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​ London posts healthier totals

[27 Jun 2017]

After a dramatic fall in revenue at their London sales in June 2016 (-47% at Sotheby’s and -39% at Christie’s), Sotheby’s 2017 figures are somewhat better and include a couple of major new auction records…

On the supply side, the trend we saw last year at London’s prestige Impressionist & Modern Art sales was confirmed with Sotheby’s presenting a catalogue containing just 23 lots on 21 June 2017 compared with 27 in 2016 and an average of 40 lots in previous years. However, despite the limited supply, Sotheby’s posted a better result than last year, with $162.2 million generated from the sale of 17 works (out of 23 offered), versus $149.9 million from its equivalent 2016 sale. The only works that qualify for these prestigious catalogues are essentially museum-quality paintings which are becoming increasingly scarce on the market. The shrinking supply is therefore hurting turnover totals. Remember that Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern sale on 24 June 2015 generated $281.7 million … $120 million more than this year’s figure. The most positive signals from this first sale in the summer series came from three signatures: Wassily KANDINSKY (1866-1944), Joan MIRO (1893-1983) and Théo VAN RYSSELBERGHE (1862-1926).

Kandinsky double…

Kandinsky’s Peinture avec des lignes blanches (Painting with white lines) fetched more than $42.26 million (against a price guarantee of more than $35 million) setting a superb new auction record for the Russian painter! The 1913 painting – which explores the links between sound and colour – was put up for sale by the descendants of the art collector William Hack, who acquired the work directly from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. A key Kandinsky work, Painting with White Lines generated a historic result for one of the 20th century’s most important artists and it came just a couple of minutes after Kandinsky’s previous record of $23.3 million (Rigide et Courbe (1935) Christie’s New York, 16 November 2016) was broken by a distinctly Fauvist painting entitled Murnau – landscape with green house (1909) which fetched over $26.8 million. Kandinsky’s double new record on 21 June confirms the current inflation in the Abstract segment, a trend that is benefiting all major 20th century Abstract artists (see our AMI article Market Interested in Abstract Art on 30 May 2017). Considering Kandinsky’s reputation as the historic originator of abstraction, this latest re-valuation is entirely logical.

Joan Miró and Theo van Rysselberghe

Sotheby’s June 21 sale was also a milestone for Joan Miro whose little “gem” Femme et oiseaux(1940) – selected for the cover of the sale catalogue – fetched £24.57 million ($31.46 million), a world record for the artist in sterling. The modest-size (38cm x 46cm) but superb quality work is from the famous Constellations series comprising just 23 works. It is therefore a rare item, as is the Pointillist masterpiece L’escaut en amont d’anvers, le soir or voiliers sur l’escaut (1892) by the Belgian artist Théo van Rysselberghe which sold for $10,69 million. The new auction record for this close friend of Paul Signac is particularly important since the same work fetched $8 million less in 2002 (under the title Sailboats on the Scheldt at Sotheby’s New York, 5 November 2002). Up 116% since 2000, Théo van Rysselberghe’s price index has shown encouraging progress and 2017 is already his best-ever year in auction history.

Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art prestige London sale will be held today (27 June 2017) with works by Max Beckmann, Claude Monet, Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele and Vincent van Gogh. The latter’s Millet-inspired harvester is tipped to cross the 20 million dollar threshold according to its estimated price range of $17-21 million.


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