Impressionism? Anglo-Saxon hammer prices on the wane.


  Recent sales at the London auctions of 24 and 25 June confirm the resurgence of French impressionism which had been rather overshadowed in 2001. The healthy demand for the school was underscored when Claude MONET‘s Nymphs fetched GBP12,250,000 at Sotheby’s. At the same time, the popularity of British and US impressionists, who made such a splash in 2000, seemed to have waned.

Top quality canvases by the masters of French impressionism rarely come up for sale. Most collectors cannot afford them so their owners have little prospect of reselling at a profit. In the late 1990s the US and British markets responded to this conundrum by rediscovering their native impressionists and seized on the enthusiasm of the time to mount a string of themed auctions. Sotheby’s and Christie’s dug into their reserves of US and British painters to meet strong demand from collectors of local impressionism. Today, on the back of the speculative boom that has raged through the anglo-saxon markets for some time, the international market is starting to take an interest. For many years, paintings produced by the Britain and American impressionists commanded similar prices. But since 2000, the enthusiasm rippling out from the US market has driven up prices for transatlantic artists. Between June 1997 and December 2000 the prices for US impressionist canvases rose, on average, by 183%.
It is the paintings coming up for auction, in many cases for the first time, that are driving the record prices commanded by the artists. At auctions on 24and 25 May 2000 works by Americans Dennis Miller BUNKER, James Abbot McNeill WHISTLER and Frank Weston BENSON sold for prices that have not been seen since. Sales revived briefly in the winter, but since January 2001 prices have been on the way down, losing 5.6% over six months. The story was repeated for the British impressionists. British artists reached their peak of popularity in 2000, as the price index shows. Turnover for the movement’s works doubled over the year on unchanged sales. The wave of enthusiasm stimulated some new records, such as the GBP1.1 million paid for Stanhope Alexander FORBESThe Seine Boat, on June 6.

But hammer prices generally still fell short of those being paid for the French pioneers. Looking at prices paid for each of the three movements over the last year we have to ask ourselves if there is a process of substitution going on between the French and Anglo-Saxon impressionists. Would a fall in prices for one school trigger rising prices in the others? We are likely to find our answer in the tone of future London and New York sales.

Price indices for Impressionist paintings

base 100 in june 1997

  UK impressionnism   US impressionnism   French impressionnism