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With Phillips de Pury & Luxembourg widely rumoured to have guaranteed the Smooke Collection for $180m and Christie’s offering $53m-worth of works from the collection of René Gaffé for the benefit of UNICEF, the sales had been awaited, even before the terrorist attacks on New York, as the key indicator of whether recession had begun to bite at the top end of the market.

In terms of selling rates, results were encouraging. Just five out of the 72 lots at Phillips’ November 5 Smooke Collection sale failed to find buyers and the premium-inclusive total of $86.2m (£60.7m) was slightly above the pre-sale lower estimate – though far below the collection’s rumoured $180m guarantee. Star of the sale was Egon Schiele’s 1917 oil, House with Washing Line, at $9m (£6.3m).

The following evening, thanks to the absence of any reserves, Christie’s 25 works from the Gaffé Collection were a complete sell-out, totalling $73.3m (£51.6m) against a lower estimate of $53.7m with record prices of $15.2m (£10.7m) for Fernand Léger’s 1918 Le Moteur and $11.5m (£8.1m) for Joan Miró’s 1924 Portrait de Mme. K. However, demand proved more selective in Christie’s mixed owner section when 24 (61.5 per cent) of the 39 lots found buyers, generating $35.7m (£25m).

Sotheby’s, with the shadow of a major court case hanging over them, did not offer bidders a single owner collection and their conspicuously thin November 7 sale netted a below estimate $33.1m (£23.2m), their lowest Part I Impressionist and Modern total since November 1994. Nonetheless 25 (66 per cent) of the 38 lots found buyers, topped by the record $6m (£4.2m) for Camille Pissarro’s 1893 oil, La rue Saint-Lazare.