A lack of stellar material and a downturn in the overall supply meant the sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s generated an overall £193.7m including premium, which compared to £300.3m for the equivalent auctions last year. It was the smallest grossing series since February 2009.
With the key consignment period taking place before the UK’s general election and with uncertainty over Brexit, vendors were seemingly less forthcoming, especially with the major lots that significantly bump up the totals. The works that were on offer, however, performed relatively well with a smattering of record prices and a generally positive take-up rate.
Christie’s had the upper hand in terms of the most lucrative lots. Its evening sale on February 5 posted a premium-inclusive total of £106.8m with 41 of the 49 lots selling (84%).
The top lot was René Magritte’s A la rencontre du Plaisir, a moonlit landscape with a shadowy figure in a bowler hat. Estimated at £8m-12m, it was pursued by five parties before it was knocked down at £16.5m to a buyer on the phone. It was the second-highest price for the artist at auction.
Christie’s set auction records for Tamara de Lempicka (1898-1980) and George Grosz (1893-1959) with both works selling above estimate to phone buyers.
The former’s portrait of the British-born cabaret star Marjorie Ferry made £14.25m while the latter’s Gefährliche Straße, an oil on canvas from July 1918 that was a highly political critique of Berlin society at the end of the First World War, fetched £8.4m. Both works sold above estimate to phone buyers.
Sotheby’s evening sale the night before was a slimmer affair with only 33 lots on offer, of which 29 works sold (87.9%) for a premium-inclusive £49.9m.
It was led by Camille Pissarro’s (1830-1903) Gelée blanche, jeune paysanne faisant du feu, one of three pictures at the sale that had been recently restituted to the heirs of the French-Jewish art collector Gaston Lévy. The 1888 Pointillist oil on canvas was estimated at £8m-12m and sold to a phone buyer at £11.5m.
Also originally in the Lévy collection were two works by Paul Signac (1863-1935): La Corne d’Or, Matin from 1907, sold at £6.5m, and Quai de Clichy, Temps Gris from 1887 that made £1.1m.
Bonhams, meanwhile, will be staging an Impressionist and Modern art sale in London on March 26 where the highlight on offer is Salvador Dalí’s (1904-89) Couple aux têtes pleines de nuages from 1937. It comes from the collection of the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi and has an estimate of £7m-10m.