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After Basel… London

[19 Jun 2018]

The high-end art market’s last major rendez-vous before the summer has begun: London’s Impressionist & Modern Art sales. Artprice takes a look at the catalogues and the prices.

Both Christie’s and Sotheby’s are hoping to finish the first half of 2018 in style… and both have prepared large selections of high quality works. Between June 15 and 21 Christie’s is hosting no less than six sales of Impressionist & Modern Art versus two at Sotheby’s. The catalogues contain works by Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Monet, Giacometti, Rodin, Cezanne, Arp and Miro aimed directly at the planet’s most powerful buyers with estimates between $260,000 and $45 million at the evening sales (some estimates on request only), and much more accessible works are being offered during the day sales where certain lots are accessible for under $1,000.

Museum pieces

Taken as a whole, these London sales are offering a very impressive selection of works. The market of Impressionist and Modern masterpieces may well be drying up over the years… but the market’s two behemoths are still managing to bedeck their catalogs with works worthy of the best museums.

As usual, Pablo PICASSO is spearheading the sales, this time with two of his muses: a portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter at Sotheby’s and another of Dora Maar at Christie’s. The estimates for these iconic works have not been disclosed, but they should both attract vigorous bidding. Ironically, on 26 June 1990, the portrait of Dora Maar (Femme dans un Fauteuil) was bought in after failing to reach a low estimate of $5 million at Sotheby’s in London. Recently, similar works have fetched over $22 million at auction… Demand for Picasso’s work remains intense with his best paintings generating phenomenal capital gains, sometimes adding tens of millions of dollars over the last 20 years.

The second star signature of these sales is Claude MONET with no less than eight masterpieces shared between the two competing auction houses; in fact, the figurehead of Impressionism is the most represented artist at these prestigious sales. Three canvases are particularly interesting: La méditerranée par vent de mistral, painted in 1888, was part of the Durand-Ruel collection for several years before circulating in various American collections. This accomplished work has the advantage of never having been offered for sale publicly, a fact that will no doubt appeal to the most demanding collectors. Sotheby’s has estimated the painting between 9 and 12 million dollars, which is more than Christie’s asking price for Monet’s Normandy landscape Coup de Vent, but lower than Christie’s estimate for La vue extérieur de La Gare Saint-Lazare.

The latter painting – part of a series of 12 works on the same theme – is an absolute classic of Impressionist art: the railway station as a symbol of modernity, the steam of the trains dissolving into the sky… the work captures the atmosphere of a particular moment and of a quintessentially ephemeral movement whilst illustrating the progress and aspirations of an entire era. Considering the recent sale (on 8 May) of a canvas from the same series (and exactly the same size) for $32.9 million at Christie’s New York, the final price for this work could well be around $30 million. Its new owner will possess a work worthy of the Musée d’Orsay as one of Monet’s 12 depictions of the Saint Lazare station is in the permanent collection of the Parisian museum.

Among the other star lots on offer, results over $5 million are expected for Monet’s (Le port de Zaandam), for Picasso’s Tête de femme au chapeau orange, for René MAGRITTE’s Les compagnons de la peur and for Georges BRAQUE’s somewhat Fauvist landscape L ‘Estaque.

As regards 3-dimensional works, Sotheby’s is offering one of the most famous works of the 20th century: the gaunt silhouette of Alberto GIACOMETTI’s Le chat symbolizing the destitution of the post-war period. This splendid bronze was created in 1951 and cast by Susse in Paris in 8 copies, one of which has already crossed the $20 million threshold (Christie’s New York, 4 May 2010). Christie’s is offering a version of Auguste RODIN’s famous Baiser (Kiss). The market for this work is sensitive as the popularity of the Kiss led to the production of numerous series, some of which have little market value. But the version offered at Christie’s is a high quality cast, one of three measuring 86 centimeters made at Griffoul & Lorge between 1888-1890. Experts are expecting it to fetch at least $6 million, which is more than double its value on 8 May 2000 when the exact same piece sold for $2.7 million at Christie’s in New York.

At the day sales, you will need at least $20,000 to access works by the most famous signatures (including Maurice Utrillo and Bernard Buffet). However, a number of lots are accessible to more modest budgets such as a Pointillist work (admittedly late… dated 1969) by Serge MENDJISKY at around $7,000; a small drawing by Miro dedicated to Shinichi Segui for around $3,000; some watercolors signed Lebasque and Boudin for around $5,000; a Sérénade by Eduard BARGHEER at around $2,000 and several drawings by Saul Steinberg for around $1,000 each.

Picasso is also available in a lower price range via the online sale of around one hundred ceramic works. Many are offered between $1,500 and $2,500; others, more complex and rarer, are likely to fetch over $50,000. Christie’s has described the ceramics sale as “an opportunity for new collectors to acquire works by one of the greatest pioneers in art history”. It could have added that Picasso is still a superb financial investment as the price index for his ceramics has rocketed by almost 280% since the year 2000.

Barely recovered from this week of sales, collectors will be back in their starting blocks for the Contemporary Art sessions at the end of June, also in London.

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