High-value paintings by Gustav Klimt and Salvador Dali failed to sell at a $124.7 million auction in London tonight as wealthy buyers of Impressionist and modern art balked at over-ambitious estimates.
Klimt’s recently rediscovered 1901 canvas “Lakeshore with Birches,” valued at as much as 8 million pounds ($12.65 million), and Dali’s 1946 painting “Oasis,” with a top estimate of 6 million pounds, were among the casualties at a Sotheby’s auction that raised 78.8 million pounds with fees.
While decorative, museum-quality Impressionist and modern masterworks are fetching ever-higher prices, more routine pieces can struggle to sell at a time when an increasing number of investment-minded buyers are migrating to the more fashionable market for contemporary art.
“The quality wasn’t as good as at Christie’s,” the London-based art adviser Hector Paterson said in an interview. “And what Sotheby’s had was heftily estimated. The Klimt was a dull picture that was overpriced.”
Yesterday, Christie’s International took 135 million pounds from its equivalent material.
Klimt’s somber painting of the shores of the Attersee at dusk hadn’t appeared at auction before. It had been acquired by German banker Richard Koenigs in 1902, the year in which it was shown at the XIII Secession Exhibition in Vienna, and had remained in the same family ever since.
Though it failed to attract a bid at the public auction, the Klimt was quickly sold privately for 5.6 million pounds, Sotheby’s said.
The Dali work was a Surrealist vision of Apollo and Venus silhouetted against a desert landscape. Dali values have climbed, following the record 13.5 million pounds paid for the Spanish artist’s 1929 portrait of Paul Eluard at Sotheby’s “Looking Closely: A Private Collection” sale in London in February 2011.
“The estimate was too high,” Morgan Long, director of art investment at the London-based Fine Art Fund, said in an interview. “There’s been a backlash against the prices paid for Dali in 2011. Artists have their seasons, and he’s no longer quite the man of the moment.”
The top price of the evening was instead the 8.2 million pounds paid by an unidentified bidder in the room for the 1885 Claude Monet snow scene “L’Entree de Giverny en hiver,” estimated at 4.5 million pounds to 6.5 million pounds. Kept in the same private European collection since 1924 and never sold at auction before, the signed canvas carried a third-party guarantee.
Sotheby’s found buyers for 77 percent of its 53 lots. The final total, including fees, was in line with the low estimate, based on hammer prices. The equivalent Impressionist and modern auction last year raised 68.8 million pounds.
The 1919 oil-and-collage-on-board work “The Electric Tram” by the German Expressionist artist Otto Dix was one of few lots to sell far above its estimate. Valued at 700,000 pounds to 1 million pounds, this Dada-influenced evocation of urban life was also making its debut at auction, this time from a German collection.
It was bought by a telephone buyer for 3 million pounds, against underbidding in the room from the London-based dealer Richard Nagy, representing a client.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)