NEW YORK—Christie’s and Sotheby’s Impressionist and modern art evening sales painted very different pictures of the health of the market. With Christie’s opening sale on Nov. 1 sparking talk of a sharp correction, or pullback, as top lots failed to sell and the total fell well below expectations, Sotheby’s sale the following night provided immediate reassurance that demand for top quality works was robust, especially where prices were reasonable.
“I think the market for Impressionist paintings is extremely firm,” said London dealer Jonathan Green. “The market for recycled goods at overestimated prices is sticky. Christie’s took some high-value works that were very well known to the market and put some very bullish estimates on them,” he said. Green further noted that those estimates were likely established last summer, “at a different moment in the market before the stock market took a hit.”
Private dealer Nicholas Maclean told ARTnewsletter, “the surprise of the week was the difference in success, or lack thereof, in the two sales.” Maclean said Sotheby’s sale was “much more tightly edited. I think the market is still very much there.”
Selectivity has marked collecting since the major downturn in the art market in late 2008. This time the trend was even more pronounced, with some major lots failing to elicit a single bid. On the other hand, competition for relatively lower-priced works was frequently intense.
Sotheby’s was the leader, taking in a total of $229.7 million in evening and day sales—down from $263.6 million achieved last November, but a healthy result nonetheless. Christie’s total, including two day sales, one with a special focus on Impressionist and modern works on paper, realized $170.5 million, $100 million less than the $271 million total seen last year.
The combined Impressionist art total for the two houses was $400.2 million, compared with $538.8 million in fall 2010.