Over a billion dollars worth of art sold in New York this week

[14 May 2021]

The high-end art market appears to have regained its full strength with sales totalling $691 million at Christie’s and $677 million at Sotheby’s. This week’s activity clearly signals a return to pre-pandemic dynamism. The two auction majors have just dispersed nearly $1.4 billion worth of Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary works (11 – 13 May). We take a quick look at the highlights and the works that most contributed to the final tally.

$691 million at Christie’s

With totals of more than $481 million from its 20th Century Art sale (May 13) and $210.4 million from its 21st Century Art sale (11 May), Christie’s came out on top this week with results that included a $103.4 million for Picasso Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) and $93.1 million for a superb Basquiat.

When it first appeared at auction in 1997 (Christie’s), Pablo PICASSO’s Femme assise reached $7.5 million. Sixteen years later (February 2013) it sold for nearly $45 million at Sotheby’s in London. This latest result brings the art market back in touch with 9-digit results that have been absent for two years.

BASQUIAT’s large canvas, In This Case, is part of a series of three vanities, one of which sold for over $110 million in 2017 at Sotheby’s. It is therefore not surprising that the canvas offered this week reached beyond $93 million, the second highest auction price ever paid for a Basquiat work.

Another superb result was hammered for Claude MONET’s Waterloo Bridge, effet de brouillard (1899-1903) at over $48.4 million (vs. $9.3 million at Sotheby’s in 1999). The result dwarfs Monet’s previous auction record for a canvas from his “Waterloo Bridge” series.

Vincent VAN GOGH’s Le pont de Trinquetaille (1888) rose quickly to over $39 million.

Christie’s has also set new records for 15 artists, some of whom clearly reflect the current revaluation of female artists. There were new records for Barbara Hepworth and Grace Hartigan, but also for Alice NEEL (1900-1984), currently showing at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who doubled her previous peak with a result of $ 3 million for her Dr. Finger’s Waiting Room.

For their first appearance in an ‘evening sale’, the NFTs created by LARVA LABS (9 Cryptopunks) fetched an impressive $16.9 million thanks to a “passionate bidding battle between two phone bidders, one in New York and the other in Canada” (according to Christie’s).

677 million at Sotheby’s

With a total of 677 million from its ‘marquee’ sales on 12 and 13 May, Sotheby’s has also posted an excellent performance. Its Impressionist & Modern Art sale generated $221.3 million and its Contemporary Art sale, including John L. Marion’s collection, posted a total of $375.4 million.

Much anticipated, Basquiat’s large canvas (214 by 137.8 cm) Versus Medici – painted in 1982 when the artist was just 22 (the market’s favourite Basquiat year) – reached its high estimate, selling for $50.8 million. That’s dearer than his Warrior which fetched $41.6 million at Christie’s Hong Kong on 23 March 2021 and it’s the fourth best auction result ever paid for a work by Basquiat.

Cy TWOMBLY’s Untitled (Rome) sold within its estimated range, at $41.6 million.

The Impressionist & Modern sale was dominated by Claude Monet’s very desirable Bassin aux nymphéas. Announced at around $40 million, the work demolished the estimates, soaring to $70.3 million. Considering the size of the canvas, Artprice was expecting that price level, especially since the market has already paid $84.7 million for a Monet ‘waterlilies’ painting in the past (Nymphéas en fleur, Christie’s New York in 2018).

Looking back, having belonged to the famous American film producer Ray Stark, the same Bassin aux nymphéas reached $16.8 million in 2004 (Sotheby’s) and remained in the same collection ever since. But over the last 20 years or so Monet’s prices have acquired another dimension with six works crossing the $50 million threshold at auction.

Lots of people watching…

Thanks to live streaming via their sites and via the social networks, the spectacle of the major art auction sales has never attracted so much public interest as it does today. In its press release, Christie’s estimates that 1,390,270 viewers followed the sales broadcast live on 11 different platforms, including Christie’s website and various social media channels, including YouTube, Facebook and WeChat.

The pandemic-induced acceleration of the move towards online sales in 2020 appears to have considerably opened up the art market to the world. In order win over an increasing number of online art enthusiasts, Christie’s has signed an innovative partnership with Brioni and Microsoft. This allowed an enhanced live auction viewing experience in a more ‘immersive’ form by providing, for the first time, a dynamic 360-degree view of the auction room.