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Sotheby’s and Christie’s series of Part I evening sales each netted totals of over £47m. Last February the equivalent sales aggregated £38.1m at Christie’s and £16.35m at Sotheby’s.

Predictably, Contemporary art generated the most intensive bidding with Sotheby’s jam-packed February 5 auction setting a new London high of £14.75m with just four of the 56 lots failing to find buyers and five new auction records set for post-war artists. Top price was the below-estimate £2.5m paid on the telephone for Francis Bacon’s 1961 canvas Study for a Pope VI.

Bacon’s great friend Lucien Freud had generated the one outstanding price of a less stellar £8m Contemporary sale at Christie’s the previous evening when £1.85m (estimate £800,000-1.2m) was paid for the almost Vermeer-like, 1972 canvas Factory in North London.

The overall totals might have been higher, but demand was somewhat more selective at Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern sales which continue to be filled with more academic works that appeal to European tastes, rather than seven-figure showstoppers.

Surrealism was again a major money-spinner for Christie’s, contributing a tidy £9.4m to the £39.7m proceeds of their February 2 Part I sales.

However the profitability of Christie’s evening could have suffered a major blow when their heftily-guaranteed Modigliani Portrait de Jeanne Hébuterne (estimate £5-7m) failed to sell.

Top price went instead to Cézanne’s c.1892-1895 Grand bouquet de fleurs at £4m. The other main success at King Street was the record £2.2m achieved for Lyonel Feininger’s early masterwork, Zeitungleser (Newspaper Readers II), dating from 1916.

A weaker entry of Surrealist material was the main reason for the somewhat lower £32.6m total at Sotheby’s equivalent sale the following evening, though Bond Street pointed out that they had managed to sell all (amounting to one) of their guaranteed lots. Main highlight here was the celebrated Degas bronze, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans. Although this was the fourth example (there were 26 in all) to come under the hammer in the last four years, it found a private buyer in the room at £4.5m.

Sotheby’s and Christie’s both managed to sell around three-quarters of their material.
Throughout the week specialists at these sales, particularly in the contemporary departments, were keen to stress that the weakened dollar had little effect on US demand.