Prices rise in London

[21 Jun 2011]


All the indicators are in the green before the London sales. Sotheby’s and Christie’s prestige Impressionist and Modern Art sales will compete on 21 and 22 June with Egon SCHIELE and Alberto GIACOMETTI at the one versus Claude MONET and Pablo PICASSO at the other.

Between 2006 and 2008, revenue from the June sales tripled, from £183.8m to £376.2m (Christie’s and Sotheby’s evening sales of Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art). After the 2009 correction (only £99.7m), the London sales again posted splendid form in 2010 with revenue over £300m (£308.7m).

Can we expect such good results from this year’s catalogues? In 2011, the Christie’s catalogue contains no less than 92 lots and the firm is hoping to generate around twenty million-plus results! Both auction houses have pulled out all the stops to achieve their goals, sending several of the most prestigious works on tours to Singapore and Hong Kong in May to present the masterpieces to Chinese investors. Sotheby’s will be presenting 35 lots and is hoping for six results above the $1m line. It is also offering the most expensive work in the sales: an urban landscape by Egon Schiele estimated at between £22m and £30m.

Schiele over-estimed ?
Without a doubt, the Egon Schiele work is the most exciting piece in the London catalogues. Completed in 1914, the painting entitled Maisons avec linge de couleur, banlieue is one of the rare urban landscapes by the famous Austrian artist still in private hands. It was acquired the year it was painted by Heinrich Böhler who became a friend and patron of the artist. The painting was subsequently sold in 1952 by the widow of Rudolf -Leopold, founder of the Leopold Museum in Vienna. It is therefore a superb quality and extremely rare work that also has excellent provenance; but will it manage to double an auction record that has been standing since 2003 ? Schiele’s Town and River fetched £11.3m at Sotheby’s of London on 23 June of that year

Sotheby’s is also presenting another work liable to excite the acquisitive passions of collectors: Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture Trois hommes qui marchent II. This work, cast during the artist’s lifetime, fetched £3.2 million on 14 May 1997 at Christie’s. It is now being offered at £10m to £15m. Considering that Giacometti’s prices have more than doubled over the last decade and that the artist has become – since 2008 – the number two star of Impressionist & Modern Art sales after Pablo Picasso, such a large capital gain does look possible. If it fetches that kind of price it would put Trois hommes qui marchent II in Giacometti’s Top 5 best sculpture results.

Tamara DE LEMPICKA, being presented at Sotheby’s, the estimate – £2.2m to £3.2m – is ten times the work’s previous sale price ($265,000 on 15 May 1997). Christie’s estimate of Nathalie GONTCHAROVA’s Sailboat has added £1m to its previous sale price (£1.5m at Bonhams on 9 June 2008, now estimated £2.5m to £3.5m). In fact, Gontcharova’s global price index has not inflated; but her market is subject to an increasing rarity effect, particularly for the masterpieces.

A number of more historical resales are also worth mentioning: Camille PISSARRO’s Paysanne Bechant which is being offered for the third time at auction was acquired for £58,000 on 27 June 1977 (Sotheby’s), sold for $1.65m nine years later at Christie’s (2 May 2006) and then acquired for $1.8m on 7 November 2007 at Sotheby’s. On 21 June the same work is carrying a price estimate of £1.8m – £2.5m.
And then there is the spectacular capital gain expected on Kees VAN DONGEN’s Caille Sur Canape: on 17 October 1973, the work sold for $37,500 at Sotheby’s in New York. Today the painting is earmarked at £1.5m – £2m by Sotheby’s. In addition, Sotheby’s is once again offering an impressive oil painting by Pablo Picasso from 1969 that fetched £40,000 on 26 March 1980 at the same auctioneer. Today the work is estimated at 6 to 8 million pounds, 175 times more than 30 years ago.