Knock-on effect of turbulence in money markets is less dramatic than feared at art auctions
Solid rather than spectacular results characterised last
week's run of high-profile art sales in London. Despite the turmoil
in the money markets there was consistently strong bidding for the
best works at three 'evening' sales that saw more than £260m worth
of art sold.
Christie's, whose Contemporary sale boasted the highest price of
the series, began their most important London dates with an
Impressionist and Modern Art sale (including 35 lots in a separate
catalogue titled The Art of the Surreal) on February 6.
Lacking stellar entries, the sale totalled £92.4m compared with a
pre-sale estimate of £89-126m. Of the 131 lots on offer 31 failed
The top lot of the sale at £5.1m was Picasso's 1938 Femme au
chapeau, - a picture that had failed to sell in 2002, but the sale
was heavily weighted towards German and Austrian art. One of the
more animated sections included eight works by Egon Schiele
(1890-1918). These were entered by Ronald Lauder's Neue Galerie in
New York to help fund the acquisition of Gustav Klimt's Adele
Bloch-Bauer I for the record price of $135 million in June
Four works by Karl Schmidt-Rottluff from the collection of Dr
Wilhelm Niemeyer included Akte im Freien (Drei badende Frauen),
1913 at £2.7m (estimate £1-1.5m), while L'Ouled Naïl, 1910, by Kees
van Dongen proved the highlight of nine works bought by the late
Maurice Wohl, a UK property developer, during the 1960s, selling at
£5m (estimate £2-3m). Both prices were artist records.
American buyers were conspicuous by their absence, buying just 15
per cent of the lots against 83 per cent bought by Europeans.
A sale of works on paper and a secondary sale added a further
£17.7m to the hammer total.
With Sotheby's holding back their Contemporary art for a
stand-alone event at the end of the month, their early February
eggs were all in the Impressionist and Modern basket.
Their main evening sale was less than two-thirds the size of their
competitors' but it made substantially more at £103m, boosted by
record-breaking German Expressionist results of £11m for Franz Marc
and £8.4m for Alexej von Jawlensky and stronger than predicted
prices for several other works such as pastels by Renoir and Degas,
a Giacometti painting and a Matisse charcoal.
With only nine of the 76 lots failing to sell there was also a
lower buy-in rate. The £103m total, which compared with pre-sale
estimate of £81-£112.1m, produced the auction house's highest ever
total in Europe, surpassed only by Christie's equivalent auction
last June (£107m).
Russian activity was the talking point amongst the press in the
immediate aftermath and Sotheby's buying breakdown confirmed that
15 per cent by lot went to Russia. Europe claimed the highest
proportion at 67 per cent with Americans taking 13 per cent of
The auction house added a further £23.2m to their overall hammer
tally via their part two sales the following day.
With Sotheby's and Phillips de Pury staging their contemporary
sales at the end of the month, Christie's Post-War and Contemporary
evening sale on February 6 was billed by commentators as the first
chance of 2008 to see how this booming market would fare against
the turbulent climate in the financial sector and fears of a
Results showed that there was a noticeable, but not spectacular,
cooling. The auctioneers announced immediately after the sale that
results had been "incredibly solid" and that the £64.5m hammer
total represented the second highest amount ever seen at such a
But with over 30 per cent of the lots unsold, including four works
with guarantees, the sale fell short of its £72m-100m pre-sale
Christie's achieved the highest price for a post-War work of art
sold in Europe when Francis Bacon's Triptych 1974-77 was knocked
down at £23.5m to a unindentified man standing in the doorway to
However, the price was below its £25m low estimate and there was
only one other interested party in the room.
Although the unsolds included works by some of the big names in
the market like Andy Warhol, Mark Rothko and Damien Hirst, records
were set for Gerhard Richter (b.1932) when Zwei Liebespaare sold to
a US private at £6.5m and also for Lucio Fontana (1899-1968) whose
Concetto Spaziale made £6m.
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