If Christie’s kicked off the market with its $399 million Evening Sale on Monday, then Sotheby’s knocked it out of the park with its Impressionist and Modern Evening Sale in New York yesterday, once again backed by a host of fresh-to-market works from renowned collections. The night grossed a total of $300 million ($349.9 million with fees), beating both its high estimate of $333.2 million and last May’s total of $318.3 million. , with a solid 91% of lots sold against 86% for Christie’s.
“I think Sotheby’s did very well tonight,” says Morgan Long, head of art investment at The Fine Art Group. “Both houses should really feel that the impressionist and modern market is no longer taking precedence over the contemporary market.”
The star of the Sotheby’s sale was unsurprisingly Monet’s glowing grinding wheels (1890) from his Haystacks series. This golden scene, capturing the last sunset over the stacks, last appeared at auction 33 years ago. Last night it sold for a record $97 million ($110.7 million with fees) to an unidentified woman in the back of the room after a long volley between six eager buyers at once in the room and on the phone. Backed by a third-party guarantee of $55 million, reportedly presented by Chicago-based hedge fund manager Ken Griffin, it surpassed Monet’s previous record – $84 million for work of similar quality. sold at Christie’s in 2017.
The gap between the previous record for a Monet haystack and the guarantee on it suggests renewed caution from Sotheby’s about irrevocable auctions – a total of 11 works were guaranteed last night, all for less than $10 million except for the Monet title. Even with the haystacks, Sotheby’s refrained from guaranteeing it to the end, as it did with Modigliani’s Reclining nude (on the left side) (1917), which was covered for a whopping $150 million but barely scratched that when it sold for $157.2 million last May (almost certainly at guarantor), which ultimately reduced the house’s net income in 2018.
“They played well with this one,” says Melanie Clore of London-based consultancy Clore Wyndham of the grinding wheels to sell. “It showed that the demand for quality Impressionist work is there if the price is right.”
The same mystery woman who bought the haystacks also picked up another Monet later that evening, The Flower Meadow ($4.1M, $5.9M with fees) and a remarkable city scene by Gustave Caillebotte that went well above its high estimate of $8M, selling for $12M ($13.9M with costs) thanks to his perseverance. Several other lots also flew away, notably that of Picasso woman with dog (1962), which sold Wynn Fine Art, the art business started by former casino magnate Steve Wynn, for $55 million (with fees), beating its high estimate of $30 million. Joaquin Torres Garcia Construction in white set a new world record for the Latin American artist when it sold for $3.4 million (including fees).
However, beyond these headline numbers, it should be noted that around 43% of all lots on offer sold below their low estimate. While Christie’s sale the night before boasted fresher-to-market works at more varied prices, Sotheby’s auction consisted entirely of a few high-value lots – the rare Monet was after all a third of the total sale – and a plethora of lower value lots (less than $10 million). Indeed, there were no works whose pre-sale estimate was between $10 million and $20 million, which is unusual for an evening sale of Impressionist and Modern art.
The notable flop of the evening was a monumental The Youth Of Bacchus (1884) by William Bouguereau. With an estimate of $25-35 million and expected to be the second most expensive sale of the night, the 20-foot-long, 11-foot-tall painting was the most ambitious of the artist’s career. But auctioneer Harry Dalmeny couldn’t get a bid higher than $18 million despite trying to coax the house for what became a strangely long time before it was bought.
The 19th century academic style, enormous size and acres of flesh of the work were uncomfortable in an impressionist and modern sale – by right this is a painting that should have been included in a sale of 19th century pictures, but the main evening sales in this currently outdated sale category have long since been discontinued. And when was the last time you saw an eight-figure estimate at a sale of 19th-century paintings? It was a big prize (not to mention a lot of bare flesh) for a currently small market to absorb and a reminder that there is a part of art history that falls into a no man’s land between categories. auction of old and impressionist art. house glory sales.