June 2010: major sales in London … and in Paris!



The major London sales during June were stacked full of high quality works: an ultra-rare Manet self-portrait, a Fauvist work by André Derain with an extraordinary background and an absinthe drinker from Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’ – the results could not fail to better the previous years’ totals.

However, while the month generated a number of new records, it was also marked by disappointment and one major surprise: the best result in the Impressionist & Modern Art sales came not from London… but from Paris.

Selling at its low estimate of £20m ($29m), Édouard MANET’s self-portrait (Portrait de Manet par lui-même, en buste) generated 20% of Sotheby’s total revenue from its Impressionist & Modern Art sale on 22 June 2010 (£98.87m) The return of such precious masterpieces appears to have saved the prestige sales in London. In fact, £20m represent 68% of the total revenue from the same Sotheby’s sale in June 2009! One of only two self-portraits by Manet, this extremely rare painting of the artist with palette in hand generated £6m more than his previous record that dates back to the end of the 1980’s (La rue Mosnier aux drapeaux, 1878, Christie’s, New York, 14 November 1989). Several minutes later, Bouquet de Pivoines by the same artist fetched £800,000 more than its high estimate at £6.8m.
Manet was not the only artist to attract intense bidding. The story surrounding André DERAIN’s Arbres à Collioure also appears to have whet buyers’ appetites. The Romanesque story of the work – which belonged to Ambroise Vollard before being forgotten in a bank safe for 40 years – acted as a formidable bidding stimulant. Selling for £14.5m, the work beat Derain’s previous record by £7m (Barques au port de Collioure fetched $12.5m, [£7.6m] on 4 November 2009 at Sotheby’s in New York).
Sotheby’s also generated a new record for Pierre BONNARD with a luminous and intimate work entitled Le petit déjeuner, radiateur. Going under the hammer for £5.5m, the piece fetched £2m more than its high estimate. However, Henri MATISSE’s 1928 Odalisque jouant aux dames only just reached its low estimate of £10m ($15.5m).
Manet, Derain, Bonnard and Matisse: these four lots generated more than half of Sotheby’s auction revenue on 22 June. But with 31.3% of the works remaining unsold, the auctioneer might have expected a better overall revenue total, especially if Claude MONET’s Fleurs à Vétheuil and Pablo PICASSO’s Femme au chat assise dans un fauteuil had fetched more than the £4-6m estimates each was carrying.
The most sought-after Picasso work at these London sales was offered the following day at Christie’s. After $95m for Nude, Green Leaves and Bust at Christie’s New York sales in May, the formidable Portrait d’Angel Fernandez de Soto (1903, blue period) carried a good chance of generating a big surprise. But Christie’s was to be disappointed with a result of just £31m against a high estimate of £40m.

However their disappointment was substantially greater for a Claude Monet Nymphéas that was also priced at £30-40m, a range representing more than twice the amount the work fetched in 2000 (£12.2m). Between the two sales, Claude Monet’s price index has indeed risen… by roughly 20%, and not 100%. The current record for Nymphéas was generated at the market’s peak in June 2008 when Bassin aux nymphéas (1919) fetched twice its low estimate at £36.5m at Christie’s in London.
While the race to acquire masterpieces generates records even in times of crisis, that does not imply at any price!

Paris enters the lists…
Contrary to expectations, the best result from the Impressionist and Modern Art sales during June 2010 was generated not in London, but in Paris, with a new record for Amedeo MODIGLIANI. His caryatid Tête, from the Gaston Lévy collection fetched nearly ten times its low estimate when it went under the hammer for €38,5m (£32m, $46.6m), on 14 June.

Contemporary Art sales
The results of the Contemporary Art sales at the end of June may look reassuring for the two major global auction companies if we focus on the bought-in rate (16% on average). However, several star signatures suffered somewhat negative surprises. On 28 June, Sotheby’s bought in its two works by Peter DOIG: White Creep, estimated £1.4 – 1.8m, and Stealth House, estimated £300,000 – £400,000, as well as an early work by Lucian FREUD entitled Memory of London (1939-40) estimated £500,000 – £700,000. On 28 June, the same auctioneer sold Richard PRINCE’s Millionaire Nurse for £1.9m, (i.e. £350,000 less than it fetched in May 2008) and Andreas GURSKY’s wide cibachrome Stateville, Illinois, below its low estimate (£500,000 – £700,000) at £480,000. Two days later, Christie’s bought in a major work by Gursky, Pyongyang II, estimated at between £900,000 and £1,2m and a large untitled acrylic painting by Jean-Michel BASQUIAT (1982) offered at £2.5 – £3.5m.
Jeff KOONS, on the other hand, recovered a little of his stature when his Loopy painting fetched his best result in 12 months at £3m (roughly $4.5m). That was in fact Christie’s best ever auction result for a Koons painting!