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​Sotheby’s… in Paris

[13 Jun 2017]

In a hyper-competitive globalised art market, Paris stands out as a highly qualified marketplace for the sale of artworks. In fact, the French capital has been doing rather well recently with a number of important 20th century masterpieces generating impressive results last week at Sotheby’s.

Collectors searching for powerful, blue-chip or prestige works were present – either physically or connected – at Sotheby’s evening sale on 6 June in Paris. The sale generated more than 26.3 million euros after a total of 5.3 million euros from its Contemporary Art day sale the previous day. The highlight of the Parisian sales last week was a new record for Pierre SOULAGES the French master of light and “ultra-black” – when his majestic blue canvas dated 1962 (Peinture 162 x 130 cm, 14 avril 1962, 162 x 130 cm) doubled its high estimate to reach at €6.2 million ($6.8 million). The same work failed to sell last year at Phillips in London (9 February 2016) and was worth just €300,000 in 1990 (c. $337,000 at Sotheby’s on 6 December 1990 in London). This time, ten bidders pushed the price higher than his previous auction record (generated by a larger canvas, Peinture, 21 Novembre 1959, which fetched the equivalent of $ 6.7 million on 26 June 2013 at Sotheby’s, but in London). The timing of this latest record is superb as it coincides with the artist inaugurating Emmanuel Perrotin’s new gallery in Tokyo on 7 June (running until 19 August 2017). France’s most expensive living artist has been projected into the high-end market by a combination of auction success and international promotion by galleries. Recall that Soulages’ price index has grown by 484% since 2000, so that $100 spent in 2000 on a work by Pierre Soulages is worth an average of $584 today.

The current rush to acquire 20th century Abstract art continued with a powerful 1962 canvas by ZAO Wou-Ki (1921-2013) selling for a million more than its high estimate (03/19/62, measuring 66.5 x 95 cm, fetched €3.64 million, or $4.1 million). The result was logical since 10 days earlier in Hong Kong, Zao Wou Ki set a new auction record of $19.6 million for a painting in the same vein, but significantly larger (29/09/64, measuring 230 x 345 cm).

There was also a good result for Jean DUBUFFET (1901-1985) whose Paysage gris aux taches cerises(1949) signed the third best result at the Sotheby’s sale, with a final price of 1.9 million euros (including fees) ($2.17 million). Never presented for auction before, the painting has impeccable provenance (Pierre Matisse and Acquavella galleries in New York). Since 2010, Dubuffet’s prices have been rising steadily with his index up 90% over the last seven years.Well-dated works regularly fetch surprisingly good results, like his 1962 Personnage (buste) that fetched twice the high estimate on the same day (295,500 euros or $414,000).

In fact France’s major artists are currently enjoying generally favourable market dynamics with Robert Combas’s works notably doubling, tripling and even quadrupling their estimates at Christie’s 7 June sale in Paris last week. His best result was €81,000 ($91,000) for an Untitled painting from 1989. Meanwhile, a small (24 x 19 cm) and well-dated (1947) oil-on-wood by Henri Michaux attracted strong bidding: exhibited at the Pompidou Center in Paris and the Guggenheim museum in 1978, the work fetched 16,000 euros against a high estimate of 6,000 euros.

Sotheby’s ended the week of Paris sales with substantially better totals than its rival Christie’s which totalled 10 million less (EUR 16.9 million) at its Contemporary Art sale on 7 June. However, like Sotheby’s, it also confirmed the current trend of strong demand for major 20th century abstract signatures: the best results were hammered for Nicolas de Staël, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Pierre Soulages and Zao Wou Ki.

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