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More Auction Action – Impressionist & Modern, Paris

March 29, 2021

On the 25th, Sotheby’s, Paris, presented a curated group of Impressionist and Modern works of art and the results were pretty good. (all final prices, unless otherwise noted, include the buyer’s premium; estimates do not)

landscape with people and a windmill

van Gogh

For the past month, the art world was bombarded with news about a fresh-to-the-market van Gogh that was coming up for sale.  Scène de rue à Montmartre (18 x 24 inches) was created in 1887 and featured one of the three mills in Montmartre – the Pepper Mill. The painting carried a €5-8M estimate and became the top lot in the sale when it sold for €13.1M ($15.4M).  But there is more to the story.  During the sale, the auctioneer initially sold the work for €13.05M (hammer price) to a telephone bidder but quickly retracted and stated that it sold for €14M to an online bidder.  A short while later, they offered the work again, and this time it hammered for €11.25M to the telephone bidder (it was later revealed that the buyers were the Reuben family – UK billionaires). You may be wondering why? Well, according to an article in The Art Newspaper:

Sotheby’s… contacted the second successful online bidder, “who denied having placed a bid and obviously did not have the financial capacity to bear the price of [of the amount they had bid]”, although he or she had been given a paddle prior to the event. “Sotheby’s then decided to apply a provision that allows the sale’s director, when the sale is not concluded, to cancel it and put the lot back on auction”. The auction house says that it had informed all previous bidders and that the final price was “well above the estimate”.

According to an anonymous source close to the sale, on the Sotheby’s website the online bidder had to increase their bids by almost €1m, while Valette [who was handling the telephone bidder] had been allowed to bid several times in increments of only €50,000.

Since French law is strict on issues like this – when the hammer falls, all sales are final – it will be interesting to see if Sotheby’s (or the initial online buyer) will be held responsible for the €2.75M price difference.  You can read the full story here: Selling, selling, sold…and sold again. The truth about the bungled sale of a Van Gogh at Sotheby’s

women working in the field


Now let us get back to the results. In a distant second was a recently restituted gouache by Camille Pissarro – La Récolte des pois – which was expected to bring €1.2-1.8M and made €3.38M ($3.97M). And in a close third was Picabia’s La corrida (Le Matador dans l’arène) – another fresh to the market work – that carried a €1.7-2.5M estimate and sold for €3.15M ($3.7M). Rounding out the top five were a work on paper by Degas – Danseuse au tutu vert – that brought €2.67M ($3.14M – est. €2-3M), and another Picabia – Adam et Ève – that made €1.95M ($2.3M – est. €1.5-2M).



Several works performed well – Raffaelli’s Les courses à Jersey made €302K ($355K – est. €50-80K), Le Sidaner’s Trianon-sous-bois made €351K ($413K – est. €120-180K), and Degas’ Mademoiselle Salle achieved €545K ($641K – est. €250-350K).  Then there were works by Moreau (€400-600K), Matisse (€400-600K), Pissarro (€150-200K), and Arp (€80-120K) that did not sell.

By the time the small evening sale ended, of the 33 lots offered, 29 sold, giving them a sell-through rate of 87.8% (nice).  The sale was estimated to bring between €19.16-29.9M and brought in €36.54M ($42.9M), so I am sure they were pleased, along with many of the sellers.  Of the works offered, 2 sold below, 13 within, 14 above their estimate ranges.  When we consider the 4 unsold works, this left them with an accuracy rate of 39.4% — a pretty solid number.