Buoyed by rising stockmarkets and the continuing strength of the euro against the pound, European private collectors were buying in force at Sotheby’s and Christie’s February round of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art sales in London.
The £24.5m achieved at Christie's February 9 evening sale of Post-War and Contemporary sale - £16.5m up on the equivalent sale last year - was the highest ever total for a contemporary art auction in Europe. Seven new artist's records were set at King Street, led by the £3.7m given by a telephone buyer for Lucien Freud's 1962-3 Red Haired Man on a Chair and £1.6m for the 1987 canvas The Teacher (sub a) by the commercially white-hot South African-Dutch artist Marlene Dumas.
There were fewer obvious highlights at Sotheby's Part I Contemporary sale the following evening, but it was arguably an even more telling indication of the current strength of the market that, despite the absence of a single seven-figure lot, the final total of £15.3m was a record for a contemporary art sale at Bond Street.
London's Impressionist & Modern sales were also supported by strong European bidding. Despite the weakness of the dollar, which dampened US buying, and the absence of major-name trophies, the £41m and £37.5m respectively achieved at Christie's and Sotheby's marathon two-and-a-half-hour Part I sales of German, Impressionist & Modern and Surrealist art also represented improved turnover on last February. Again Christie's - who turned over a massive £92.4m from all their sales - gained the edge in terms of stand-out lots with the superbly preserved c.1922-23 Chaim Soutine masterwork, Le pâtissier de Cagnes proving to be the most expensive painting of the week at a record £4.5m.
Overall Sotheby's and Christie's were offering no fewer than 1850 lots of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary material in 15 separately catalogued auctions. Remarkably, lottage selling rates were 75 per cent or above at all but one of these events.
"The market has never been broader or deeper," enthused Christie's Amy Cappellazzo after King Street's landmark contemporary sale. Throughout the week it was European private bidding, either in person or through a trade intermediary, that was providing most of this depth.