Impressionist and Modern sales in London – unabashed confidence!



Since the peak in January 2008, the price index of Impressionist art has contracted sharply: down 39.3%. But for Christie’s and Sotheby’s – judging by the high estimates in the catalogues for their upcoming London sales – the price deflation is now over.

True, the catalogues for the prestigious Impressionist and Modern sales programmed for 2 and 3 February are not as heavy as they were before the crisis when 50 to 60 lots were offered per session. However, the choice of works is more abundant that in February 2009. Christie’s is presenting two catalogues for the evening of 2 February with 48 Impressionist and Modern masterpieces in the first and 38 surrealist works in the second. The following day Sotheby’s is offering 39 lots – 12 more than a year ago.
The star lot at the Christie’s sale is a Kees VAN DONGENLa gitane that has never before appeared at auction. If it reaches its high estimate of £7.5m, the piece will set a new record for the artist. In fact, the existing record is only three months old: van Dongen’s Jeune arabe fetched $12.25m (£7,485m)at Sotheby’s on 4 November 2009 in New York. Christie’s is also expecting large bids for Nathalie GONTCHAROVA’s l’Espagnole (est. £4m – £6m), Henri MATISSE’s Nu aux jambes croisées (£2.5m – £4m) and René MAGRITTE’s Beau Navire (£2.5m – £3.5m). Besides the undeniable quality of these pieces, they offer the advantage of having been absent from the secondary market for long periods – unlike twenty or so of the other lots on offer. Christie’s also has six Pablo PICASSO’s in its catalogue that could generate £12.2m. Concerning the recently auctioned works, Christie’s is also posting a level of optimism that contrasts quite emphatically with the timid estimates carried at their last appearances.
For example Henri Matisse’s Algue rouge sur fond bleu ciel sold for £550 000 in February 2005 and is now earmarked at £500,000 to £700,000; Picasso’s pastel La Diseuse fetched the equivalent of £400,000 in April 2008 in Paris (€510,000) and is now estimated at £500,000 to £700,000, and Edgar DEGASDanseuse position de quatrième devant sur la jambe gauche which generated the equivalent de £355,000 in April 2007 now carries a price estimate of £400,000 to £600,000.
Alexej VON JAWLENSKY’s Blaue Vase mit Orangen has gone up 50% compared with his £400,000 result in February 2003. The work is proposed at £600,000 to £800,000 although the artist’s price index has hardly progressed more than 6% since then. However the best “quick sale” result from the Christie’s catalogue could well go to Paul SIGNAC’s Le jardin du Vert-Galant which is on offer for £1.5m to £2m. In May 2002, this masterpiece from the 1920s was acquired for the equivalent of £442,000 at Sotheby’s.Sotheby’s is no less optimistic; notably in respect of Pierre-Auguste RENOIR’s Leontine Lisant. Sold for the equivalent of £1.2m in May 2002, it is earmarked at £2.3 to £2.8m. Paul CÉZANNE’s still life Pichet et fruits sur une table is also positioned for a handsome price rise. The piece remained unsold in 2001 when it carried a price estimate equivalent to £9.8m – £14m. However this estimate has not been revised down. In fact, it has been raised slightly (to £10 – £15m) in response to an 8% rise in Cézanne’s price index since 2001. The auctioneer is expecting an even higher price for Alberto GIACOMETTI’s man-sized L’homme qui marche that was cast during the artist’s lifetime (2/6). It is priced at £12 to £18m, as is Gustav KLIMT’s solidly architectural Church in cassone – Landscape with cypresses. A superb drawing by Egon SCHIELE entitled Sitzende Frau mit violetten Strümpfen may well fetch a new record (est. £3m – £5m) as no subject of this quality was submitted for auction during 2009 and demand is brisk for this type of work. The last high point for a Schiele drawing occurred in November 2006 when his Kniender Halbakt nach links gebeugt $10m (£5.2m).

We are therefore already a long way from the austere mood of February 2009 and Christie’s and Sotheby’s are opening the 2010 season of major auctions with a signal of strong confidence. According to their estimates, the price correction has re-valued the work of the world’s best artists and proved that quality is a bastion that commands the highest prices. The results will tell us if this optimism is premature or not.The Artprice confidence indicator (AMCI) is also in the green. Echoing the optimism of the auctioneers, 38% of our respondents are expecting prices to rise over the next three months.