THE readjustment taking place at the top end of the contemporary and modern art market was once again in evidence at the latest flagship London auction series.
As buyers continued to be cautious with their spending, the
difficulty in getting vendors to consign top works was also clear
as last week's slimmed-down sales saw totals down by over three
times compared to last year.
With the auctioneers having all but stopped issuing guarantees
and with vendors choosing to hold on to their property rather than
sell in a deflated marketplace, the catalogues at both Sotheby's
and Christie's were much thinner both in terms of the quantity and
quality of the works on offer.
Christie's evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art on June
23 offered 44 lots, of which 30 sold for a hammer total of £32.4m.
This was below the £36.9m-50.2m pre-sale estimate and a hefty
drop-off from last summer's £126.9m raised from 81 lots.
The top lot was Claude Monet's (1840-1926)
Au Parc Monceau which generated a three-way bidding
competition and sold above estimate at £5.6m.
It was one of a handful of works that made tidy profits for
their vendors in spite of the downturn. It was last seen in the
saleroom in 2001 when it sold at Sotheby's for £3.4m after being
restituted to the Kainer family. Here it was estimated at
£3.5m-4.5m and was knocked down to an anonymous telephone
Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern art evening sale the next day
totalled £29.3m against a presale estimate of £26.7m-37.2m with 23
out of 27 lots offered here sold. The top lot was Pablo
Picasso's (1881-1973) Homme à l'épée, from 1969,
which made the highest price of the series, selling to a private
collector at £6.2m.
Estimated at £6m-8m, this was the first time it had been on the
market and it was subject to an irrevocable bid.
This depiction of a musketeer was exhibited at the Palais des
Papes in Avignon in 1969-1970 and was selected for the poster
advertising the exhibition. Christie's also had a version of
Homme à l'épée at their evening sale, which Picasso had
painted the day after the one seen at Sotheby's. It was arguably
less striking and, crucially, it was not fresh to the market having
been at auction recently when Christie's sold it in February 2005
Offered here with a £5m-7m estimate, it sold to a European
dealer for £5.1m, providing a tidy return for the vendor.
Sotheby's day sale of Impressionist and Modern art, as with
their evening sale, made a total within its estimate. With 157 lots
of the 187 on offer getting away on June 25, the total was £10.3m
against presale predictions of £9.8m-13.7m.
Sotheby's deputy director and one of the specialists in charge
of the day sale, Georgina Fletcher, said: "We kept this sale very
focused and concentrated on quality rather than quantity, while
also carefully considered the pricing. We tailored the sale for the
current market and assembled a very balanced spread of prime
Impressionist and Modern works."
Christie's Impressionist and Modern day sale on June 24 also saw
a decent selling rate as 145 out of 191 lots sold for a £7.77m
Sotheby's Contemporary art evening sale on June 25 also went
within its pre-sale estimate of £19.8m -27.4m. However, the £21.9m
total was well down on last year's equivalent sale, which made
Only three of the 40 lots failed to sell, with the top price
coming for Andy Warhol's (1928-1987) silkscreen
Mrs McCarthy and Mrs Brown (Tunafish Disaster), which sold
below estimate at £3.3m.
Christie's Contemporary art evening sale took place on June 30
netting £16.2m, just below its presale low estimate.
By Alex Capon
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