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The Day Sales: Going, Going, Gone…Not So Fast

November 27, 2018

The week of November 13th was REALLY big here in NY as the evening fall auctions were setting records and making headlines. I spent the week glued to my chair, watching the day sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s to see how they would fare.  I recorded the hammer prices of over 1200 lots and considering the amount of product being offered, the results were pretty good.  (FYI- there were 2,682 lots over 21 sales – 16 of which were art related – just at Sotheby’s and Christie’s that week!  I didn’t even count the lots and sales at all the other auction houses….OMG AUCTION OVERLOAD!!)

Picasso’s Le hibou gris

First up was Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Day Sale, which began at 9:00 AM Monday morning (I started watching on my iPad on the way into the city) with the Alberto and Diego Giacometti: Masters of Design sale (Howard reported on this one, but just to recap, the sale had a 100% sell-through rate and garnered $8.65M ($11.5M with commissions – w/c). Next up was the Impressionist and Modern Art Works on Paper Sale that should have started at 10 AM, but the first sale ran a little long, as did all the sales.  The Works on Paper sale did fairly well with a 76.1% sell-through rate and took in $7.1M ($8.98M w/c).  But the sale we really wanted to see was in the afternoon – the Impressionist and Modern Art Day Sale which began around 2PM.  Here’s how it went – the overall sell-through rate was a mere 62.6% (the lowest of all the sales I watched) and garnered $21.9M ($29.2M w/c).  The combined pre-sale estimates for the morning and afternoon sales was $39.2-58.1M, so Christie’s fell far short of expectations, even with the commissions.  The top lot was Picasso’s Le hibou gris, which sold for $2M ($2.4M w/c- est. $1.5-2.5M) – this work had been auctioned twice before, in Nov. 2008 for $1.03M and in Nov. 1997 for just $200K! Not a bad return. Giacometti’s Projet pour un monument a Gabriel Peri took second place and, in my opinion, was the highlight of the sale as it sold for $1.85M ($2.23M w/c – est. $250-350K), more than five times the high estimate!  And coming in third was Chagall’s 1971 painting Les Paysans, selling for $1.6M ($1.93M w/c – est. $200-300K); this work has been in the same family since 1973.

Magritte’s L’incendie

The following day was Sotheby’s turn at the Impressionist and Modern market. They had morning and afternoon sessions as well, which literally went all day!  These sales fared better than the day before with a sell-through rate of 70.6%; but sadly, did not make the estimate either as they grossed $50M with the commissions — Sotheby’s was hoping for $55.5-79.6M.  The top lot was Magritte’s L’incendie which sold for $3.6M ($4.34 w/c – est. $1.0 -1.5M); more than twice its high estimate.  In second was Renoir’s Femme au Jardin, which hammered at $1.15 ($1.4M w/c – est. $1 -1.5M), just at the low end of the estimate. Rounding out the top three was Alfredo Ramos Martinez’s La India de los Floripondiosselling for $960K ($1.17M w/c).  The estimate on this painting was $800-1.2M, the same as in 2013 when it came up at Sotheby’s and did not sell!  Oh, I should also mention the biggest losers for this sale – Picasso’s Le Peintre et son Modele, (est. $1.4-1.8M), and Alfred Munnings’ A Winner at Epsom (est. $1.2-1.8M). That said, a Munnings does not belong in an Impressionist Day sale, it should have been in a19th Century or British Sporting Art sale!

Cy Tombly’s Untitled

When combined, the four Impressionist and Modern day sales brought in $99.7 MILLION!

Now, let’s jump to the Post-War and Contemporary Sales.  Again, both auction houses had morning and afternoon sales and the action never seemed to end.  As you will soon see, the Contemporary Market is still the hottest/craziest show in town.  On the 16th, Sotheby’s presented a strong sale with a solid sell-through rate of 83.2%, and a total take of $100.1M w/c (slightly more than all five impressionist day sales combined!) on an estimate of $74.1-105.2M.  The top lot was Cy Tombly’s Untitled which hammered at $2.6M ($3.13M w/c – est. $1.2 – 1.8M).  Tied for second were Joan Mitchell’s Untitled (est. $1.5 – 2.0M) and Tom Wesselmann’s 18 Year Old on the Beach (est. $1.0 – 1.5M) – each sold for $2.5M ($3.015M w/c). All three works were in the morning session which, as you will soon see, was also the stronger session for Christie’s.

Ed Ruscha’s Ruby

On the 17th, Christie’s offered their sale and the morning session was a blockbuster with a 93.4% sell-through rate!  I was surprised to learn that after all my calculations were done, that the overall sell-through rate, for the full day, was the same as Sotheby’s – 83.2%. Watching the morning session, I was certain that Christie’s was going to be the clear winner of the Contemporary market, but Sotheby’s edged them out. As for the sale’s total, the two houses were pretty close with Christie’s bringing in $95M (w/c) on a $67.6–98.4M estimate. So while I can’t say one house did far better than the other, the Christie’s morning sale was definitely the more exciting sale to watch!  So what were the top lots here?  Ed Ruscha’s Ruby that realized $2.7M (w/c $3.3M – est. $$2 -3M – this work was part of Robert Indiana’s private collection and was sold by his estate.); David Hockney’s Green Pool with Diving Board and Shadow (Paper Pool 3) that jumped off the auction block at $2.4M (w/c $2.9M – est. $1.0 -1.5M); and Ellsworth Kelly’s Orange Blue, selling for $2.3M (w/c $2.8M – est. $900K-1.2M – this was also part of Robert Indiana’s estate.)

By the end of the action, the four Contemporary sales racked up $195.1 MILLION, and when combined with the Impressionist and Modern day sales, over $294.8 Million worth of art changed hands.  That is pretty impressive.

Thankfully, I will have 6 months to recuperate… can’t wait for the REALLY BIG SPRING auctions…not!!!

 

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