LONDON—Two recent auctions of Old Master paintings in London tell very different stories about the art market. The first, an evening sale at Sotheby’s on Dec. 5, was expected to bring £14/21 million—not a great deal when compared with the booming markets for modern and contemporary art. But bidders reacted positively to the reasonable estimates, driving the sale total up to £32.8 million ($67.4 million). “It was almost like a contemporary art sale,” said Sotheby’s Alex Bell after a high percentage of lots flew above estimates and 12 artists’ records were broken.
A very different scenario emerged the next day, Dec. 6, at Christie’s. While the auction was expected to realize more than at Sotheby’s—between £25/35 million—it fetched only £18.8 million ($38 million). Observers blamed the disappointing results on overambitious estimates.