NEW YORK—The fall auction season opened with two evening sales of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s on Nov. 3 and 4 that gave divergent views of the current health of the art market. Christie’s sale—which observers said had solid, though not exceptional, material—was met with caution and selective buying, and missed its low estimate; Sotheby’s offered dozens of important works from private collections, which sparked lively competitive bidding throughout the much lengthier sale.
Overall volume for the auctions of Impressionist and modern art, including the two houses’ more moderately priced day sales, was $301million, down from the $472.4million achieved last fall (ANL, 11/25/08), but higher than last spring’s result of $207.9million. Sotheby’s robust $181.7million evening sale accounted for the bulk of its current Impressionist and modern total of $212.6million. Christie’s evening sale took in a total of $65.7million; in all the house realized $88.5million. Between the two houses, 557 lots were offered, of which 425, or 76 percent, were sold. The sell-through rate was down from that of last spring, when 425 lots were offered, and 357, or 86 percent, were sold.
Experts are scrutinizing the art market looking for early signs of recovery in the wake of last year’s sharp correction. Many of them say it is clear that collectors with disposable cash are setting their sights on blue-chip, somewhat more conservative works by artists with established markets, such as portraits by Kees van Dongen or soft landscapes by Claude Monet and Camille Pissarro. And despite the continuing uncertainty of the global economy, experts were sanguine about the state of the market.
“The results were quite encouraging,” dealer Lucy Mitchell-Innes, the newly appointed president of the Art Dealers Association of America, told ARTnewsletter following the Christie’s sale. “Christie’s did a good job of estimating, but they were unlucky with the material. Attractive Impressionist paintings sold well. That market seems to have rebounded quite well.”
Collector Eli Broad, who is on the ARTnews magazine list of the top ten collectors in the world, told ARTnewsletter he believes that the market “has bottomed out and good works have great demand.” He added, however, that “lesser works are getting a fraction of what they were getting several years ago.”
Robert Landau, president of Landau Fine Art, Montreal, called the results “encouraging,” adding, “the market has wanted to do this for a while but the inventory hasn’t been there. Christie’s sale was flat because they didn’t have the inventory. Sotheby’s was very encouraging. They did have good stuff and people saw it.” Landau sounded a cautionary note: “One swallow does not a summer make. But I hope it’s spring at least.”