HAS the top end of the art market bounced back? This was the opinion ventured by some commentators after the flagship sales of Impressionist and Modern art in New York last week.
The auctioneers, predictably, were keen to emphasise the signs
of recovery, especially after Sotheby's evening sale on November 4
saw some keen bidding battles that sparked claims of a return to
the kind of competitive buying seen before the dramatic downturn at
the end of last year.
The sale saw a hammer total of $159m (£101m), towards the upper
end of the $116m-165m presale estimate.
Selling 56 out of 66 lots (85 per cent), it cannot be denied
that this was the best performing major auction in the modern and
contemporary arena since the financial crisis hit the art
However, Sotheby's total was still down on the $197m (£120m) for
the equivalent sale last year.
Furthermore, Christie's sale the night before was both smaller
and patchier, with the $56.9m (36.2m) hammer total coming in below
the $68.7m- $97.2m pre-sale estimate. Here, 28 of the 40 lots on
offer found buyers (70 per cent).
The overall hammer total for the Impressionist and Modern week,
including day sales, was $260m (£166m), which was slightly down on
the equivalent total in November last year and well down on the
mammoth premium-inclusive $804m (£402m) seen in November 2007.
While both auction houses saw some confident bidding where
quality works were pitched at realistic levels, there is still a
considerable distance to go before it can be called a full
The better response seen at Sotheby's evening
sale was largely down to a handful of key consignments.
Twenty-seven works came from the collection of the Dutch
financier Louis Reijtenbagh following the resolution of three
lawsuits filed against him by international banks.
Twenty-two of the works sold at Sotheby's, contributing a third
of the sale total. These included a record price for Kees van
Dongen (1877-1968), whose Jeune Arabe from 1910 found five
bidders before it was knocked down to a private collector at
$12.25m (£7.8m) against a $7m-10m estimate.
Even more competition emerged on the top lot, an impressive
bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti (1901-1966) which was being
sold by the publishing magnate S.I. Newhouse Jr, who owns Condé
L'Homme qui Chavire, cast in 1951 in an edition of six,
was apparently bought by Newhouse for around $20m. Here, estimated
at $8m-12m, it drew six bidders and took $17.2m (£10.9m) from a
Another artist's record came for André Derain's (1880-1954)
colourful Barques au Port de Collioure c.1905, which sold
at $12.5m (£7.96m) to Guy Bennett, the former head of Christie's
New York Impressionist department who is now a private dealer. He
was bidding in the room while talking to his client on the phone.
Against a $6m-8m estimate, it drew six interested parties and
doubled the previous high for the artist.
Sotheby's also had seven paintings from the collection formed by
the legendary dealer art Paul Durand-Ruel that all sold for a
combined $16.4m (£10.4m).
Uppermost among them was Camille Pissarro's (1831-1903) Le
Pont Boieidieu et la Gare d'Orleans, Rouen, which sold to the
artist's great-grandson, Lionel Pissarro, of the New York and Paris
private dealership Giraud Pissarro Segalot, for $6.2m (£3.95m).
The prize lot in the five works consigned from the collection of
Arthur M. Sackler, the arts philanthropist who died in 1987, was
Wassily Kandinsky's (1866-1944) Krass und Mild (Dramatic
and Mild), which was knocked down at $9.4m (£5.99m) to a telephone
buyer bidding through a member of staff from Sotheby's Russian
With Sotheby's securing the cream of the consignments,
Christie's sale the evening before looked
Their star offering, Pablo Picasso's (1881-1973) Tête de
Femme, a portrait of Dora Maar from 1943, went unsold against
a $7m-10m estimate, although Edgar Degas' (1834-1917)
Danseuses generated a decent competition against a $7m-9m
estimate, selling at $9.5m (£6.05m) to an Asian private buyer on
Further bidding battles emerged on a lifetime cast of Auguste
Rodin's (1940-1917) The Kiss, which made $5.6m (£3.57m)
against a $1.5m-2m estimate and sold to New York dealer Christopher
Eykyn, and Tamara De Lempicka's (1898-1980) Portrait du Marquis
Sommi from 1925 that made $3.8m against a $2m-3m estimate.
Amongst a number of works to generate strong bidding at the
Impressionist and Modern day sales was Der Neue Mensch by
German dadaist George Grosz (1893-1959). The 1921 watercolour sold
at Christie's for $1.1m (£700,635) against a $300,000-500,000
Overall, Christie's 232-lot day sale, including the works on
paper sale, made a hammer total of $18.7m (£11.9m), while Sotheby's
219-lot day sale made $25.4m (£16.2m).
By Alex Capon
£1 = $1.57
The buyer's premium at Sotheby's and Christie's is both 25/20/12
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