LONDON—Impressionist and modern art sales from Feb 8–11 amassed a total of £248 million ($399 million); last February’s total was £259 million ($409 million), powered by the record-breaking £65 million ($102 million) sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, Walking Man (ANL, 2/23/10).
The latest total was comfortably within the £185 million/267 million estimate and in line with the momentum of the overall recovery. It was also the third-highest total for a February series of Impressionist and modern art auctions in London. The total includes the £49.9 million ($80.3 million) of art from these periods, but excludes the £43.7 million ($70.3 million) of Postwar and contemporary art sold in Sotheby’s private collection sale, “Looking Closely,” which consisted of works from the collection of the late Geneva-based businessman George Kostalitz.
It also includes a lower-value £1.1 million ($1.8 million) sale held at Christie’s in South Kensington in which no fewer than 72 ceramics by Pablo Picasso were offered and sold—the majority to Russian buyers. An extremely healthy 83.7 percent of lots throughout the series were sold, and Russian buying at all levels was clearly a major factor in the story, though less so in the Kostalitz sale. Sotheby’s calculated that 62 percent of buyers in its three sales were from Europe, including Russia, while 26 percent were from the Americas, and a significant 10 percent were from Asia. European and Russian buyers were even more dominant at Christie’s evening sale, accounting for 72 percent of lots against 23 percent to the Americas, and 5 percent to Asia. Interestingly, the Middle East did not seem to feature at all.
Generally, Impressionist-era paintings were weakly represented, and the market was driven by—apart from Russian tastes—demand for Picasso, whose works garnered over £46 million ($74 million), and for Surrealist art, which accounted for sales of £49 million ($78.9 million), thought to be a record.
Postwar and Contemporary Sales Surge
Contemporary-art sales (Feb. 15–18), were on course for realizing well in excess of the top estimate (including the Kostalitz contemporary works at Sotheby’s the previous week) of £167 million ($269 million), as ARTnewsletter was published. Sotheby’s final tally for three sales was £101.9 million ($164.1 million), against an estimate of £56 million/78 million, while Christie’s two sales amassed £75.7 million ($121.9 million), compared with an estimate of £46 million/66 million.
Phillips de Pury & Company’s evening sale, just 28 lots, realized a less buoyant £5.4 million ($8.7 million) against a £5.7 million/8.4 million estimate, and its Feb. 18 sale is projected at £9 million/13 million. So it’s £183 million ($294.8 million) and counting… for a total likely to become the fourth highest for a contemporary-art series in London, and the second highest for a February series, surpassing the £157.7 million ($254 million) mark hit in 2007. A full report on the Postwar and contemporary art sales will appear in the next ARTnewsletter.