No surprise in London



The results of the Impressionist & Modern sales in London last week were without surprise (except for the withdrawal of Camille PISSARRO’s, Le Quai Malaquais) and made the era of 8-figure auction results an even more distant memory. Both auction houses generated eight sales above the $1m line. The bought-in rate was not identical however: 15% at Sotheby’s (out of 27 lots presented) and 32% at Christie’s (out of 45 lots offered). Compared to the same Impressionist & Modern sales last year, the volume of business was one quarter at Christie’s (£32.37m on 23 June 2009 vs £144m on 24 June 2008) and one third at Sotheby’s (£29.2m on 24 June 2009 vs. £102m on 25 June 2008).

The best result of the two days of sales was £6.2m for Pablo PICASSO’s l’Homme à l’épée (1969) at Sotheby’s, an honourable figure, £200,000 above the low estimate. Christie’s also presented a Homme à l’épée from the same year which fetched £5.1m against an estimation range of £5m to £7m. The results are very far from the summits reached at these evening sales last year. Remember that Claude MONET’s Bassin aux Nymphéas generated no less than £36.5m on 24 June 2008 at Christie’s.
So far in 2009, the Picasso paintings offered by the same auctioneer have more or less fetched their low estimates: apart from L’Homme à l’épée, Christie’s has also sold Picasso’s Nu assis et joueur de flûte (1967) for close to £3m. A few minutes after the final hammer went down on the Homme à l’épée sale, Sotheby’s fetched £3.8m for another Picasso work, Nu debout (1968).
In the masterpiece duel that the two auctioneers have engaged in, Sotheby’s is winning with Picasso and Christie’s is winning with Claude Monet. Reproduced on the cover of the Christie’s sales catalogue, Monet’s Au Parc Monceau fetched £5.6m, i.e. £1.1m above its high estimate. The following day, Sotheby’s fetched £3.4m (within the estimation range) for another Monet painting, La Route de Giverny en hiver.

Several cases of resale suggest that the prices of Impressionist & Modern masterpieces are holding up well in the current climate. For example, Alexej VON JAWLENSKY’s portrait of Hélène fetched £1.5m at Christie’s, i.e. £100,000 more than its last hammeer price in February 2008 at the same auctioneer. Hans ARP’s relief work, Flocons aux rayons jaunes, sold for £115,000 at Christie’s vs. £100,000 on 10 February 2005. Max ERNST’s On parle le latin generated £105,000 in 1993 and resold for £550,000 on 23 June 2009. However, when Sotheby’s presented Fernand LÉGER’s La Nature morte au citron last week, it lost £10,000 compared to it previous hammer price of £390,000 on 25 June 2008.