Flagship London Art Sales Move with the Times

Effect of Geopolitical Climate on Flagship London Art Sales

It speaks volumes as to the changing buying audience that this year the flagship London art sales have been pushed back by nearly a month to early March to accommodate clients and employees distracted by Chinese New Year festivities. At a finely poised moment in the market, when confidence can prove fragile, little can be left to chance.

If overall volume is down in the wake of Trump’s inauguration, a weak pound and the prospect of bargain-hunting US and European buyers, it has buoyed up consignments.

London Art Sales - Bauerngarten by Gustav Klimt
Bauerngarten by Gustav Klimt is estimated in the region of £35m at Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales

Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern art series, built following the departure last year of leading business getters, has a pre-sale estimate of £175m-232m – the highest ever in London. The March 1 evening sale includes perhaps the single stand-out lot, Bauerngarten by Gustav Klimt. A highlight of the Painting the Modern Garden exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London last year, this comes to market for the first time since 1994 when it sold in London for £3.7m. Two decades is a long time in the art market.

Recently it was announced that Klimt’s portrait Bloch-Bauer II, bought by Oprah Winfrey in 2006 for $87.9m, had been resold privately to a Chinese collector for $150m. Bauerngarten is now estimated in the region of £35m.

It is one of eight lots in the March 1 evening sale that carries a guarantee, either from Sotheby’s or a third party who has promised to make what is dubbed an ‘irrevocable bid’.

London Art Sales - Picasso's Plant de Tomates
Picasso’s Plant de tomates, painted in August 1944 is pitched at £10m-15m at Sotheby’s.

Another is Picasso’s Plant de tomates, the most visually striking of a series of five paintings of a tomato plant in bloom created in a Paris apartment in August 1944 on the eve of liberation. In a private collection for over four decades since it was sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1976, it is pitched at £10m-15m.

Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales

Nothing in Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art catalogue carries a guarantee. Their primary consignor is the German brewery entrepreneur Barbara Lambrecht-Schadeberg. A group of paintings offered to benefit her Rubens Prize Collection at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Siegen includes Impressionist works by Berthe Morisot and Claude Monet.

London Art Sales - Accordéon, carafe, cafetière (1926) by Le Corbusier
Accordéon, carafe, cafetière (1926) by Le Corbusier carries hopes of £1.5m-2.5m at Christie’s.

Three oils by Le Corbusier come from the Swiss collector and patron Heidi Weber. Interest in the artist has spiked with Far Eastern interest. The large-scale still life Accordéon, carafe, cafetière, (1926), last sold at Sotheby’s London in 1996 for £342,500, is now pegged at £1.5m-2.5m.

Also, fuelled by Asian buyers, Surrealist art has shown similar monetary gains. Across five years, muscular auction records have been set for Salvador Dalí (Portrait de Paul Éluard, £13.5m), Paul Delvaux’s (Le miroir, £7.3m), Francis Picabia (Volucelle II, $8.8m), Kay Sage (Le Passage, £7.3m) and Man Ray (Promenade, $5.9m).

London Art Sales - René Magritte’s La Corde Sensible
René Magritte’s La Corde Sensible, fetched £350,000 in 1984. At Christie’s it is pitched at £14m.

In February 2014, René Magritte’s Le Beau Monde sold for a record £7.9m at Sotheby’s but Christie’s will offer a huge Magritte from 1960 with an estimate (and a price guarantee) of £14m. La Corde Sensible, depicting a cloud-topped champagne glass fetched just £350,000 back in 1984.

London Art Sales - Salvador Dali’s Figura de perfil
Salvador Dali’s Figura de perfil (La Hermana Ana María), estimated at £800,000-1,200,000 at Bonhams.

Salvador Dali’s Figura de perfil (La Hermana Ana María), estimated at £800,000-1,200,000 at Bonhams.

Impact of German and North American Artists on London Art Sales

Bonhams have a rare early work by Dali in their Impressionist and Modern Art sale on March 2. Figura de perfil (La Hermana Ana María), given by the artist to his sister before their relationship descended into turmoil, was one of 17 paintings included in Dali’s first solo exhibition at the Galeries Dalmau, Barcelona, in 1925. It comes to the market for the first time, estimated at £800,000-1.2m.

London Art Sales - Baselitz Mit Roter Fahne
At Sotheby’s Baselitz’s 1965 Mit Roter Fahne (With a Red Flag) is expected to break the artist’s record at £6.5m-8.5m.

German artists, many shaped by the concept of Vergangenheitsbewältigung, or ‘coming to terms with the past’, typically define London’s post-war and contemporary London art sales. More than a quarter of the 64 lots at Sotheby’s on March 8 are by the German masters. Baselitz’s 1965 Mit Roter Fahne (With a Red Flag) from the Heroes series is expected to break the artist’s record at £6.5m-8.5m.

London Art Sales - Peter Doig’ s Cobourg 3 + 1
Painting in 1994, shortly after the artist had been awarded the Art Icon Award at London’s Whitechapel Gallery, Peter Doig’ s Cobourg 3 + 1 More carries an estimate of £8m-12m at Christie’s.

However, Christie’s sale on March 7 is headed by a giant of American attract expressionism and a favourite Canadian. Mark Rothko’s No. 1 (1949), was first shown in 1950 as part of his historic solo exhibition at New York’s Betty Parsons Gallery while Peter Doig’s Cobourg 3 + 1 (1994) comes to market for the first-time purchase shortly after completion by the vendor, a German insurance company. They are estimated at around £8m each.

Keeping an Eye on the Future

With one eye on the future, on March 8, the auctioneers will also offer a series of works donated leading international contemporary artists donated to benefit the Zeitz Museum of Contemporary Art Africa, the continent’s first major contemporary art museum opening in September. As always in this market, it pays to keep abreast of the next big thing.

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About the Author:

Roland Arkell is the Contributing Editor at ATG Media. For almost two decades, Roland has been writing about the British and international art and antiques market for Antiques Trade Gazette, the leading publication for serious buyers and sellers of art and antiques.