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The totals of both Sotheby’s and Christie’s auctions fell well below pre-sale estimates, Sotheby’s October 10 event netting £8.7m (low estimate £10m) and Christie’s sale the following afternoon £7.3m (£15m), with Max Beckmann’s 1936-37 portrait of a sailor, Matrose, which failed to sell, representing £6m of the shortfall. Last October Sotheby’s (who were offering the Fishman Collection) and Christie’s sales netted £19.1m and £12.3m apiece.

This year both houses attracted consistent enough bidding for their respective single-owner collections of drawings that began the sales,
but thereafter demand was noticeably selective. Sotheby’s limited the potential damage of September 11 by reducing reserves, which kept the lottage failure rate down to 34 per cent, but allowed bargains to slip through like Ludwig Meidner’s 1912 Apocalyptic Landscape at a below-estimate (albeit record) £700,000. But there was ferocious competition between two telephone bidders for Gustav Klimt’s 1897-1898 oil, Woman in an Armchair, to £2.5m, the only seven-figure price of the week.

The following afternoon Christie’s, who appeared not to have adjusted their reserves, attracted even patchier response after an initial flurry of demand from the telephones for 17 Klimt drawings from a private Austrian collection. With Beckmann’s Matrose failing to attract a single bid, it was left to Kirchner’s 1913 landscape Hafen Burgstaaken, Fehmarn to lead the sale at a mid-estimate £850,000.