It was a roller-coaster ride in this week’s Impressionist and Modern auctions in London. Christie’s kicked off on Tuesday with a hefty 88-lot sale that included three sure-fire winners from the Elizabeth Taylor estate and nine cracking works from a foundation willed by the German entrepreneur and philanthropist Hubertus Wald. The tally was impressive, racking up just shy of £135m with 86 per cent of the lots sold, beating the pre-sale target of £86.2m-£127.1m.
There was lively activity in the saleroom from private buyers but the top lot went to the Cologne-based dealer Alex Lachmann, who often buys for Russian clients. He bagged a stunning Henry Moore sculpture, “Reclining Figure: Festival” (1951, est £3.5m-£5.5m), but with at least six other bidders in pursuit of the piece, was forced to pay £19.1m – a new record for Moore. Miró also achieved a new auction high with the 1925 “Painting Poem”, which sparked a tense battle, finally going to a telephone bidder for £16.8m, way over its £6m-£9m estimate.
Sotheby’s Wednesday night sale was a more lacklustre affair. With a weaker catalogue of 53 lots that dealers pronounced “dull”, the sale raised £78.9m, just under the low pre-sale estimate of £77.3m (estimates do not include premium; results do). One of the top lots, an early symbolist landscape by Klimt, failed at £3.8m, well under its £6m-£8m estimate, but it then sold before the auction was over for £5.6m – a figure that was not included in the sale result. “A strong offer was accepted by the seller,” said Sotheby’s senior specialist Philip Hook afterwards. There were other failures, notably the lot with the heftiest estimate, Miró’s “Peinture” (1933, est £7m-£10m), and bidding was thin on many of the sold lots. The top lot was a crisp Monet snowscape from 1885, which made £8.2m (est £4.5m-£6.5m).
. . .
The February sales are the first main test of Artists’ Resale Right (ARR), the levy on the resale of art that, on January 1 this year, was extended in Britain to include art by recently deceased artists. We shall have to wait for the end of the contemporary art auctions to judge its impact, but meanwhile one case has already been settled in California, the only US state to have the levy. Called “resale royalty” there, its application was widely flouted until recently, when a number of artists initiated a class action against resellers of their work. Last week collector Dean Valentine agreed to pay the hip painter Mark Grotjahn 5 per cent of what he had made reselling Grotjahn’s work, so settling a case that was about to come to court. But the issue is not going away – many other big-name artists are lobbying for a country-wide imposition of the levy.
British artists Lucian Freud and David Hockney are in the frame this week in London. Freud, who died last year, is particularly celebrated, with the just-opened show at the National Portrait Gallery, and now Blain|Southern and New York’s Acquavella Galleries have organised an extraordinary show of Freud drawings, borrowed from museums and private collections and curated by the art critic Bill Feaver. In contrast to the brutal expressionism of his portraits, Freud’s early drawings were meticulously observed and delicately drawn, but they are for looking at only: this is another fine muscle-flexing, non-selling show organised by dealers.
However, the auctions do offer some examples of both artists’ work: Christie’s next Tuesday features Freud’s “Boat, Connemara” (1948, est £200,000-£300,000), while there are six works from a private collection at Sotheby’s next Wednesday, including a “Cacti and Stuffed Bird” (1943, est £400,000-£500,000). At Christie’s South Kensington, works on paper and prints by David Hockney include some Californian swimming pool images: a lithograph from 1980 is estimated at £25,000-£35,000. And Christie’s also offers 44 Freud etchings on Wednesday, from £6,000 to £70,000.
“Arp is an artist who influences art itself rather than individual artists.” The quote comes from Sir Herbert Read’s monograph on Jean Arp, the French-German artist currently being shown in a “petit salon” by Luxembourg & Dayan. The New York and London dealers, established last year in Savile Row, have selected 29 works: one a poster by Kurt Schwitters advertising a Dada evening, all the rest by Arp. Seven drawings were illustrations for a 1923 Tristan Tzara book, and are accompanied by his poems; there are also embroideries and two “string” paintings from the 1920s and 1930s, as well as a wall of reliefs from the 1930s. About a third of the show is for sale, with prices ranging from $200,000 to $1m.
Now it’s personal. Following the major bust-up between the co-organisers of the New York Pavilion of Art and Design (PAD), Patrick Perrin and Sandford Smith, Perrin attacks Smith in an interview in the French Journal des Arts. Perrin accuses Smith of “not even knowing who Damien Hirst or Anish Kapoor are” and having “a problem of ego”. Oh, and the autumn New York PAD has been cancelled – not surprisingly, since Smith bagged the space and dates for his new fair.
Investment in art is increasing, and so is the demand for reliable indices. Now Artnet, the online art data provider, has launched a new analytical tool that enables users to compare the performance of individual artists with each other, with their collecting category (contemporary art, Latin-American art and so on) and with other indices such as the FTSE 100. At the moment it is in beta phase, and only has the contemporary art category, but others will be rolled out as the year progresses. The reports are based on Artnet’s databank of 7m prices from 700 auction houses across the world. What makes this a better mousetrap, says its director of analytics Thomas Galbraith, is the way an artist’s work is turned into comparable sets. To take, for example, Richard Prince, a report can compare how his Nurse paintings are faring or have fared compared with the Joke series, as well as with the rest of the art market or the stock exchange.
Georgina Adam is editor-at-large of The Art Newspaper