|Monday, June 25, 2012
By Oliver Shuttleworth
Considering the murmurs around the trade of the poor quality of the two sales this term, we saw a fabulous amount of bidding in the salerooms this week. The top lot at Sotheby’s, from Nahmad’s stash of stunning Modernist works, was the Miro, Etoile Bleu which made far more than I thought it would. Acquired in 2007 for 11m GBP it sold for 23m GBP this week. With buyers hankering after the very best works of art it was no wonder that there was competition, but that price is extraordinary and it rushed past the previous record of 16m GBP for the 1920s painting sold in the February 2012 sale at Christie’s. Otherwise there were slim pickings at Sotheby’s who always knew it would be an uphill struggle to compete with the substantial might of a Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Department still licking their wounds from their dire May sale in New York.
Christie’s cover lot, the Baigneuse by Renoir, was a great picture but they were happy to sell it before the sale for an undisclosed sum. I am told it was within estimate which would make it 17.5m GBP hammer price – a very good result indeed. When auction houses sell works before the sale it is often through caution, not necessarily the high level of the offer. In this case, with Christie’s following Sotheby’s indifferent sale result, they clearly wanted to sell the work rather than risk it remaining unsold.
Picasso, as ever, was a highlight of both sales with great prices for the 1949 Femme Assise at almost 8m GBP hammer price and at Sotheby’s the later, 1972, Homme Assis which made under the (admittedly heavy) estimate of 5.5m GBP hammer price. There is such a huge disparity between quality here which I find interesting. The later works are not nearly as good artistically as the early pre-1950s pictures and yet the prices do not show such a variation. I think there will be some very unhappy buyers in 25 years time that have spent big sums on 1960s oils. With Picasso I think it is always wise to focus on his pre-1950 work if budget allows.
Henry Moore did well overall with the Mother and Child at Sotheby’s making over 3m GBP from an estimate that seemed strong at 1.8-2.5m GBP. Following the vast price of the Festival of Britain reclining figure at Christie’s in February, Moore’s work should be worth following. I think it will continue to flourish in this top heavy market.
The small Kurt Schwitters, bought by the dealer Jorg Bertz for 1.1m GBP, was arguably the most important picture up for sale this week and was somewhat overshadowed by the bright cheery Signacs and Picassos in the exhibition. To see a 1919 Schwitters up for sale is a very rare occurrence and that is what led Jorg to shout out a bid of double the low estimate – another rare occurrence.
Other significant results were for a strong Magritte, Les jours gigantesques, that was bought by Wilbur Ross for 6.4m GBP hammer price, and another splendid Magritte titled Le monde des images, very different though it was, which made over 4m GBP hammer. Decent Signac paintings, from the latter stages of his Pointilliste period, made two strong prices this week. The fabulous view of Istanbul making well over the estimate of 4-6m GBP and fetching a hammer price of 5.5m GBP and the work at Sotheby’s from the outskirts of Paris making 3.2m GBP.
The Day Sales floundered a little – no one is looking for even the most elegant works on paper which I think is a good market to look at for the long term. The middle market continues to find the going tough but the cover lot of the Sotheby’s day sale made its very strong estimate of 500,00GBP and Christie’s had some notable prices including the cover lot by Magritte which made 500,000GBP (perhaps 100,000GBP more than it should have).
Overall, as ever, quality is key. The best results were for the works of art that were fresh to the market and were of the best possible quality. Buyers should find a good advisor and they will find the quality.