Amid runaway inflation, cratering US stock markets and a cryptocurrency crash, London auctions this week are seen by many as a test of the market as some observers predict an imminent correction after the surge in spring sales in New York.
Christie’s brought in $248 million over five hours on Tuesday evening, encompassing a dedicated sale of 20 works by Marc Chagall and the 20th/21st Century nightly auctions in London and Paris. Last night Sotheby’s followed suit with its London auction house, bringing in a total of £149.2 million ($181.8 million) from a pair of sales of British art and modern and contemporary dishes , just short of the pre-sale estimate of £143m to £201m ($174m to $244m). (Final prices include auction fees unless otherwise noted, pre-sale estimates do not.)
On an evening that brought few fireworks, Sotheby’s opening Jubilee of British Art auction totaled £72.3 million ($88.1 million) over 33 lots, against a pre-sale estimate of £73-99.9 million. (An additional lot, a painting by Leon Kossoff, was withdrawn before the sale).
The undisputed star of the night was Francis Bacon’s portrayal of the frenemy and fellow titan of British art Lucian Freud, which hammered in at £37.5m well beyond its unpublished estimate of £35m sterling. But despite the jubilant press releases issued after the sale, it was not a hugely surprising result given that the works were irrevocably tendered – they were won after just two bids by a client with the vice -President Mark Poltimore. Yet at £43.3 million with fees ($52.7 million), it is the most expensive contemporary painting sold in London since Christie’s sold another work by Bacon, George Dyer speaksfor £42.2 million in 2014.
Two records were set: one for a rare-to-market work by British pop artist Pauline Boty, which fetched £950,000, above its high estimate of £800,000, and another for a painting by Frank Auerbach which was previously owned by David Bowie, Director of Gerda Boehmwhich sold for £4.1million.
Six bidders battled it out to specialists at Sotheby’s in Hong Kong for a 2017 painting of Flora Yukhnovich’s graduation performance, inflating its hammer price to £1.9million from a high pre-sale estimate of £300,000. Yet works by British heavyweights failed to attract auction depth and works by icons Banksy and David Hockney went unsold. The Hockney, a view of Woldgate Woods in Yorkshire, failed to attract a bid above its low estimate of £10million and Banksy’s portrait of Winston Churchill with a grassy mohawk was also a let -rise to £4 million. A painting by Hurvin Anderson, a star at last year’s autumn auctions, also failed to sell on an estimate of £1.2-1.8million, along with a handful of other works, which represents a sales rate of 78.8%. .
It was no wonder, then, that when the action returned to the room after a longer than usual break between sales, a more serious and tense atmosphere accompanied it. Helena Newman came to the stand to lead the second half, and the lackluster bidding continued, leading the auctioneer to scold a few pundits over their modest bid increases.
The Modern and Contemporary sale totaled £76.8m ($93.5m) from 45 lots (vs. a presale estimate of £70-101m). Works by Alberto Giacometti, Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Howard Hodgkin, Paul Klee, Camille Pissarro, Eugène Boudin and Damien Hirst also failed to find buyers, representing a sales rate of 78. .7%.
The most significant lot was Monet’s Summer View of Vétheuil on the Seine from 1880, which Artnet News revealed as a shipment from British billionaire Malcolm Healey’s £35million collection. He had bought it in 2002 for £5.1million and last night he hammered £10million, at the bottom of his estimate.
Elsewhere, Andy Warhol’s candy pink on black self-portrait sold for £12.7 million ($15.5 million) after hammering just under its low estimate of £12 million. by Gerhard Richter study for the clouds hammered for £9.5m (£11.2m including fees) following a seven-man bidding battle (three were in the room). And four bidders were arguing over August Strindberg’s abstract Wave Vbringing the final price to £6.8 million from a high estimate of £3 million – a new record for a Swedish work of art.
Meanwhile, the frenzy for young artists hot in recent auction seasons seems to have died down a bit, perhaps in response to the financial recession coming downwind, which could lead buyers to seek to invest in more established names as better protection against inflation.
Namely, four bidders competed for a still life of 27-year-old rising star Anna Weyant, who recently announced her portrayal with Gagosian. It hammered in at £370,000, an impressive result from the high estimate of £150,000 but still a far cry from its auction record of $1.62 million hit last month. A work by Shara Hughes has attracted auctions from Hong Kong and fetched a phone buyer £450,000, well below its auction record of $2.9million. Similarly, a painting by Christina Quarles, whose work features at the Venice Biennale this year, failed to attract the hunger of past seasons, hammering £420,000 from Sotheby’s Asia specialist Yin Zhao; the artist’s record stands at over $4 million.
All in all, the lack of fireworks at London’s evening sales would support the theory that a looming recession is weighing heavily on art buying. With Phillips’ 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale still to come tonight, it remains to be seen whether market watchers can make an official call on speculation that a correction is near.
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