Christie’s Impressionist & Modern Art sale: up +485% yoy

[04 Jul 2017]

One week after Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art sale in London, it was Christie’s turn to test the same market at its 27 June sale in King Street. And like its rival, the event produced a resoundingly positive result…

The latest auction results from London are very encouraging after the sharp falls in turnover last year when Sotheby’s and Christie’s dropped respectively -47% and -39% (vs. 2015) at their Impressionist & Modern Art sales of June 2016. In fact Christie’s 2016 sale generated the worst total – equivalent to $33.2 million – in seven years. Its recent sale on 27 June totalled 194,5m$ million, a result that represents a superb recovery (+485%) compared to last year and is even better than the excellent total recorded at Sotheby’s on 21 June ($162.2 million from 17 works).

Of the 33 lots on offer, Christie’s managed to sell all but one (a masterpiece by Egon Schiele) in a catalogue containing five works by Pablo Picasso, three by Claude Monet, two by Matisse, and works signed Georges Braque, René Magritte, Le Corbusier and Amedeo Modigliani as well as several other top bracket signatures. Three lots alone generated more than last year’s result each fetching more than $20 million: Pablo PICASSO’s Femme écrivant (Marie-Thérèse) sold for $44.4 million; Vincent VAN GOGH’s Le moissonneur (d’après Millet) pictured on the cover of the catalogue and fetched over $30.8 million, almost double its low estimate, and Max BECKMANN’s Hölle der Vögel (Birds’ Hell), a major work quite unlike anything else he painted, became the highlight of the evening, setting a new world record for an Expressionist canvas when it was hammered down for $45.8 million. A critique of the Third Reich, Beckmann’s Birds’ Hell was painted in 1937, the year the Nazis organized its infamous “Degenerate Art” exhibition in Munich. Depicts a torture scene, the work has ideal museum dimensions (119,7×160,4 cm) and is a powerful composition and has long been in private hands. Although – as Christie’s art historian Jill Lloyd points out – Hölle der Vögel is to Beckmann what Guernica is to Picasso, Beckmann’s masterpiece received only a fraction of the attention Picasso received for his work about the bombing of Guernica in 1937. This latest auction record for Beckmann has therefore somewhat corrected that historical injustice. Note that Beckmann’s $45.8 million result is higher than Wassily KANDINSKY’s latest record set on June 21 at Sotheby’s by Peinture avec des lignes blanches (1913) which fetched more than $42.26 million.

Within a week, the two auction giants have set two historic new records for 20th century paintings both above $40 million, one for historical Abstraction and the other for German Expressionism.