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Now We Know When Too Many Picassos Are Too Much

May 17, 2018

Malevich’s Suprematist Composition

After Sotheby’s uninspiring performance, expectations were a bit tempered heading into Christie’s evening sale of Impressionist and Modern works… that feeling would be short-lived as the sale got off to a hot start and kept it going!

The first lot up for sale, a small crayon work by Picasso, was only expected to make $700K-1M and it more than tripled that number! Just a few lots later, a Miro topped it’s $10-15M estimate at $21.6M. Not too long after that came the top lot of the night… Though it was projected to come in at number two, Malevich’s Suprematist Composition garnered $85.5M on a $72-80M estimate. The 1916 canvas last sold in 2008 for $60M… this time around, it set a new auction record for the artist.


Falling to second was the bronze by Brancusi… with a $70-100M estimate, it was supposed to be the star of the show, but bidding sputtered out and fell short of the estimate at $63M. Once we add in the premium, it bumps the price up to $71M, just inside the expected range. The $71M mark was also good for a new auction record as well, which was set just last year when his work, La muse endormie, nearly doubled it’s $20-30M estimate at $57M. The work in this evening’s sale carried a third-party guarantee along with 6 other lots, which helped ensure the sale.

Van Gogh

Taking third was Van Gogh’s Vue de l’asile et de la Chapelle Saint-Paul de Mausole – a work painted while he was being treated for mental illness. Carrying a $35-55M estimate, the work just made it at $39.6 with premium. It was last sold in 2012, where the current owner purchased it for just £10.1M.

A few lots were withdrawn, but none more interesting than the two Picassos being offered up by Steve Wynn… both works had third-party guarantees and would have added at least another $105M to the pot. In any case, it is reported that Christie’s actually damaged the more impressive of the two works – the one that was estimated in the region of $70M! The other work, estimated at $22-28M was also pulled but for unspecified reasons. I wonder if the fact that about half of the Picassos in the Sotheby’s sale failed to find a buyer had anything to do with it?  Have they finally oversaturated the upper end of the Picasso market? In any event, I’m sure Mr. Wynn was not too pleased… its been a rough few months for the casino magnate after he was forced to resign from his company amid allegations of sexual assault in February.

The final numbers were pretty solid… of the 37 works that actually made it to the block, 33 sold, good for a sell-through rate of 89% and a total take of $416M (including premium – the sale only totaled $362.2M before the premiums were added in). Any way you slice it, they hit their $326-450M estimate range (is it me or is that one hell of a range?)

Comparatively speaking, this evening’s sale saw bidding that was far more evenly dispersed across the lots… Sotheby’s total take from the night before was predominantly comprised of the proceeds from the Modigliani (which accounted for approximately half of the sale’s total)… At Christie’s, the top 3 lots together didn’t even account for half of the sale’s total with 37% of the works above the high end of the estimate, 39% falling into the estimate range and 24% below the estimate.