The mad rush of the most recent auction season has now come and gone. As every year, 2015 opened with a bang: January’s Old Master sales in New York, followed by the February Impressionist & Modern and Post-War & Contemporary sales in London.
The Old Master sales were tumultuous, to say the least. While Sotheby’s achieved a sale total of $57 million, within their $54-77.6 million presale estimate, Christie’s suffered its worst sale since 2002 realizing only $9.3 million, a fraction of their presale estimate of $39 million. What a difference a day makes; Christie’s sale on January 28th saw nearly 60% of lots offered go unsold, the following day Sotheby’s sold 73 of their 104. A major contributor to the poor numbers from Christie’s is the failure to find buyers for many star lots including a Reni, a Canaletto, and what credited as possibly Caravaggio’s first work, Boy Peeling a Fruit. Sotheby’s owes a great deal of their success to the remarkable sale of a John Constable work Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows, which achieved $5.2 million, an especially incredible price given the work was originally purchased in 2013 for $5,300.
Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern sale saw impressive results for several Monet works, the most spectacular being Le Grand Canal, one of five Monets in the sale and part of a group of stunning tableaus depicting the Floating City. This work achieved $35.5 million, helping propel Sotheby’s sale total to $280.2 million. Other important works included Matisse’s Odalisque au Fauteuil Noir that sold for $23.7 million. Christie’s once again came away with a lesser pot; their evening sale totaled $222.7 million. The star lot was Joan Miro’s Women, Moon, Birds, never before seen at auction, realizing double the pre-sale estimate and selling for $23.8 million. Another highlight of the Christie’s sale included the classic Cézanne landscape, Vue Sur L'Estaque et Le Château d'If ($20.3 million).
The Post-War & Contemporary evening sales saw solid returns for both houses. Sotheby’s edged out Christie’s, totaling £106.3 million ($188.2 million) to Christie’s £101.6 million ($178 million). Sotheby’s saw a sizable increase in sales total from last years, up by 39.3%, according to ArtTactic, while Christie’s numbers are down in comparison to the same 2014 sale. Both sales achieved a sale total comfortably within the pre-sale estimates, which undoubtedly drew a sigh of relief from both auction houses given the meager numbers seen in the Old Masters sales. Star lots included a Gerhard Richter, which Sotheby’s sold at £30.3 ($46.3) million and which broke the record for price achieved by a living European artist, as well as another staggering sale of a Cy Twombly work, Untitled (New York City) for £19.6 ($29.9) million. Proving bigger is not always better, Phillips entered 2015 with renewed vigor, to match their shiny new Berkley Square London offices, achieving £17.7 million ($26.9 million) in their February 12th evening sale, with 29 of the 30 lots offered sold.
This auction season saw both ups and downs although it is not time to count the auction market down for the count just yet. Every sale saw at least one record price for an artist, and sales both big and small saw success, suggesting there is room for variety within the market. With such a roaring start, there is no question 2015 will be an exciting auction year to watch.
Sothebys.com, Christies.com, ArtTactic: New Reports: London Auction Analysis + Photography Art Market Confidence.
Annie Morony, Marketing Director, Tang Art Advisory