London’s 2017 season of prestige sales got off to a superb start for Christie’s on 28 February with two successive sales, Impressionist & Modern Art followed by another dedicated to Surrealism. The two sales attracted intense interest from collectors from all over the world (with 39 nationalities represented among the registered bidders) who acquired no less than 95% of the Impressionist & Modern lots followed by 98% of the Surrealist lots a few hours later. The day was a major success for Christie’s generating a combined turnover of £136.8 million ($169.9 million).
Works by Kees van Dongen, Raoul Dufy, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir and Félix Vallotton all sold above their estimates and there was a new auction record for René MAGRITTE (1898-1967) whose La corde sensible(1960) fetched £14.4 million ($17.9 million) adding $5 million to his previous record. Another Magritte work, Le domaine d’Arnheim, fetched his fourth best-ever result at £10.245 million ($12.724 million). René Magritte’s prices have shown strong progress in recent years: on average, $100 invested in 2000 is worth $434 today. Indeed, Surrealism in general is increasingly sought-after by collectors and is undergoing a comprehensive revaluation. Certain results last year already reflected this trend. Le miroirby the Belgian Surrealist Paul DELVAUX (1897-1994) set a new auction record when it sold for $10.5 million on 3 February 2016 (Sotheby’s London), doubling its value in less than 20 years (last sold on 8 December 1999 at Christie’s London). At the recent Christie’s sale, another superb painting by Delvaux, Le village des sirènes, confidently passed its high estimate to finish at £3.077 million ($3.824 million) among the artist’s Top 10 auction results.
However, the highlight of day’s two sessions was the sale of Paul GAUGUIN’s superb Te Fare (La maison, 1892) painted during his first period in Tahiti. In 1991, the painting sold for just over $9 million under the hammer of Ader-Tajan in Paris. It was subsequently acquired in a private transaction by the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev who apparently paid $85 million for the painting (source Katya Kazakina, Russian Billionaire Takes 74% Loss on $85 million Gauguin, Bloomberg, 28 February 2017). Its sale on 28 February at close to its high estimate for £20.325 million ($25.243 million) implies Rybolovlev lost $60 million on its resale.
Meanwhile, on 1 March 2017 Christie’s arch rival Sotheby’s managed to post even better results at its own sale of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist art. The two back-to-back evening sessions totalled a historic £194.8 million, their best-ever sale result in London! The most anticipated work in the sale was a beautiful flower landscape by Gustav KLIMT (1862-1918)entitled Bauerngarten and offered for sale by London-based Canadian collector David Graham. In November 1994 Christie’s generated $5.3 million for this absolute masterpiece as part of a major assignment in London. At the Sotheby’s sale on 1 March 2017 it sold for over ten times that amount, fetching $48 million ($59.3 million). Between these two sales, Klimt has became one of the most expensive artists in the world with a record at $87.9 million for his Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II (November 2006, Christie’s New York). Sotheby’s also sold a very handsome Te Arii Vahine – La femme aux mangos (1896) by Gauguin for £8.37 million; a strong and angular Plant de Tomates (1944) by Picasso for £17 million and Portrait de Baranowski (1918) by Modigliani for £16 million.
Determined and confident bidders from five continents with a significant increase in the proportion of Asian bidders on the best Impressionist and Modern signatures… these first quarter sales reflect a strong appetite for the best signatures of Western art and confirm last year’s trend during which transaction volumes were higher than ever before in the West.