Category: Auctions

New Lowry record

May 27 2011

Image of New Lowry record

L S Lowry's Football Match was sold yesterday at Christie's for £5,641,250, including buyer's premium. The estimate was £3.5-4.5m. 

The previous record was set in 2007, with £3.77m paid for Good Friday, Daisy Nook.

Pablo who?

May 23 2011

Image of Pablo who?

Picture: China Guardian Auctions

Another record price in China seems to confirm the direction of the art market: a work by Qi Baishi (1864-1957) was sold in Beijing yesterday for $65m (or 425.m yuan). Eagle Standing on a Pine Tree, 1946, sets a new record for a modern Chinese painting.

According to Art Price, Qi's work raised $70m worldwide in 2009 - the only artists ranked higher were Warhol and Picasso. 

The auction house was China Guardian Auctions


May 17 2011

Image of Guff-watch

Picture: Christie's

Jonathan Jones on Andy Warhol's 1963 Self-Portrait, recently sold for $38.4m:

It is beautiful – one of his best works. Its cool blue hues lure the eye amid columns of newsprint and pictures in media reports of the sale. It looks spiritual, somehow – at once a piece of popular culture and something more private. The four photos he has used show him hiding behind dark glasses and trying out different poses that all seem a bit churlish, awkward, evasive. It is a self-portrait by someone who either does not want to look at himself, or does not want to truly show himself to others. And what makes it so powerful is the self-knowing explicitness with which it communicates this diffidence and unease.

Ever heard of Jasper Cropsey?

May 17 2011

Image of Ever heard of Jasper Cropsey?

Picture: New York Times

If you've got a pair of seemingly innocuous 19thC American landscapes you think are worth a few hundred dollars max, as the owner of the above did, then swot up on him quick. The pair made $840,000 in New York State last Sunday.

More here.

New York Old Master sales

May 17 2011

Image of New York Old Master sales

Picture: Sotheby's

The catalogues for Sotheby's and Christie's June sales are now online. Included (at Sotheby's) is this rather fine sketch by the genius Thomas Lawrence at $40-60,000. 

Christie's $301m vs Sotheby's $128m

May 12 2011

Image of Christie's $301m vs Sotheby's $128m

Picture: Christie's

Ouch - Christie's trounced Sotheby's last night in the New York post-war and contemporary evening sales.

Bloomberg has a video about the Sotheby's sale, which they call 'tepid'. It had the lowest total for two years. Contributor Katya Kazakina said that 'the estimates were too aggressive for the quality of works Sotheby's had'.  

The patchy results indicate continuing uncertainty at the top end of the contemporary market. At Christie's, some of the big ticket things went at around, or less, than the lower estimate. Warhol's 1986 self-portrait, above, made $27.5m, including premium, which means that bidding in the room didn't exceed the $30m lower estimate. On the other hand, the newly 'discovered' Rothko sold very well at $33.7m, against an estimate of $18-22m. I'd have a Rothko over a Warhol any day.

The Wall Street Journal has a good summary here, but as ever, some reading between the lines is necessary.

25% off*

May 12 2011

Image of 25% off*

Picture: Sotheby's

*at least.

Jeff Koons' Pink Panther didn't live up to the hype at Sotheby's. The estimate was $20-30m, but it sold to one bidder for $16.8m with premium. This means the hammer went down at $15m. Sotheby's had an irrevocable bid going into the sale.

Still, that's a hefty price, and it was a clever move to lower the reserve by 25% - a failure to sell would have been disastrous. 


May 11 2011

Colin Gleadell asks if the recent faltering sales in New York signal a double dip in the art market. He concludes 'no'.


Size isn't everything

May 11 2011

Image of Size isn't everything

Pictures: Sotheby's

A miniature by Frida Kahlo is to be sold at auction for £800k-1.2m.

A new Lowry record?

May 9 2011

Image of A new Lowry record?

