We are not even going to try and guess what Brexit means for the art market since our crystal ball fell on the floor and smashed into a thousand pieces some time ago. We are trying to glue it back together, but the pieces are so small and the magic may have been lost! During the past week there have been a number of art related sites stating that they will be publishing all the art world’s comments concerning Brexit — give me a break. Do you really think most art dealers have a clue what this means? I can tell you, we do not. Your guess is as good as anyone’s. What happens to the art world will all depend on the buying public. Will people spend or will they hold tight? Will some financial ‘experts’ push the idea that art is a safe haven? I can tell you they will, since I have already seen it. Truthfully, only time will tell. What we do know is that a few months from now, this will all be water under the bridge and everyone’s attention will turn to the media circus we call … our presidential election!
Let me stress the following … buy works of art that excite you, that you want to own and that you want to live with. Do not buy because you think prices will rise and you will make a killing. I am not saying this will not happen, but nobody can guarantee it. The art market is no different than any other market … prices rise and fall. Artist go in and out of favor – over the years we have seen many hot contemporary artist’s crash and burn. And unlike most other markets, the condition of works can change. Make your journey though the art world an adventure … and along with way, bring home a few souvenirs. Now on to the action …
The month of June was not short on supply for the art market … there was plenty of offering in the London, Paris and Hong Kong sales (before and after the vote). I will begin by saying that we are only going to cover a few of the sale – there were just far too many (Modern & Post-War British; Tableaux et Dessins Anciens et du XIX Siecle; British & European Art; Impressionist & Modern Art; Contemporary, etc.) and the number of works offered exceeded 1500 … and that was just in the sales we follow. There is just no way the market can absorb it all in the span of a few weeks so there are going to be a lot of disappointed sellers — with or without Brexit.
Impressionist & Modern – Post War – Old Master & 19th Century
By: Howard Rehs
First up were the Impressionist and Modern works at Sotheby’s in Paris and taking the top position was Marc Chagall’s Les Maries sous le baldaquin at €963K ($1.08M – est. €1.2-1.8M … so it had a low reserve). In second was Man Ray’s Mademoiselle H… at€651K ($730K – est. €350-500K) and in third was Redon’s Profil sous une arche at €603K ($680K – est. €250-350K). Rounding out the top 5 were a small Renoir landscape at €591K ($663K – est. €250-350K) and a van Dongen at €555K ($662K – est. €300-400K).
Now there were some big misses … among them were a Chagall at €1.2-1.8M, a Leger at €1-1.5M and a van Dongen at €5-700K. In addition, there were some works that are sure to have put smiles on their seller’s faces; these included a Martin at €207K (est.€70-100K); a Kupka drawing at €111K (est. €20-30K), a Lebourg for €35K (est. €7-10K) and an Anto Carte at €459K (est. €60-80K).
In the end, of the 125 works offered, 93 sold (74.4%) and the total take was €10.32M ($11.6M) low end of the estimate range was about €11.45M; so even with the buyer’s premium they missed it.
On the 13th and 14th we moved across the Channel to find Sotheby’s offering their Modern & Post-War British Art and the top lot here was a Barbara Hepworth at £1.87M ($2.65M – est. £500-800K), a Michael Andrews took second at £1.27M ($1.8M – est. £500-700K) and in third was an Elisabeth Frink at £725K ($1.03M – est. £600-800K). By the end of this session, of the 141 works offered 107 found buyers (76%) and the total take was
On the 16th we traveled back to Paris for the Tableaux et Dessins Anciens et du XIX Siecle sale with the top lot being a lovely Louyse Moillon still life from 1629 that brought an auction record €1.14M ($1.3M – est. €450-650K). When finished, this sale found buyers for 101 of the 150 lots offered (67.3%) and the total take was €4.5M ($5.1M) – low end of the estimate range was €3.14M.
We then get to the UK on June 23rd (Brexit vote day – uh oh) when Bonhams had their Impressionist& Modern Art sale. Top work here was a ‘nothing much’ Renoir landscape (7 ½ x 11 inch sketch) that brought £279K ($374K – est. £150-200K) – amusingly, their pre-sale press release classified this as a major work. If that is a major work, how would one classify hisDance at the Moulin de la Galette or Luncheon of the Boating Party? Super Major? Super Duper Major? Coming in second was a Rodin bronze at £165K ($221K – est. £120-180K) and third was snatched by a Lebasque which garnered £153K ($205K – est. £180-250K). Of the 76 works on the catalog, 48 sold (63%) and the sale’s total was a rather lackluster £2.03M ($2.7M). Let’s face it, given the day it could have been a lot worse!
The following week saw the world financial markets running for cover, but there was no such luck for the art market … plenty of sales already on the calendar.
