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Christie’s Evening Sales – 20th/21st Century & The Art Of The Surreal

March 3, 2022

On March 1st, Christie’s offered a set of three auctions between Shanghai and London, which lasted some 5 hours. (Prices shown are with the buyer’s premium)

an abstract face with a pipe - Basquiat


The first auction took place in Shanghai and featured 20 lots, with the top seller being Basquiat’s 1982 painting, Il Duce (The Leader), which brought CNY94.1M/$15.06M on a CNY80-120M ($12.8-19.2M) estimate. In 2017, Christie’s offered this work with a $25-35M estimate, and the saleroom guaranteed it; it failed to sell, so they likely took a bit of a loss. Taking the second spot was Zao Wou-Ki’s Le soir à l’Hôtel du Palais (Palace Hotel by night) from 2004. The piece was acquired directly from the artist, carried a CNY11-18M estimate ($1.8-2.9M), and sold for CNY24.4M/$3.9M. Rounding out the top three was Kees van Dongen’s La femme au collier. The painting was purchased in 2008 from a London gallery, had a CNY19.5-32M estimate ($3.1-5.1M), and brought CNY23.2M/$3.7M.

Several works performed very well; these included Boafo’s Orange Shirt – CNY8.76M/$1.4M (est. CNY3-5M – this same painting sold about two years ago for $212.5K), Figgis’ Debutants Ball – CNY4.03M/$545K (est. CNY800-1.2M), and Ewa Juszkiewicz’s Untitled – CNY3.3M/$524K (est. CNY220-500K).

Of the 20 lots offered, 19 sold (a sell-through rate of 95%), and the total reached CNY222M/$35.5M. The low end of their estimate range was CNY141.5M, so they made it with plenty of room to spare.

Next up was the London auction, consisting of 68 lots, 4 of which were withdrawn before the sale started. (Both hammer and buyer’s premium – w/p – prices are shown)

2 foxes in an abstract background - Franz Marc

Franz Marc

The star of this segment was Franz Marc’s The Foxes – a recently restituted works from the Städtische Kunstsammlung, Dusseldorf, to the heirs of Kurt and Else Grawi. The painting was expected to bring £35M and hammered at £37M/$46.7M (£42.4M/$56.6M w/p) — I am sure the heirs are now very happy and quite a bit richer! Next came Francis Bacon’s Triptych 1986-7. This large, late work (completed about five years before his death) carried a £35-55M estimate and brought £35M/$47M (£38.5M/$51.3M w/p). I can only assume that the seller – Norman Foster – was satisfied with the result. The third spot saw Lucian Freud’s Girl with Closed Eyes fall in the middle of its £10-15M estimate when it sold for £13M (£15.2/$20.2M w/p). Rounding out the top five were Marc Chagall’s Le jongleur at £7.5M/$10M (£8.9M/$12M w/p) – the work last sold in 2005 for $4M, another happy seller – and Fernand Leger’s Composition (from 1920) which made £5.2M/$6.9M (£6.24M/$8.4M w/p).

Of the 64 works that were offered, 54 sold (84.4% sell-through rate), and by my calculations, the total take was £153M/$205M (£182.7M/$244.5M w/p). The low end of their estimate range was about £152M, so they just squeezed by. Looking a little deeper, we find that 8 works sold below, 27 with, and 19 above their estimate ranges. This gave them an accuracy rate of 42%, which is a pretty high number. But the evening was not over; next up the Surrealists.

a surrealist painting with a head, feet and other objects - Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso

Shortly after the big auction, a selection of 21 Surrealist works was offered – hey, the fun never ends! (Prices shown are with the buyer’s premium)

Taking the number one spot was an artist whose works seem to cover most of the leading art movements of the 20th century – Pablo Picasso. His 1929 painting La fenêtre ouverte, which had been in a family collection since 1974, was expected to sell in the £14-24M range and realized £14M/$18.7M (£16.32M/$21.8M w/p), just hitting the low end of its estimate. Then came René Magritte’s La lumière du pole that was estimated to bring £5.5-7.5M and ended up selling for £5.99M/$8M w/p. In third they saw Joan Miró’s Personnage, oiseau, étoile dans un paysage (from 1978) bring in £3.04M/$4.07M w/p on a £1.5-2.5M estimate. The seller acquired the painting back in 1996 for about $600K — so there was another happy seller.

There were 21 works offered, and all were sold (100% sell-through rate). The total take was £39.9M/$53.4M w/p on a presale estimate range was £30.5-47.7M, so they made it even without the buyer’s premium. That was nice to see.

By the end of the three sessions, the total for the evening was £249M/$334M w/p on a presale estimate of £208-299M ($278-398M). They offered 105 works and sold 94, giving them a sell-through rate of 89.5%. Again, not too bad.