UK & US: PHILLIPS’ traditional reputation as the permanent poor relation of Sotheby’s and Christie’s at the top end of the international art market could be turned on its head by a clutch of high value consignments soon to be offered in London and New York.
Up until November last year, when the auction house was bought by Bernard Arnault’s LVMH luxury goods group, Phillips’ only million-pound lot had been Monet’s Saint Giorgio Maggiore, sold for $2.5m (£1.54m) in New York on May 12, 1998.
They are now offering no fewer than 14 paintings with estimates in excess of £1m. Most prestigious of these consignments is undoubtedly Kazimir Malevich’s c.1919-1920 Suprematist Composition, which will be offered in Phillips’ May 11 sale of Impressionist and Modern Paintings at The American Craft Museum, 40 West 53rd Street, New York.
Having attracted the lots, Phillips’ next hurdle will be to sell successfully, but the Malevich gives them every chance to make a splash.
No Suprematist work by Malevich has ever been offered at auction before. This pioneering abstract painting had formerly hung in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, but was returned to the artist’s 31 surviving descendants in June last year. It is described by international executive director Dan Klein, who has been a key figure in Phillips securing prestigious consignments in America, as “one of the most exciting modern works imaginable”.
Other high value highlights of Phillips’ New York sale will include Cezanne’s c.1886-90, Environs de Gardanne (estimate $8-10m), Paul Gauguin’s 1887 Paysage Martiniquais ($6-8m) and Monet’s 1872 Impressionist landscape, La Seine près de Bougival ($6-8m). The global estimate for Phillips’ May 11 sale of Impressionist and Modern Art is $87-$119m. The equivalent sale last year took just $1.4m. This sequence of major offerings will be continued in London in June when Phillips will include John William Waterhouse’s 1895 RA exhibit Ophelia (£1.5-2m) and Frederick Lord Leighton’s The Bracelet (£1-1.5m) in their June 14 sale of 19th Century British and European Paintings and a £1-1.5m estimated Stanhope Forbes – The Seine Boat, exhibited at the RA in 1904 – in their June 6 Modern British sale. All three paintings have the potential to set new auction records for their respective artists.
What has brought about this dramatic contrast in the quality of material being offered by Phillips in the 20th and 21st centuries?
“Phillips is now seen as a company going places,” explains London executive director Paul Whitfield. “Our acquisition by LVMH has made a great deal of difference to the perception of our company. There’s growing confidence in us as a place to sell high value items.” Whitfield would not comment on whether the corporate might of LVMH, who own over 60 companies in France alone, had given Phillips access to a new level of moneyed client. Nor would he confirm if Phillips were now able to guarantee high value works that would have previously been automatically consigned to Sotheby’s and Christie’s. However, Whitfield did admit that Sotheby’s and Christie’s ongoing Anti-Trust investigations and Class A actions had not harmed Phillips’ cause. “The timing played our way. It has made vendors concentrate on us as an alternative.”