Tuesday - 09 February 2016

The Europeans are coming

14 May 2007Written by ATG Reporter

Change in the collecting geography at New York’s Imp & Mod spring sales

With exchange rates of precisely $2 to £1, Europeans contributed most to the truly global bidding audience seen at this year's spring series of Impressionist and Modern art sales in New York.

"It was the most international-driven sale I've ever seen," said David C. Norman, director of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby's. At Christie's European buyers purchased 48 per cent of the lots with Americans accounting for an unusually low 29 per cent.

But, if the talk was of a major shift in the collecting geography caused by exchange rates, then equally indicative of a market at full tilt was the positive reaction to a number of 'seen' pictures.

Two of three lots to share the top price of $16.5m (£8.25m) at Christie's on May 9 had very recent saleroom exposure. Picasso's classic Tête et Main de Femme of 1921 was reappearing on the market after just two years - in May 2005 it had sold in these rooms for $12m - while Juan Gris' textbook Cubist still life Le Pot de Géranium doubled the previous auction record for the artist (and the $7.7m/£5.24m it had made at Sotheby's New York in 2002).

Sotheby's, who were overshadowed last November by the stellar performance of the quartet of restituted Bloch Bauer Klimts seen at Christie's $491.5m (£271m) sale, posted the strongest set of results this time round.

Their Part I sale on May 8 posted a premium-inclusive $278.5m (£139.25m) - second only to the total achieved back in May 1990 - with 61 of the 66 lots sold, while Christie's larger sale the following evening (78 lots, of which 68 sold) posted $236.5m (£118.25m), their third highest result for the category.

Sotheby's sale included four Cézanne watercolours collected by London Asian art dealer Giuseppe Eskenazi. The ace of the group was Nature Morte au Melon Vert (1902-6) which he had bought for £2.5m in the sale of the British Rail Pension Fund at Sotheby's in 1989.

A telephone bidder, who was the most active competitor at the sale, bought the watercolour for $25.75m, far above its $18m estimate and a record for a Cézanne work on paper at auction. Sotheby's had 'guaranteed' the picture.

The biggest surprise of the evening - and doubtless again a lucrative deal for Sotheby's who had guaranteed the picture at less than half its selling price - was Jesuits III (1915), a richly coloured canvas of clerics crowding around a prostitute painted by Lyonel Feininger at the height of his Expressionist period. After a fierce exchange between two telephone bidders it more than doubled hopes to bring $20.75m (£10.38m) - evidence of the rewards now available for great works by so-called 'secondary' artists.

The New York Contemporary art sales, more ambitious than ever this year, will be offered this week. When it comes to American favourites Rothko and Warhol, few expect the European domination to continue.

By Roland Arkell

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