|Tuesday, June 19, 2012
By Oliver Shuttleworth
The Impressionist and Modern Evening Sales at the two main auction houses this summer don’t quite match up to the Sotheby’s sale in May. That sale was a perfect storm of two great collections and lots of bidding. When you have an iconic picture (the Munch, Scream) on the cover of even the popular press it attracts everyone, including top end buyers.
Highlights this term are the two cover lots, as one would expect, with Christie’s boasting a wonderful Renoir Baigneuse from 1888 which is a contrast to the Miro Peinture (Etoile Bleu) on Sotheby’s Catalogue. This Renoir was up in 1997 and made over $20m but now, with the conservative pricing and vibrant market it should make substantially more than the £12m low estimate. It is a classic figurative work and we all know of at least one major buyer looking for high end Renoir. Overall Christie’s have the larger, more impressive, sale although Sotheby’s have done a fantastic job with the layout in the galleries – having plenty of viewing space is a very helpful tool in selling a sale.
Christie’s collection of Degas sculptures is a great asset to the house and they have exhibited the sculptures well. With the current controversy over the recasting of bronzes from old plasters, see the cover of the Art Newspaper (June 2012) , shaping up to be a huge issue with Degas sculpture I hope these do as well in the room as they deserve to. All the estimates are attractive and I think all should sell well.
Two Magrittes in the surrealist section of the Christie’s sale warrant attention. The late but elegant Le monde des images is a beautiful image that should make beyond estimate comfortably (£2-3m). Les jours gigantique is an ‘attempted rape’ scene which is unsettling and goes to show what a challenging artist Magritte proved to be in the late 1920s. We are so often fed Magritte’s saccharine prettiness of apples, bowler-hats and Surrealism-lite: perhaps Magritte deserves more respect from art history than the art market. In this lot the outline of the woman includes the man – Magritte treats the subject from the part of a voyeur looking into a woman-shaped keyhole. It is a deeply thought-provoking work but one that might be bought by a museum or major gallery as opposed to a private buyer.
My personal highlight in the Christie’s sale is a Vlaminck from 1905 – lot 4 – at £3.5m this is not an easy sell but I love it. The sky is pure Van Gogh and the colours perfect for a Fauve oil such as this. It is in a different league from the other Vlaminck and looks like good value in comparison.
Over at Sotheby’s on Bond St. the Miro is a good one. From 1927, just a few years after the dawn of Breton’s surrealism, Peinture (Etoile Bleu) is a very elegant image. It is also, at £15-20m, £5m too expensive to warrant a sale. I would be amazed if it sold beyond their irrevocable bid given the recent sale of two better works for less money in New York and London in May and February respectively. Peinture (Etoile Bleu) sold in 2007, the very height of the market, for €11.5m (then under £8m) and now will cost over €22m if it sells: including Sotheby’s premium and VAT at 5% on the whole price.
The other two major highlights at Sotheby’s are the fabulous Lailla by kees Van Dongen which is a controversial and bold work but one that exudes the exotic. It is a powerful image and one that should find some bidders, albeit possibly not from the Middle-east which is a big market for the houses presently.
The Signac depicting Paris is not from his best period but it is still an astonishing work that should be able to sell even though it was up on the market a few years ago. In 2008 it made just over £3.1m including premium – now it will need to make over £4.2m (including premium) to sell. If the market can stand the slightly inflated estimates both sales should perform well.