed to find buyers.
On February 6 Phillips de Pury had also been in on the act. Using
a temporary selling space in a ballroom in Bloomsbury Square, Simon
de Pury knocked down 92 lots of contemporary art, including a
single-owner collection of ultra-fashionable Chinese works, for a
high estimate £5.3m.
"These sales re-established London's pre-eminence as a hub of the
global art market, with an ability to attract collectors from all
over the world to compete for top quality lots," said Robin
Woodhead, Sotheby's Chief Exective Officer of Sotheby's Europe and
Asia after his company notched up an unprecedented total of £186m
from their week of sales.
Christie's total was even higher at £200m.
Ever-rising prices, a favourable dollar-sterling exchange rate and
the chance of a seven-figure bid from a Russian oligarch make
London an increasingly attractive place to sell high-value
Though the Bacon fell to a New York dealer on behalf of a North
American collector, overall the sales produced a higher-than-usual
proportion of European buyers. Remarkably nine out of the 10 most
expensive lots at Christie's Imps & Mods sale fell to
Among these, Russians - based either in London or Russian, or both
- are an increasingly influential factor. The auction houses are
understandably keen to protect the anonymity of their buyers, but
Christie's Jussi Pylkkänen was prepared to say after King Street's
Imps & Mods sale: "Clients from new markets are influencing
prices. Russians were among the top ten buyers."
A diminitive Russian-speaker in his 30s was also a prominint buyer
at Sotheby's evening contemporary sale. This mystery bidder,
speaking into a mobile, produced gasps in the room when he paid a
quadruple-estimate and record £5.1m for Peter Doig's dreamlike
1990/1990 canvas, White Canoe, which Sotheby's had recently bought
from Charles Saatchi.
This bidder's shopping list included at least three other
paintings for a further £1.7m.
A strong night for British painting also saw a record £1.7m paid
on the telephone for Frank Auerbach's 1977 canvas, Camden Theatre
in the Rain.
A remarkable 19 per cent of the lots at Sotheby's were bought by
new collectors, but specialist-in-charge Cheyenne Westphal was keen
to allay fears that the market be overheating.
"Everyone feels very relaxed at the moment," she said. "People are
confident that the market will carry on like this for a while.
Fortunes are being created so quickly and so many new buyers are
coming into the market all the time. London is an exciting place to
be at the moment."
By Scott Reyburn
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