Q & A ahead of the Impressionist & Modern Art sales in New York

[24 Apr 2012]


On 1 and 2 May, Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York will be offering 108 works of Impressionist and Modern art. In just two evenings of sales, the two auction houses are expecting to generate between $265m and $385m (not counting the unofficial estimate of Edvard MUNCH’s Scream that is rumoured at around $80m). Last year, these same sales generated $285m. So, what can we expect from these spectacular sales? Artprice suggests certain answers to this question.

Can Munch’s Scream generate a new record?

Estimated, unofficially, at around $80m, Munch’s Scream will be the star lot of the New York Impressionist & Modern Art sales. An iconic work requiring no introduction or commentary, the pastel that will be presented is one of four versions made by the artist and the only one in private hands, the other three held in museums in Norway. Currently, only four artworks have exceeded $80m at auction, and Pablo PICASSO’s Nude, Green Leaves and Bust became the most expensive artwork ever sold after fetching $95m in 2010. If Sotheby’s manages to sell the Scream above $95 m, it will not only have generated a new record for the artist but also a world record for an artwork at auction… and the press would be full of articles about the “extravagance” of the art market!

How many artists’ records?

If Edvard Munch’s Scream is likely to set to at least a new personal record (his highest price was for a work entitled Vampire which fetched $34m in November 2008), how many more personal records can we expect to see from the two sales? None – judging by the published high estimates – since none of the works are carrying estimates above the known records for the artists concerned. Of the 43 artists represented, only Munch is tipped for a new record.
Last year, Maximilien LUCE (Notre-Dame de Pari – sold $3.7m), Paul DELVAUX (Les cariatides – sold $8million) and Maurice DE VLAMINCK (Paysages de banlieue – sold $20m) achieved new personal auction records at the same sales.

Are we going to see another parade of Picasso works?

Only 14 works signed by Pablo Picasso are proposed this year, 13% less than in the Impressionist & Modern Art sales in New York last November, and less than at the same May sales last year, and less than in November 2010. In fact, the last time less than 15 Picassos were presented at the NY evening sales of the two majors was November 2009. The auction houses have therefore chosen to present other artists including 7 works by René MAGRITTE and 6 by Joan MIRO. The auctioneers are hoping to capitalize on the recent good performances of these two artists: Joan Miro just signed a new record in February (Painting Poem (1925) fetched $23.6m) and three of Rene Magritte’s six best results were hammered in the last 12 months. To accompany the Scream, five other Munch’s works will also be presented during the two upcoming sales, all valued at over $1.5 m. Recall that the artist has not sold more than 4 works above $1.5 m since 2006 (year in which 6 of his works sold for between $1.9m and $9.6m over a 12 month period).

Is art still profitable?

Yes! And even more profitable when it comes to high-end works. Half of the works being presented at Christie’s and Sotheby’s have already been to auction. Of course none of these is being offered at below its original purchase price, and some very substantial capital gains are expected.At Christie’s first of all, Picasso’s Le Repos is carrying an estimate of between $5m and $7m ten years after its acquisition for $2.8m in November 2002. If it sells within this range, the work will have generated an annual return of between 6 and 9.5%. Femme dans l’atelier is another Picasso that should generate an annual return of between 10 and 12%, as it is being offered at between $3m and $5m after being acquired for $220,000 in 1984. The second most expensive artist on the art market (at least for another few days…), Alberto GIACOMETTI is also one of the most profitable: the sculpture Buste de Diego fetched $3.2m seven years ago; this year it is being presented for between $8m and $12m, an expected annual return of between 14 to 20%!At Sotheby’s the following day, one of the key works of their sale is signed Chaïm SOUTINE: Le chasseur de chez Maxim’s is being offered for between $10m and $15m after fetching only half that price ($6m) eight years ago at the same auctioneer and £120,000 in 1978! Purchased 14 years ago for $2m, Salvador DALI’s Printemps Nécrophilique is also being presented on 2 May with an estimate of $8m – $12m. If the work sells within that range, it will have earned its owner between 300 and 500% of the initial investment.
An identical version of Constantin BRANCUSI’s Prometheus (1911) sold for $1.6m at Phillips New York ten years ago and for $1.1m at Christie’s New York 13 years ago and for $ 300,000 at Sotheby’s New York 30 years ago. This year, Prometheus is carrying an estimate of $6m – $8m!

If it exceeds its total high estimate (including the unofficial estimate for the Scream) Sotheby’s evening sale on 2 May could generate more than $320 which would be its best sales total since 2006 for an Impressionist & Modern sale (on 8 November 2006, Christie’s generated a total revenue of $418m) and the best sales total in its entire history (its current record of $270m was generated on 9 November 2011). At Christie’s, however, total is unlikely to exceed $140 million (based on its own high estimates).