Christie's June 24 evening sale saw 66 of the 81 lots sell for £126.9m, a record for a European auction, proving that, at the highest echelons at least, the London art market is still booming.
But polarisation of the exceptional and the mediocre is becoming ever more apparent and it was the lower-value secondary works by major artists which saw shakier results.
Whilst super-rich collectors, some of whose business lies in natural resources, see their wealth continuing to escalate, those who might consider spending between £100,000 and £1m on a piece, with wealth founded upon financial services for example, seem to be feeling the pinch.
At Christie's, Claude Monet's 1919 Le Bassin aux Nympheas bore testament to his enduring commercial appeal by selling for £36.5m, an auction record for the artist.
Estimated at £18m-24m, the iconic canvas, perhaps the best of the Waterlilies series to appear at auction, was knocked down to London-based art advisor Tania Buckrell Pos. She sat in the front row of the saleroom taking instructions from an anonymous client on the phone, after a battle against an American phone bidder.
This result almost doubled the previous auction record for Monet, achieved at Christie's New York on May 6, where his 1873 Le Pont du Chemin de Fer à Argenteuil made $37m (£18.8m).
Le Bassin aux Nympheas was part of a stellar collection of 17 works, from the estate of the late J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller from Columbus, Indiana, unseen on the market for several decades, which led the sale.
A weak dollar combined with strong demand from both Russian and European buyers has encouraged Americans to sell works in London. Christie's chief executive Edward Dolman, buoyed by the exceptional results, said: "This was the first time a really important American collection of Impressionist and modern art has been sold in London. The market backed up that decision."
As a condition for consigning to London, the Millers requested that Christie's US-based honorary chairman Christopher Burge should be at the rostrum to sell this section of the sale.
Christie's had guaranteed both the Miller collection and the eight 20th century avant-garde works from the German collection of Alfred and Elisabeth Hoh, a gamble that seems to have paid off. All 25 guaranteed lots sold, with three quarters of them going at or above estimate, including the Monet.
By contrast, the following evening only two of the 55 lots in Sotheby's offering were guaranteed. This solid sale saw 50 of the lots sell for a total of £89.5m, with Gino Severini's 1915 canvas Danseuse, one of the two guaranteed works, achieving the top price at £13.4m, a record for a Severini and for any Futurist work at auction.
Expected to fetch £7m-10m, four telephone bidders competed for Danseuse before it sold to a buyer represented by Sotheby's Phillip Hook.
These strong sales will have boosted confidence in the run-up to this week's heavily guaranteed contemporary sales, with Christie's guaranteeing 14 out of 59 lots compared to Sotheby's 26 out of 75.
By Anna Brady