The Good, The Bad and The Brexit
By Lance Rehs
Each year just as summer is getting started, Sotheby’s and Christie’s London offer up their Impressionist & Modern works; it’s never quite the same as their New York equivalent, neither by volume or value, but nevertheless there are usually a few great pieces to be had and some great prices paid. This year was no different and with the Brexit vote looming just days after the sales, both houses had to combat some great uncertainty as well. Before the sales even began, judging by the pre-sale estimates, we were expecting a 20% drop from last year’s numbers.
Sotheby’s opened the week with a lean 27-lot sale (compared to 50 lots last year); auctions have already been dealing with a shortage of top level works, so the Brexit vote only further exacerbated this painfully obvious problem . There were just three major works in the sale, accounting for 90% of the pre-sale estimate (£81.2-101.4M/$119-149M), but only two sold. The top lot of the
evening was a Cubist work by Picasso, Femme Assise, which set a new auction record for any Cubist work as it found a buyer at £43.3M ($63.6M – Est. excess of £30M) … the work last sold at Sotheby’s in 1973 and brought just £340K! Closely behind was Modigliani’s Jeanne Hebuterne, which breached its £28M estimate as it made £38.5M ($56.6M); the seller, arms dealer Wafic Said, purchased the work at Christie’s in 1986 for just £1.9M. These two works were the highest prices achieved in the London market in the last 5 years, proving that even in tough times there are buyers for exceptional works. That said, there was one big failure on the evening… a life-size cast of Rodin’s Eve, which was expected to bring £8-12M (the highest estimate for a posthumously cast Rodin bronze) failed to attract a single bid. Rounding out the top three was Gauguin’s Nature morte aux pommes, selling to Acquavella Galleries for £3.4M ($5M – Est. £2.2-2.8M). The final numbers were actually respectable given the precarious situation the UK economy was facing; while the results represent a 42% drop from Sotheby’s sale last year, they still managed to move 89% of the material on the block (24 sold of 27 offered) and brought £103.2 ($151.9M) total, which was just above the top end of the estimate at £101.4M ($149.1M).
Christie’s had its chance on Wednesday, the evening before the Brexit vote, and some people were surly feeling unsettled to say the least. The day of the sale three consignors pulled their works… two Picassos each carrying a £2-3M estimate as well as a Magritte, which was expected to bring £1.4-1.8M; that left 33 works up for sale. The top lot, as expected, was Modigliani’s Madame Hanka Zborowska at £8.2M ($12.1M – Est. £5-7M), which was last sold privately through Arthur Tooth’s gallery in the 30s. Far off in second was Wassily Kandinsky’s Esquisse pour Autour du cercle at £1.7M ($2.5M – Est. £1.5-2.5M), followed by Le petit flutiste by Chagall at £1.4M ($2.1M – Est. £700k-1M). Uncharacteristically, failures were in abundance tonight… 12 of the 33 lots did not find a buyer. That included the guaranteed Monet (Est. £4.5-6.5M) which Christie’s is on the hook for, a large Picasso estimated at £2.8-4.8M, an impressive Kandisnsky (Est. £2-3M), along with a handful of other works. Look, the reality is the Brexit vote wasn’t the only factor at play here… Christie’s spent a lot of time promoting another major sale the following week celebrating their 250th anniversary, which definitely took some of the air out of this sale. Not to mention that there were works in the anniversary sale that should have been included here: a bronze by Henry Moore which would have bolstered this sale by roughly £15-20M, 2 Hepworth’s £3-5M & £600-900K and a Chadwick at £1.4-1.8M. But yet, Christie’s made the decision to prop up a weak sale with lofty estimates and it happened to coincide with a political turmoil. As I have always said, if lower caliber work is offered up, especially when buyers are more selective than ever, you can be sure that the results aren’t going to sparkle. By the end of the evening, Christie’s had sold just 21 of the works (64% – abysmal for an evening sale) for a total of just £25.6M ($37.8M – Est. £32.8-48.7M) – Christie’s worst showing for an Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale in over a decade. That total is just about a quarter of Sotheby’s total from the night prior, so I think that is a major testament to the lower quality works that Christie’s offered.
As I am sure it is clear to you by now, there are so many factors that contribute to the success or failure of any given auction. The bottom line is, there will always be demand for works that are regarded as the highest quality, but the rest of the market is finicky and any single event can throw a wrench into the picture; that is just one of the risks you take when selling at auction.
With a bit of hindsight, now that the UK actually (shockingly) decided to #Brexit, it was probably a safe move if some Brits decided to hold off on bidding last week. In the days after, the Pound collapsed to its lowest level since 1985, as it dropped approximately 8% against the Dollar and Yen while the Euro strengthened by roughly 6%. It will be interesting to see how that impacts the Post-War & Contemporary sales in London as American and Asian buyers will be playing with money that has significantly more buying power … a little teaser for next month’s article, prices were STRONG!