On Tuesday was Sotheby’s shot at the Impressionist & Modern market… and a bit of the 19th Century market as well – I’ll get to that momentarily. There were just 55 works up for grabs with a combined estimate of $252.6-323.1M… though there was one in particular that would carry the sale.
The top lot, as expected, went to Claude Monet’s Meules… Painted in 1890, from his acclaimed Haystacks series, the work came into the evening with an estimate “in the region of $55M.” Interestingly, when I went to view the sale myself, they quoted me an estimate of $25-35M, though we went early in the week… I suspect they may have garnered significant interest in the days leading up to the sale, which resulted in them raising the estimate substantially… even still, the specialists could not have foreseen what unfolded. After more than 10 minutes of bidding, the work hammered at $97M, which works out to $110.7M with the premium! Not only is that a new record for any work by Monet at auction, but it is in fact a new auction record for any Impressionist work of art at auction as well! Incredibly, the seller initially purchased the work for just $2.5M in 1986… just about 2% of the price this time around. Well behind in second, but still in impressive fashion, Picasso’s Femme au chien – in its first auction appearance – found a buyer at $54.9M on a $25-30M estimate. This was just one of seven Picasso’s featured in the sale… in all, the 7 totaled $93.5M… which almost sadly doesn’t even buy you the top lot. In a distant third was another work by Picasso… Mousquetaire a la pipe, which was purchased by a private museum in Asia, just squeaked into the $20-30M estimate once you factor in the buyer’s premium at $20.7M.
As I alluded to earlier, it wasn’t just the Impressionist & Modern works on the block tonight… interestingly, Sotheby’s threw a behemoth work by Bouguereau into the mix. This 25-foot monstrosity was simply overwhelming… I have no idea what one would do with a work of this scale. It needs a museum… which means there are limited buyers. And to place a lofty estimate of $25-35M on a work like this was downright risky. I guess they assumed with all the additional media coverage, this was their best shot, but they were sorely mistaken… bidding stalled quickly at just $18M, leaving it well short of the estimate and reserve, resulting in the biggest failure of the evening (though the Monet more than made up for it). All that said, an appropriate estimate, with placement in a 19th Century Sale could really bring some life to that market… oh well.
In addition to the Bouguereau, there were just 4 other works that failed on the evening resulting in 90.9% sold… considering the fact that the remaining unsold works were relatively minor (2 with a $2-3M est. and 2 with a $1.8-2.5M est.) it is no surprise that the results still looked impressive… at the end of the evening, the sale totaled $349.8M; quite a bit more than the presale estimate. While Christie’s may have had the higher total in this arena, it was Sotheby’s who turned in the stronger performance.