It’s only six months into 2015, and collectors have spent—at minimum—$3.7 billion on Impressionist, modern, postwar, and contemporary art at auction.
Against all odds, there was still money (and presumably though improbably, wall space) to spare on Tuesday and Wednesday in London, where collectors spent a total of $393 million on Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s evening sales, a solid if not dazzling sum, given that the combined high estimate of both sales was $455.6 million. (Totals include a buyer’s premium. Estimates do not.)
Perhaps in an effort to lock in the waning interest of fatigued collectors, Sotheby’s pulled out all the stops. The auction house showcased an exceptionally rare painting by the Russian Suprematist painter Kazimir Malevich (estimate: $23.1 million to $30.8 million). It sold for $34 million. There was also a creamy white, full-length portrait by Gustav Klimt (estimate: $18.5 million to $27.7 million), which the Klimt foundation sold as part of a restitution settlement and which soared to $39 million. (The subject of the portrait, Viennese Gertha Felsőványi, was forced to flee the Nazis 1939 and lost her entire collection.) Christie’s, for its part, had a sale that fell squarely within estimates; its leading lot was a coveted late painting by Claude Monet, of irises, which sold for $17.1 million. It was last sold at auction in 1997, when it fetched $3.9 million. That's a 338 percent increase in 18 years.
For a long time now, Sotheby’s—locked in a perpetual battle with rival auction house Christie’s—has dominated the category of Impressionist and Modern art, while postwar and contemporary art has remained Christie’s domain. Last month in New York, however, Christie’s turned the tables by rejiggering its auction schedule and combining multiple categories in one auction. The gambit worked, and the house ended its week having sold $323.2 million more in Impressionist and modern art than Sotheby’s.
This week, though, the status quo returned. Christie’s had just one lot that sold for more than $10 million, whereas Sotheby’s had an astounding nine of them. Christie’s evening sale totaled $112.9 million, while Sotheby’s achieved more than double that, pulling in $280 million. The following list of the top 10 works from both nights shows just how Sotheby’s regained its lead.
1. Klimt, Bildnis Gertrud Loew (Gertha Felsőványi), $39,149,268
2. Malevich, Suprematism, 18th Construction, $33,842,820
3. Manet, Le bar aux Folies-Bergère, $26,767,556
4. Picasso, Deux Personnages (La Lecture), $25,883,148
5. Degas, Petite danseuse de quatorze ans, $24,998,740
6. Gauguin, Nature morte aux mangos, $18,277,239
7. Monet, Iris mauves, $17,216,021
8. Soutine, Le valet de chambre, $17,039,068
9. Miró, Peinture, $12,263,264