Picture: Christie's

Christie's are aiming for a new record price for a painting by L S Lowry later this month. The Football Match (1949) is estimated at £3.5-4.5m. The current record is £3.7m, paid in 2007 for Good Friday, Daisy Nook

The Football Match was bought by Lord Walston for £250 in 1951. It was sold from his estate in 1992 for £132,000. Full catalogue details here.  

Yikes - an 'art market slowdown'?

May 5 2011

Image of Yikes - an 'art market slowdown'?

Picture: Guardian/Martin Godwin

A work by Egon Schiele will be offered at Sotheby's next month in London with an estimate of £22-30m. More interesting, perhaps, is the headline The Guardian has given the story:

'Rare Egon Schiele painting could buck art market slowdown'.

The auction houses will be hoping for better results than have been seen in the equivalent big sales in New York over the past week. At Christie's on 4 May, $156m of impressionist and modern art was sold, below the total pre-sale estimate of $162m-$232m, with 10 lots failing to sell, including Monet's Iris Mauves.

It was a similar situation at Sotheby's on 3 May, which sold lots for $170m, above the low estimate of $159, but with some notable disappointments. There were 15 unsold lots and the top lot, Picasso's Femmes Lisant (Deux Personnages), sold for below its estimate price.

It seems to only take a few high-profile failures, and suddenly everyone is rushing for the exit. If only the auction houses would learn - if you live by the hyped estimate, then so, according to the inexorable rule of fate, you must die thereby. 

'Far from stellar'

May 5 2011

Image of 'Far from stellar'

Picture: Reuters

That's the New York Times' verdict on Christie's Impressionist and Modern sale held last night in New York. The sale totaled $156m, including buyer's premium, which is some way under the combined low hammer price estimate of $162m, which did not include premium. Sotheby's sale the day earlier totalled more, $170m. Apparently, the day's delay suited Christie's:

Christie’s had a big advantage in its timing. By evaluating the results of the auction season opener, experts there were able to persuade sellers to adjust their expectations accordingly. “They lowered the reserves and got their energy back,” said Abigail Asher, a private Manhattan dealer, referring to the secret minimum price agreed upon by the seller and the auction house.

They say Leonardo di Caprio was spotted in the room. 

Watch a sleeper sell

May 4 2011


Here's a fascinating video of a potential sleeper being sold at auction in Paris. The painting, titled Cinq Personnages de la Comedie Italienne, was catalogued as 'circle of Watteau', with an estimate of EUR 40-60,000. It sold for EUR 1m, excluding buyer's premium. 

Here is the original cataloguing. The central figure related to a drawing by Antoine Watteau, but there was also speculation it could be by Jean-Baptiste Pater. Doubtless it'll surface again, and I'll put news of it here if it does. 

Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern $170m sale

May 4 2011

Image of Sotheby's Impressionist & Modern $170m sale

Picture: Sotheby's

The headline figures may look spectacular, but there were some interesting prices. The front cover lot, Picasso's Femme Lisant (above), was estimated at $25-35m, but sold for $21.3m including buyer's premium. That means the hammer price was significantly lower than expected (pre-sale estimates do not include premiums), and that the reserve must have been dramatically lowered just before the sale.

Does this mean that a) Sotheby's over-estimated the picture in the first place? or b) the Picasso market has peaked? I think the answer is a). Increasingly, auctioneers are having to place punchy estimates just to get pictures consigned in the first place, and then hope for a single bidder who'll buy at the reserve. 

'It's about masturbation'

May 3 2011

Image of 'It's about masturbation'

Picture: Sotheby's

Excitement is building ahead of Sotheby's 10th May sale of Jeff Koons' Pink Panther ($20-30m). Jeff says it's all 'about masturbation'.

Well worth a few minutes of your time is Sotheby's new video of Koons discussing the sculpture with Tobias Meyer. It opens with the statement that Koons is considered 'one of the most important artists of the 20th Century, together with Warhol and Picasso'. So that's above the likes of Klimt, Miro, Pollock, Rothko, Bacon, Freud etc. Will people watch this in fifty years time, and laugh?   

For an alternative - and much more entertaining - view, click here to see the great Robert Hughes interiew Koons. 

