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The London Top 10

[08 Dec 2017]

It’s Top 10 Friday! Every other Friday, Artprice posts a theme-based auction ranking. The Top 10 this week focuses on London, where the best sales of Impressionism and Modern art take place.

The London art market is one of the most active in the world. Not only do tens of thousands of artworks change hands in its auction rooms, but they are often the most iconic works in the history of Western art. Last year, some 50,000 works of art were auctioned for more than $2 billion in London, as opposed to less than $580 million in France, a country not particularly short of masterpieces either. London is therefore in second position among the strongholds of the Western art market, behind New York and far ahead of France.

London’s prestigious sales are always unmissable events and are where some of the most expensive works of art on the planet come up for sale. The sluggishness of the art market last year (London lost 30% of its annual sales revenue between 2015 and 2016) did not affect the real masterpieces, which still found buyers, like Lot and his daughters, a painting by Rubens, which sold for more than $52 million in July 2016 at Christie’s. Here are the best auction sales of the year by month.

Rank Artist Hammer Price ($) Artwork Sale
1 Gustav KLIMT (1862-1918) 59 004 638$ Bauerngarten 2017-03-01 Sotheby’s Londres
2 Max BECKMANN (1884-1950) 45 830 765$ Hölle der Vögel 2017-06-27 Christie’s Londres
3 Pablo PICASSO (1881-1973) 44 405 117$ Femme écrivant (Marie-Thérèse) 2017-06-27 Christie’s Londres
4 Wassily KANDINSKY (1866-1944) 42 264 404$ Bild mit weissen linien (Painting with white lines) 2017-06-21 Sotheby’s Londres
5 Francesco GUARDI (1712-1793) 33 877 824$ Venice: the Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi 2017-07-06 Christie’s Londres
6 Joan MIRO (1893-1983) 31 461 029$ Femme et oiseaux (1940) 2017-06-21 Sotheby’s Londres
7 Vincent VAN GOGH (1853-1890) 30 861 460$ Le moissonneur (d’après Millet) 2017-06-27 Christie’s Londres
8 Wassily KANDINSKY (1866-1944) 26 851 589$ Murnau – landschaft mit grünem haus
2017-06-21 Sotheby’s Londres
9 Paul GAUGUIN (1848-1903) 25 229 423$ Te Fare (La maison) 2017-02-28 Christie’s Londres
10 Joseph Mallord William TURNER (1775-1851) 23 940 044$ Ehrenbreitstein, or The Bright Stone of Honour and the Tomb of Marceau, from Byron’s Childe Harold 2017-07-05 Sotheby’s Londres
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This year, like the previous year, the opening of the London art market took place with the traditional sales of Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist art in February 2017. The challenge for auction houses was, as always, to sell works of the highest quality possible. The highlight of the February sales was a superb Gauguin, Te Fare (The House, 1892), painted during the artist’s first Tahitian period. This painting – which holds 9th place in the ranking – sold for just over $9m in 1991 in Paris at Ader-Tajan, before entering the collection of Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev after a private transaction. At the time, the businessman paid $85m for this work (source: Katya Kazakina, Russian Billionaire Takes 74% Loss on $85 Million Gauguin, Bloomberg, 28 February 2017) but lost $60m when reselling it for £20,325m ($25,229m), at the top of its estimate, on 28 February.

The following month, Gustav Klimt’s masterpiece Bauerngarten sold at Sotheby’s for $59m, even more the Rubens… This masterpiece had been on display at the Royal Academy of Arts in London until 1994, when it was purchased by a private collector for $5.3m, 10 times less than its current value.

An electric start to summer

Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Sales in June 2017 obtained outstanding results due to the quality and rarity of the works for sale. Most of the year’s best auctions took place at the beginning of summer.

On 21 June, Sotheby’s created a new world record for a Kandinsky with Painting with White Lines, a work estimated at more than $35m before going through the roof at $42.26m. This 1913 painting playing on the similarity between sound and colour was sold by the descendants of the collector William Hack, who had acquired it from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

The same day, a small ‘gem’ by Joan Miro, shown on the catalogues’ cover, Woman and birds, sold for $31.46m. This modest-sized work (38 x 46cm) but of superb quality, belongs to the famous Constellations series, which includes only 23 works by the artist.

A few days later, on 27 June, Christie’s sold for $194.5m a collection of Impressionist and Modern masterpieces, notably Woman writing (Marie-Thérèse) by Pablo PICASSO for $44.4m, The Harvester by Vincent VAN GOGH shown on the cover of the catalogue, which almost doubled its low estimate, by selling for more than $30.8m, and above all Max BECKMANN’s Birds of hell, a major work of which there is no equivalent, sold for $45.8m. Christie’s had the privilege of reaching this new world record for Expressionist art.

These results, all in excess of $25 million, mainly celebrate Impressionist and Modern European art at the centre of the London and global market. Only two older works feature in this annual ranking: a painting by Francesco Guardi, which set the artist’s new world record, and another by William Turner, which is the artist’s fourth best sale.

But selling in London does not guarantee absolute success. On 6 October for example, the most anticipated painting of the season, a version of Study of Red Pope by Francis Bacon, failed to find a buyer at Christie’s. The painting, which had not been seen in public for 45 years, was the subject of an independent catalogue of no less than 156 pages, worthy of a work of art expected to reach between $80 and $100 million. But the auction did not reach that high, stopping at $75.8m.

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