The sighs of relief at the auction houses were almost palpable after the supply of major works had dropped off considerably during the pandemic but recovered significantly here, with some big-ticket items coming forward for last week’s series.
While demand may not have been ‘white hot’ across the board, the totals were a marked improvement on the most recent comparable events.
The current series in New York is set to end about 50% up on this figure, generating a total of $1.37bn (£978.6m) with four day sales still to take place at the time of going to press and Phillips holding back its auctions until June.
Christie’s two evening sales were branded '20th century art' and '21st century art' for the first time, although curiously its day sales were left unchanged and still billed as 'Impressionist & Modern' and 'Contemporary Art'.
The top lot of the week was offered at Christie’s 20th century art sale on May 13: a 1932 Pablo Picasso portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter that the vendor had acquired at Sotheby’s London in February 2013 for £25.5m. Here, Femme assise près d’une fenêtre (Marie-Thérèse) was offered with an ‘estimate on request’, reportedly in the region of $55m.
After a 20-minute bidding battle which came down to two phone bidders, it was sold at $90m (£64.3m) – the fifth highest price for a Picasso but the highest price for any work sold at auction since Claude Monet’s Meules made $97m (£75.2m) at Sotheby’s New York in May 2019, well before the pandemic.
Christie’s 20th century art evening sale raised a premium-inclusive $481.1m (£343.6m) with 49 of the 50 lots finding buyers (98%), while its 21st Century evening sale made $210.5m (£150.3m), selling 37 of 39 lots (95%).
Unlike Christie’s, Sotheby’s maintained the Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary art nomenclature for its evening auctions.
Monet featured prominently again here with the evening sale in the Imps & Mods category on May 12 led by one of the artist’s many waterlilies paintings. Le Bassin aux nymphéas, which was knocked down at $61m (£43.6m) and underbid from Asia, made the fourth-highest price for the artist and sold well above the $15m (£8.37m) it had fetched in the same rooms in May 2004.
Overall the sale generated $221.3m (£158.1m) with 31 of the 33 lots (94%) selling on the night.
While Sotheby’s had a scattering of socially distanced clients in the room for its sales, auctioneer Oliver Barker conducted the firm’s Contemporary art evening sale and stand-alone sale of the Mrs John L Marion collection via video-link from London.
The former event offered 32 lots, all of which were sold for a $218.3m (£155.9m) total, while the Marion collection of Contemporary art added a further $157.2m (£112.3m) to the bottom line.
Meanwhile, Bonhams held a 32-lot Impressionist and Modern art sale in New York on May 13 which made a total of $13.8m (£9.88m). It was led by a 1937 Picasso portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, Femme au Béret Mauve, that made $9.15m (£6.54m).
Although it sold below its $10m-15m estimate, it was the second-highest price for a picture at Bonhams, only behind a £15.2m Fragonard portrait sold in London in 2013.
£1 = $1.40