'Prices have climbed back dramatically'

April 27 2011

Image of 'Prices have climbed back dramatically'

Picture: Christie's (detail)

Sotheby's and Christie's have been unveiling highlights of their forthcoming June modern art auctions. Picasso leads the way, and with estimates that seem to be climbing ever higher. From Bloomberg:

Owners of valuable 20th-century trophies have become more confident about selling after record prices last year. Picasso’s 1932 Marie-Therese painting “Nude, Green Leaves and Bust” fetched $106.5 million -- the most for any artwork at auction -- at Christie’s, New York, in May 2010. A simpler portrait of her may fetch as much as $35 million at Sotheby’s New York in May.

“Prices have climbed back dramatically,” David Leiber, director of the New York-based gallery Sperone Westwater, said in an interview. “For the classic works, collectors like the spectacle of buying at auction.”

Can the frenzy possibly last? Perhaps, but as I said a while ago, if you want to be sure of banking a good price for your Picasso, I'd sell it now. On the other hand, if you have an Old Master, I'd keep it - is anything pre-1800 beginning to feel seriously under-valued?

The most engaging picture coming up in June (at Christie's) must be Picasso's Jeune Fille Endormie. It will surely beat its estimate of £9-12million - at least, I hope it does, for, thanks to an anonymous donor, the proceeds are going to medical research at the University of Sydney. 


April 27 2011

Image of Puntastic

Picture: Christie's

Sub-editors reached for the puns when Christie's announced that a Francis Bacon triptych self-portrait would be one of the highlights of their 11th May contemporary art sale in New York. Here's two of my favourites:

'Triptych set to bring home the Bacon' - ABC

'Demand for Bacon Sizzles' - The Irish Independent

In the catalogue, the picture is marked 'estimate on request', which is auction-speak for 'if you have to ask the price, you can't afford it'. The picture has been guaranteed to sell by Christie's, with a figure of $20m being mentioned.

China and art - the next bubble?

April 26 2011

Image of China and art - the next bubble?

Picture: The Atlantic

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic asks if China's phenomenal spending in the art market is taking the form of a bubble, and finds a potential answer from Vikram Mansharamani, author of Boombustology - Spotting Financial Bubbles Before they Burst:

Once again, China has surpassed the United States in a key economic number. No, it's not GDP. It's art. In four years, China has zoomed past us from the world's fourth-biggest fine art scene to the world's largest auction market for art.


In the last 20 years, Sotheby's mostly stable stock has experienced four sharp peaks. In the late 1980s, Japan had been "the center of gravity" in the international art market. But its economy imploded, sending Sotheby's stock reeling. Ten years later, the Internet bubble drove another auction boom among Silicon Valley newbies, and the bubble burst again. Ten years later, we watched the same film play out. This year could be deja vu, all over again ... all over again. 

The graph they use is a little silly - you could draw the same conclusions from a vast array of stocks that went up when the economy was booming and went down when it wasn't.

There may well be a bubble in China at the moment, judging by the government's increasingly desperate attempts to bring prices under control. But it doesn't take many people to make a bull market in the art world (witness the pre-Raphaelite boom in the 1990s), and I reckon there are enough new Chinese millionaires to keep prices rising for a while yet. 

Cowdray collection to be sold

April 21 2011

Image of Cowdray collection to be sold

Picture: Daily Mail

Another aristocratic art collection bites the dust - this time that of the Viscounts Cowdray. The house, Cowdray Park, has been on the market for a while (asking price £25m), and now the pictures are going too, at Christie's. The highlight will be a full-length Gainsborough of Miss Read (above the piano), with an estimate of £6m.

It's all part of a process of 'rationalisation', apparently. Lord Cowdray describes the house as a 'noose around his neck.' Nice noose.

Hockney sale at Bonhams

April 20 2011

Image of Hockney sale at Bonhams

Picture: Bonhams

The top price today was £66,000 for An Image of Celia, above. One of the other anticipated works, George, Blanche, Celia, Albert and Percy, didn't sell (est. £15-20,000).

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