On the 19th, Sotheby’s London offered up a lean Impressionist & Modern evening sale with just 25 works up for grabs… and even with less material than Christie’s the evening prior, Sotheby’s had loftier expectations – Christie’s was only expecting between £64-89M… Sotheby’s had a presale estimate of £87.5-126.3M. That said, I’d be hard-pressed to say we saw great results… they were mediocre at best.
Much of the hoopla was in relation to the expected top lot of the evening – Monet’s Nympheas (1908), which was coming from a “distinguished family collection” in Argentina, along with another Monet and a Pissarro. The three works were all guaranteed and carried a combined estimate of £30.2-42.8M – just to highlight the inequality in offerings between the two houses, these three works could have surpassed Christie’s entire sale total! Getting back to the Monet… the work saw shaky bidding as they were only able to garner £23.7M ($29.8M with premiums) for the work, though they were expecting £25-35M ($31.4-43.9M)… that figure was still good for the top spot. The other Monet and Pissarro from the collection did not see strong results either… Monet’s Printemps a Giverny went well below the £4-6M ($5-7.5M) estimate as it sold for £3.1M ($3.9M) including the buyer’s premium! After doing some quick math, I found that means the hammer was just £2.6M… and the Pissarro hammered at the bottom end of its £1.2-1.8M ($1.5-2.2M) estimate; adding in the premium brings the price up to £1.45M ($1.8M) – so ultimately, the three only garnered £28.25M… below the combined estimate.
The number two lot of the evening went to Modigliani’s Jeune Homme Assis, for £18.4M ($23.1M) on a £16-24M ($20.1-30.1M) estimate… that works out to a hammer price of £16M – the bottom end of the estimate range. This work also came out of a collection in Argentina… provenance is always a concern with works coming out of South America, particularly Argentina… after World War II, many Nazi’s fled to Argentina, and they took their looted works with them. This one is said to have belonged to Rafael Crespo, and was then passed on to his son and daughter-in-law… it had been in the family collection since 1927, when it was bought from the artist’s primary dealer Lepold Zborowski. I was pretty surprised to see such a fresh work go at the low end of the estimate… though it is likely because Modigliani’s paintings of men are not as desirable as those of women.
Rounding out the top three, and the only other work to top the £10M mark, was Joan Miro’s Peinture… the work carried a £10-15M ($12.5-18.8M) estimate and found a buyer at £12M ($15M). It last appeared on the market in 2010 at Christie’s New York in an evening sale and actually went below the $12-18M estimate, selling for just $10.3M (including premium).
There were not many surprises… a good chunk of the lots fell within their range – 11 of the 25 (44% accuracy rate); not bad… additionally, 8 lots went above their estimate! That left just 4 works below their estimate along with two unsold works… a seemingly solid performance, especially after the nightmarish showing at Christie’s. Overall, the Sotheby’s sale brought in £98.8M – inside the presale estimate range but only with the help of the premiums. While this certainly is not an overwhelmingly strong result, it definitely provides some relief after a rocky sale the night before.