Impressionist and Modern Art – Sotheby’s substantially outsells Christie’s in London



Sotheby’s pre-sale communication for its London sale of Impressionist and Modern art on 24 June 2015 suggested a “historic” sale was about to take place and, indeed, the final total of $282 million ‑ from a catalogue of exceptionally high-quality works ‑ represents its second best-ever sales total in the UK capital.

With masterpieces by Edouard Manet, Edgar Degas, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso and Paul Gauguin (among others), Sotheby’s more than doubled the total generated the previous day (June 23) by its main rival Christie’s (£112.9 million). The primary advantage of Sotheby’s catalogue was its overall quality, containing no less than 12 works estimated above £10m perfectly catering for the apparently unlimited appetite of the high-end international art market. The top-level mix of coveted rarities and masterpieces returning to the market demonstrates Sotheby’s capacity to convince sellers. That said, the context is particularly favorable for high-end sellers at the moment with collectors wanting only the best works and willing to pay high prices to obtain them. Originating from China, the Middle East, Latin America and Russia, their appetite for masterpieces seems inexhaustible.

THREE TROPHIES – Modern icons at the highest level

Kasimir Sevrinovitch MALEVICH: $33m (incl. fees) for a work by a pivotal artist…
The star of Sotheby’s sale was a Suprematist painting by Kazimir Malevich, entitled Suprematism, 18th construction (1915), an extremely rare work (only eight such canvases have been auctioned in the past 15 years) and one that came directly from the artist’s heirs. The rarity substantially contributed to the estimate of $31m – $47m.

Gustav KLIMT: $38.1m (incl. fees) for one of Klimt’s best portraits
After more than 10 minutes of bidding, Klimt’s portrait of Gertrud Loew (1902), estimated $19m – $38m, was finally hammered at close to its high estimate. This imposing oil painting (1.5 meters), fetched the fifth best-ever Klimt auction result and his second-best result for a portrait.

Edgar DEGAS: nearly $25 million for Degas’ most famous sculpture
Sotheby’s estimate for Degas’ Petite danseuse de quatorze ans suggested a new record for a Degas work in three dimensions… and they were not wrong. The hammer fell at $24.96m including fees. Remember that at Sotheby’s London sale of 3 February 2009, an identical copy of this emblematic work fetched $19m. Degas’ heirs had the Petite danseuse reproduced in a limited edition of 28 copies, of which 16 are in museums. That leaves 12 to satisfy market demand.

RESALES ‑ Impressive gains…

Édouard MANET – Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère adds nearly $20 million in 20 years…
The last major work by Manet before his death, the completed version of Le Bar aux Folies-Bergère (1881), is considered by some critics as a kind of final pictorial statement by the artist. The study for that work proposed by Sotheby’s last Wednesday had already been to auction in 1994 at Sotheby’s in London where it fetched $6.1m. Last Wednesday its price was updated to $26 million, the third highest auction result for a Manet painting.

Paul GAUGUIN – Natures morte aux mangues adds $12 million in 10 years…
On June 20, 2005, Gauguin’s Nature morte aux mangues was worth just under $6.5m including fees at Sotheby’s in London. This magnificent work, probably painted during Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti (1891-1893), has accreted in value by $12 million in just 10 years! However, it is worth noting that Gauguin works of this power and quality are exceptionally rare on the market, and that Gauguin is effectively the world’s most expensive artist since the disclosure at the beginning of last February that one of his works, Nafea faa ipoipo (When will you marry?) changed hands privately for more than $300 million. Nafea faa ipoipo also dates from Gauguin’s first trip to Tahiti.

Fernand LÉGER – La Femme couchée adds $2 million in 8 years…
La Femme couchée (1920), a “tubular” nude and an extremely modern still life were steps on the way to the 1921 masterpiece entitled Le Grand déjeuner (1921). In 2007 La Femme couchée fetched $3.4m including fees at Sotheby’s, New York. Last Wednesday it went under the hammer at Sotheby’s in London for $5.3m including fees.

Pablo PICASSO – Deux personnages (La Lecture) adds $22 million in 17 years…
Inspired by Marie-Thérèse Walter in 1934, Picasso’s Deux personnages (La Lecture) had not resurfaced since 1998 (Sotheby’s New York) when it fetched just under $3.2m including costs, a “trifle” compared with Picasso’s current valuations, especially considering the recent sale of Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) for more than $179 million including fees (Christie’s New York, May 11, 2015). Estimated at $20 to $28 million, Deux personnages (La Lecture) sold within that range for $25.2m including fees.