The £300.3m (including premium) generated across sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams compared with £340m posted last year.
While the continued weakness of the pound encouraged international bidding, a number of works at the evening sales were subject to late withdrawals. Sotheby’s evening sale on February 26 looked particularly slim with only 39 lots offered, of which 32 sold for a £87.7m total.
The sale was led by a painting of the Doge’s Palace in Venice by Claude Monet. Made during the artist’s only trip to Venice, it was knocked down at £24m against a £20m-30m estimate to one of three phones.
Christie’s evening sale the following night also had a Monet as its lead offering – a waterlilies painting which had an ‘estimate on request’ (reportedly £40m) but was left unsold.
It had come to auction as part of a collection of 23 works which also featured a c.1885-87 still-life by Paul Cézanne acquired in 1985 from the Lefevre Gallery in London. Offered with hopes in the region of £20m, it was the top lot of the night at £18.5m.
A separate group of six works were consigned as part of an “eclectic and carefully curated collection” which had already provided Christie’s with a further 381 lots sold in December and making £8.63m. Here, a quintessential pointillist painting of the port of Saint-Tropez by Paul Signac sold at £17m, and Chemin montant by Gustave Caillebotte made £14.5m. Both prices were auction records for the artists.
With some lively action in its Surrealist section – including a £16m René Magritte – the overall total on the night for Christie’s was £165.7m with 67 of the 82 lots sold.