Following up Christie’s modest showing on Monday, Sotheby’s had the floor and they were in a good position to be the more favorable sale given the offerings and estimates but as you’ll soon see, things didn’t go so smoothly… and there were some other “abnormalities” that we’ll address.
Without any further ado, let’s get into it… the top lot of the evening was a 1903 Monet, Charing Cross Bridge, which hasn’t changed hands since the 1970s. It was accurately predicted to bring between $20-30M as the hammer fell on a $24M bid ($27.6M w/p). Taking the second spot was Caillebotte’s Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au Petit-Gennevilliers… if you didn’t pick up on that translation, it’s a painting of a guy walking his dog. Richard Gallo was a close friend of Caillebotte’s and was frequently used as the subject of his figurative paintings… this particular work, painted in 1884, ended up being gifted from the artist to Mr. Gallo himself in 1894. One hundred and twenty-five years later (at Sotheby’s), the work achieved a hammer price of $18M; the low end of the estimate.
Now, I am going to take a moment for a little side bar regarding auctions, premiums, and the things we do not see going on… usually when we review a sale, we record the hammer prices live and then reference the published premium prices from the auction house – very rarely do we ever calculate these numbers in-house… maybe you see where I am going with this… unfortunately, I did not follow the sale live so I decided to back out the premiums and calculate the hammer prices… when I did that, I noticed there were a select few lots in the sale that simply seemed off… upon closer inspection, it turns out that some lots had irrevocable bids or guarantees which impacts the final reported numbers… so when I tell you that the Caillebotte achieved a price of $19.6M, you probably wouldn’t realize there’s more than a million dollars missing from the premium, unless someone pointed it out. That was the case for 5 lots in the evening sale, though the Caillebotte was obviously the most substantial.
Back to the results… rounding out the top three was Paul Signac’s La Corne d’Or (Constantinople), which has been passed around quite a bit recently… it was up for sale in May 2008 when it sold for $6.6M on a $5-7M estimate, and then again in 2012 for £8.7M ($13.9M) on a £4-6M estimate. This time around, sporting a $14-18M estimate, the work found a buyer at $14M hammer ($16.2M w/p)… essentially the owner lost the seller’s premium (the commission that the auction house takes from the consignor – you didn’t think they only hit the buyer’s with a premium, did you?)
Just outside the top three were a couple of over achievers… Giacometti’s Buste d’homme took the fourth spot in the sale at $12.3M hammer (est. $6-8M/54% above estimate), followed by Lempicka’s La Tunique rose at $11.5M hammer (est. $6-8M/44% above estimate). Other notable results included works by Magritte at $7.3M hammer (est. $4-6M/22% above estimate) and a van Gogh at $8.3M hammer (est. $5-7M/19% above estimate).
Conversely, there were quite a few lots that struggled or failed all together… A work by Bonnard hammered at just $850K ($1.5-2.5M/43% below estimate); a Renoir hammered at $800K (est. $1.2-1.8M/33% below estimate); Nus by Picasso hammered at just $8.5M (est. $12-18M/29% below estimate); and a Juan Gris which hammered at $600K (est. $800K-1.2M/25% below estimate). There were 11 unsold lots, which is a fairly substantial amount for an evening sale… of those, the more significant were works by Giacometti ($4-6M), Magritte ($6-8M), Tamayo ($4-6M), and Chagall ($2.8-3.5M).
Overall, 41 works found a buyer, which works out to 78% sold… not a number we expect for an evening sale. Further, the 20 works hammering below estimate really shredded any hopes of this looking good. Granted, with the premiums, they made their estimated $186.8-265.8M ($208.9M)… but without the premiums factored in, the sale totaled just $178.6M. Again, these preeminent evening sales are supposed to be the crème de la crème and these results feel like anything but. Hopefully 2020 has better things in store for the Impressionist and Modern market.