Sales of Impressionist and Modern art got off to a limp start in London on Tuesday. Sotheby’s was fielding 48 lots, carrying expectations of up to £102m, but to general surprise it managed to notch up £75m, just below the low target. “It was a terrible sale, and the estimates were crazy,” said dealer Richard Nagy, although gallery owner Edmondodi Robilant said: “Considering the material, the result was good.”
The only painting to sparkle was Miró’s “Peinture (Etoile bleue)” (1927) which, as it carried a guarantee and an irrevocable bid, was in effect pre-sold. It had recently featured in the Zurich Kunsthaus exhibition of works from the Nahmad family, so it can be assumed that they were the vendors and that they must have been happy at the world record price it achieved: £23.6m, above its estimate of £15m-£20m. This was a sharp step up from the €11.59m (£9.3m) that the painting made in Paris in 2007; it went to Sotheby’s Tobias Meyer on the telephone, underbid by Stephane Connery, who left the auction house to work privately just a month ago.
Also making good prices were eight watercolours by Kandinsky from a private collection: all sold bar one, with the top price of £1.33m given for “Entwurf zu ‘Grüner Rand’” (1919), estimated at £750,000-£900,000.
Even so, 15 lots were left unsold, although there was bidding on the phone through Mikhail Kamensky and Jo Vickery, who specialise in Russian clients. Left in the dust were works by Pissarro, Delvaux, Schiele, Dix, Lembruck and Van Gogh as well as two by Munch. “The fact that ‘The Scream’ made a record price doesn’t change anything for other Munch works, particularly those painted after 1909 when his mental health improved radically,” noted one dealer.
The Picasso market is tiered, with price points from an £800 ceramic to a $100m painting. Picasso was, of course, highly prolific and lived a long time: his ceramics, which were produced in editions, have long been an entry point to “owning a Picasso”.
Phillips de Pury in New York recently did well with a collection of these, selling all but one of the 32 pieces on offer. The best went well over estimate: “Bearded Man’s Wife” (1953), for instance, made $68,000 (est. $12,000-$18,000), while most others sold in the low thousands of dollars.
Now in London, Alain Ramié, son of the Madoura pottery owners, where the pieces were made, is selling the bulk of his own collection. The 543-lot sale covers the years 1947 to 1971 and is of particular interest because of the tip-top condition of the material. Most are “publisher’s examples”, meaning that they were the pieces approved by the artist before the series was run off. Estimates start in the low hundreds but rise to more than £70,000 at Christie’s South Kensington on Monday and Tuesday.
Spread around Mayfair and St James’s next week, 17 dealers are showing works on paper in the annual Master Drawings in London event. It launches on Wednesday and continues until July 5, with all the galleries open on Sunday July 1.
While most of the offerings are traditional, there are more contemporary works, including drawings by the one-time Supertramp saxophonist Dave Winthrop at Day & Faber.
I recently wrote about selection committees at Art Basel and how stringent the criteria are for getting into the fair. This year, long-established dealer and one-time artist Tony Shafrazi chose to fill his stand with his own paintings, instead of the Basquiats and Harings we are more used to seeing there. So what are “Shafrazis” like? Glossy tablets featuring surf borders and skaters, and tagged at up to $150,000. The display might have come as a surprise to the selectors, although they are remaining tight-lipped about it. Now everyone is wondering whether Shafrazi will make the cut for inclusion in next year’s fair.
Nineteenth-century European painting is, not surprisingly, one of the weakest sectors of the art market at present, and a few highlights cannot disguise the overall gloom. The catch-all Sotheby’s sale this month of German, Austrian and central European, Scandinavian, Spanish and Greek art – partly a roll-call of countries with eurozone woes – saw fewer than half of the offerings finding buyers. The only consolation was the good performance of five works by Danish painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, with the top price of £1.7m given for “Ida Reading a Letter” (1899, est. £500,000-£700,000), a new artist record at auction. The five Hammershøis made £4.2m – a goodly part of the sale’s £6.5m total.
Two new photography fairs have just been launched. In Amsterdam, Unseen – programmed for September 20-23 – plans to offer 50 international exhibitors, including The Photographers’ Gallery, Flowers and Paradise Row from London, Shanghai’s M96 and Les Filles du Calvaire from Paris. The fair will be held in the city’s cultural park and factory complex Westergasfabriek, and the idea is to show emerging names or new work by established photographers, with an emphasis on “starter” prices, under €1,000. Whether the local market is large enough to support this new initiative remains to be seen.
Then, next year the leading French photo fair Paris Photo is heading out west, to California, where it is creating a new event. Dubbed “Paris Photo LA”, the first edition will be held April 24-28 2013, with 80 French and international galleries in an evocative site: the legendary Paramount studios in Hollywood.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper