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Global Demand Drives London Sales to New Heights

Christie’s and Sotheby’s series of Impressionist and modern art sales in London, June 24–26, brought in a combined total of £297.9 million ($586.2 million), up 23 percent from the £243.2 million achieved last June.

NEW YORK—Christie’s and Sotheby’s series of Impressionist and modern art sales in London, June 24–26, brought in a combined total of £297.9 million ($586.2 million), up 23 percent from the £243.2 million achieved last June. The record results were fueled in part by strong offerings, including a number of Impressionist masterpieces that were fresh to the market from private collections.

The biannual London auctions, held each February and June, have traditionally been seen by dealers, collectors and auction house experts as a robust but smaller complement to the major New York series that take place in May and November. However, the rapid growth of sale volume and the ever-higher record prices for individual works achieved in recent seasons indicate that London continues to close in on New York as a major international sale venue. While the weakness of the U.S. dollar in comparison with the British pound certainly plays a role, so too does London’s appeal as a major collecting center for the growing ranks of newly wealthy international collectors, particularly Russian and Chinese buyers.

Specialists at both auction houses told ARTnewsletter that many of the consignments for the London sales—including the top lots of the week—were confirmed following the New York auctions in May, since many sellers waited to see how those sales played out before making decisions. Auction houses and consignors were further helped by the fact that the London auctions were pushed back to a week later than last year’s June sales, allowing extra time for works to be added to the offerings.

Melanie Clore, Sotheby’s cochairman of Impressionist and modern art worldwide, said the overall strength of the sales was “underpinned by strong, informed bidding from an international pool of buyers . . . [with] an unprecedentedly high proportion of the works offered finding buyers.”

Among a string of new artist records, a Claude Monet water lily painting at Christie’s took £40.9 million ($80.5 million), shattering the previous records for prices paid for Monet’s work: the $41.5 million paid for Pont du chemin de fer à Argenteuil, 1873, at Christie’s New York in May and the £18.5 million ($36.7 million) paid for the smaller Nymphéas, 1904, at Sotheby’s London last June.

In U.S. dollar terms, the $586 million in Impressionist sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s last month is on par with the $598 million total taken in New York in May (ANL, 5/27/08).

Christie’s was the leader, posting a combined total of £168.4 million ($331.1 million) for its evening sale on June 24 followed by day, or part two, sales of works on paper and other Impressionist and modern works. Sotheby’s posted a total of £129.5 million ($255 million) for the same categories of sale offerings June 25–26.

As ARTnewsletter went to press, the London contemporary sales were already in high gear, and a new $25.8 million record was set at Christie’s for a sculpture by Jeff Koons. Detailed coverage of the London Postwar and contemporary sales will appear in the next issue of ARTnewsletter.

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