A sale of 20 fresh-to-market works by Marc Chagall set the tone for Christie’s marathon evening sales in London and Paris on Tuesday, kicking off another busy art week in the British capital that includes summer auctions and the first in-person edition of the Masterpiece art fair in three years.
The Chagall trove was merely one part of the nearly five-hour “evening sales” that took place throughout the afternoon. The sale series was comprised of three parts: the Chagall sale, the 20th/21st century London evening sale, and the 20th/21st century Paris evening sale. The entire event totaled £203.8 million ($248 million), within the presale estimate of £145 million to £220 million, and comfortably up from last year’s £153.6 million ($213 million) total. Final prices include buyer’s premium unless noted; estimates do not.
Amid a tumbling stock market in the U.S., a cryptocurrency crash, and rampant inflation, this marked the first test of the market in what some are expecting to be a correction following record spring sales in New York. Although there were few fireworks (and few artist records), solid performances by Claude Monet, Yves Klein, René Magritte, and Pierre Soulages managed to stave off fears of a bursting bubble.
Danish collector Jens Faurschou acquired Jeff Koons’s sculpture Balloon Monkey (Magenta) for £10.1 million ($12.4 million) after a fierce battle with a Mandarin-speaking phone bidder. The work was donated by billionaire Viktor Pinchuk and his wife and Olena to benefit humanitarian aid in Ukraine. “We celebrate these vital charitable initiatives from the art world, and we need more,” Faurschou, who has a number of exhibition spaces around the world, said in a statement.
Christie’s reported bids from 35 countries: 48 percent came from Europe, the Middle East, and Africa; 29 percent from the Americas; and 23 percent from the Asia Pacific region. Among first-time bidders and buyers, 18 percent came from Asia and 14 percent were millennials.
The Chagall works came directly from the artist’s estate and had never before been offered at auction. A bright spot, they delivered £9.7 million ($11.9 million), head and shoulders above the £6.5 million ($7.9 million) high estimate. Each lot had multiple bidders, and many went for double or even triple expectations. To Vava Chagall, honorary citizen of the Hills in Vence (1962) achieved £541,800 ($660,074), more than four times its high estimate. Some cheered for their winning bids as frustrated Chagall buyers walked out of the salesroom empty-handed.
The exceptional response to the Chagall sale could be seen as a reaction to recent market conditions, as buyers search for safer bets as hedge against surging inflation, noted Giovanna Bertazzoni, vice chair of Christie’s 20th/21st century department.
Next up was the 20th/21st century London evening sale, which concluded with a total of £181 million ($222 million), within expectations.
Three works were withdrawn before the sale began, including ones by Dana Schutz and Cy Twombly. A total of 22 lots—more than a third of the sale—were guaranteed. Six works went unsold, including a 1969 work by Chagall, a Henry Moore sculpture, and Cecily Brown’s erotic painting Single Room Furnished (2000).
Leading this chapter were two Monet works that managed to deliver decent prices despite a flood of works by the artist hitting the market recently. Waterloo Bridge, haze effect (1899–1904) achieved £30 million ($36.8 million), just reaching its presale high estimate. (A similar London view, Waterloo Bridge, fog effect, sold for $48.5 million at a Christie’s New York in May last year.) Water lilies, gray weather (1907) achieved £30.1 million ($36.8 million), just under its £32 million high estimate but more than three times the $11.2 million it achieved at Christie’s in 2006.
Although records were scarce, Barbara Hepworth’s sculpture Hollow Form with White Interior (1963) sold for more than $7 million, setting a new auction high for the artist. Women also accounted for 48 percent of the living artists in the London evening sale. Lucy Bull’s painting No More Blue Tomorrow (2018), sold for £277,200 ($340,124), more than four times of presale expectations; Simone Leigh’s sculpture Untitled V (Anatomy of Architecture series) (2016) fetched an above-estimate £724,500 ($888,962); and Anna Weyant’s Ingrid With Flowers (2020) sold for £402,200 ($494,726) after a bidding war.
A battle also broke out for Ernie Barnes’s 1978 painting Main Street Pool Hallfrom the collection of the late film producer Danny Arnold. (The artist’s Sugar Shack electrified Christie’s New York in May). The painting sold for £1.5 million ($1.8 million), more than 10 times expectations, to an in-room bidder.
The Paris leg of the sale achieved a total of £15.3 million ($16 million), with a sell-through rate of 88 percent. One Yves Klein work was withdrawn before the sale and three lots were unsold. Six with guaranteed. The top lot was Pierre Soulages’s Painting 143 x 202cm, December 4, 1970, which sold for £2 million ($2.2 million).
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