What records might we expect?

[31.01.2020]

As 2020’s first major art auction sales loom into sight, we have taken a look at what Christie’s and Sotheby’s will be offering on 4 and 5 February in London: a total of 58 Impressionist, Modern and Surrealist works. Combining some of the best signatures from the 19th and the beginning of the 20th century, a number of works in these prestige sales have the potential to set new records. Four in particular caught our attention… works by George Grosz, Tamara de Lempicka, Jean Metzinger and Pyke Koch.

George GROSZRoute Dangereuse (1918)

Estimated between $6 and 8.6 million at Christie’s on 5 February – Current artist’s record: $2 million in 1996 (Wildwest, 1916)

With Route Dangereuse, George Grosz produced a superbly Modern painting, a visionary fusion of Expressionist fervor and Cubo-Futurist fragmentation. Both rare and historically significant, it clearly has all the qualities to set a new auction record.

Heavily charged with history, Grosz’s Route dangereuse depicts the apocalyptic and decadent era of the First World War in the streets of the Imperial capital. The work is part of a ‘Berlin at night’ series considered one his best – produced between the spring of 1917 and the end of the WWI in November 1918. Most of the ‘Berlin at night’ paintings (around twenty in total) have been lost or destroyed, so the one being offered at Christies is all the more desirable for its rarity.

Tamara DE LEMPICKA – Portrait of Marjorie Ferry (1932)

Estimated between $10.5 and 16 million at Christie’s on 5 February – Artist’s current record: $13.4 million (last November)

Tamara de Lempicka’s superb paintings are not easy to find, but last November Sotheby’s managed to sell one of her best works for a record price of $13.4 million (La tunique rose, 1927). Easily doubling its low estimate, the result left no doubt about the strength of demand for her work and we are not surprised to see another important work appearing so quickly on the market. Included in Christie’s February 5 sale, Portrait of Marjorie Ferry could fetch a higher price than La tunique rose… according to the high estimate of $16 million. If the work reaches this price, the seller will be looking at a capital gain of over $10 million. Portrait of Marjorie Ferry has been in the same collection for 10 years. The current owner bought it from Sotheby’s in May 2009 for just under $5 million.

Portrait of Marjorie Ferry has plenty of ‘record’ arguments: it is both emblematic and sensual, and it was painted at the height of her glory (1932) when she was the most in-demand portrait painter of her time amongst wealthy Europeans and Americans. Commissioned by her wealthy husband, Marjorie Ferry was an English cabaret singer performing in Paris, and the subject was an excellent pretext for a work of unabashed sensuality – satin-draped nudity, an impressive blond, her curves perfectly offset by vertical columns, a languid pose, a determined look – typical of 1930s hedonism and of the singular style that Lempicka developed.

Jean METZINGER – Le Cycliste (1912)

Estimated between $2 and 2.6 million at Sotheby’s on 4 February – Current artist’s record: $2.4 million in 2007 (Paysage, c.1916-1917)

Perfectly dated, superbly executed and one of Metzinger’s classic subjects, Le Cycliste is more than likely to set a new record for the artist… and Sotheby’s high estimate of $2.6 million also sees it beating his previous record of $2.4 million for Landscape. Le Cycliste is one of three cycling canvases Metzinger painted in 1912 – a key year in the history of Cubism as it was the year Metzinger and Albert Gleizes published the first major text on the movement, Du Cubisme.

A fine example of Modernism – decomposing shapes to communicate speed – Metzinger perfectly illustrates the first futuristic precept announced in Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s 1909 manifesto: “We declare that the splendor of the world has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed”. Le Cycliste is a Cubo-Futurist work that combines the research of the two main thrusts of the avant-garde, Cubism and Futurism. The ‘fusion’ works wonderfully in this painting, representing one of Metzinger’s favourite subjects. Indeed, the cycling subject is so emblematic of the culmination of Metzinger’s work that the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice organised an exhibition in 2012 entitled: Cycling, Cubo-Futurism and the Fourth Dimension: Jean Metzinger on the cycle path.

Pyke KOCH – Florentijnse Tuin (Florentine Garden) (1938)

Estimated between $263,000 – $394,000 – Sotheby’s on 4 February – Artist’s current record: $533,000 in 2016 (Rustende schoorsteenveger, 1936)

Dutch painter Pyke Koch was a true perfectionist who worked slowly and deliberately. Unfortunately he destroyed a large part of his own production. Today, there are some 120 paintings and 80 drawings, many of which belong to prestigious collections in the Netherlands. The very singularity and rarity of works by this artist are two key factors that could generate an excellent result on 4 February at Sotheby’s. As the first painting to be auctioned since Pyke Koch’s auction record was set in 2016, Florentijnse Tuin (Florentine Garden) may well surprise by overstepping the estimated range.

To do so, the strange beauty of this Florentine Garden would have to elicit a small pocket of enthusiasm strong enough to push the bidding well past its high estimate ($394,000). However, it would not be the first time a Pyke Koch painting has surprised the market, since the one that holds his current record doubled its high estimate in 2016 to reach $533,000. And… the canvas being presented at Sotheby’s has several advantages: it’s big (62.5 x 77.5 cm), larger than Rustende schoorsteenveger, and it was exhibited at the XXIth Venice Biennale in 1938. Moreover, the work has been in the same collection for 30 years.

Sales results next week!