Artprice: the all-time highest-grossing Fine Art auction sets new world records (updated with the results of yesterday evening’s auction)



All of Artprice’s econometrics department’s forecasts and statistics -published in its press releases prior to the auction- have been confirmed by the results of yesterday evening’s historic auction, which just goes to show that the Art Market is efficient, regulated and that it now goes by the economic rules of the museum industry (see below the 9 analysis and results), according to thierry Ehrmann, founder and president of Artprice, and CEO of Artprice Inc.

On 11 May 2015, Christie’s put up for auction five masterpieces, spanning over a century of Art History, from Monet and the Impressionnists to the most contemporary painters. Looking Forward to the Past set a new record for a Fine Art piece sold at auctions and points to a new type of sale. Peter Doig’s Swamped (1990) sold for close to $26 million (buyer’s premium included). The painting had already been auctioned in 2002 – it had sold for $55,500. Pablo Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) set a new record with the historic $160 million ($179,365,000, buyer’s premium included) – the previous record had been set by Francis Bacon tryptich at $123 million. Only one sculpture by Amercian artist Alexander Calder did not find a buyer.New records were set for many artists: Dubuffet ($24.8 million, buyer’s premium included), Soutine ($28.2 million), Cady Noland ($9.8 million) and Diane Arbus ($785,000). Alberto Giacometti’s L’homme au doigt (1947) sold for $141.3 million (buyer’s premium included).With an auction total of $705.9 million (buyer’s premium included) and an average $20 million paid for each of the 34 pieces that sold, this sale is the third best auction of all times. At the 12 November 2014 historic auction, the average price for the 75 lots on offer was just $11 million.Never before were that many masterpieces sold in one single hour!

Between 2013 and 2014, the proceeds from public art auctions rose 26% (from $12.05 billion to $15.2 billion). Between 2000 and 2014 the growth amounted to 422% and the overall price index of artworks ‑ calculated by Artprice on the basis of repeat sales ‑ grew 32% in 10 years! (see exclusive AFP dispatch on February 26, 2015).

The art market’s explosive growth is particularly palpable during the prestige sales happening right now in New York. “Sotheby’s yesterday, and Christie’s next week, with probably the most impressive public art sale of all time,” according to thierry Ehrmann, founder and CEO of Artprice… The two auctioneers have unveiled the masterpieces they managed to obtain for their flamboyant spring sessions.

In this article, Artprice’s statistical and econometrics department analyzes, compares and explains the contents of these historical sales.

On 5 May 2015, Sotheby’s kicked off with a major Impressionist & Modern Art sale. For several years Sotheby’s has specialized in the sale of works produced during these periods, while its London rival, Christie’s, has focused more on Contemporary and Post-War Art. In 2012, Sotheby’s managed to generate the historic result –$107 million– for a drawn version of Edvard Munch’s famous Scream (1895).

Among the major works for sale on Tuesday 5 May, L’Allée des Alyscamps (1888) by Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh. Such is the rarity of van Gogh paintings on the market, the work commanded $66,33 million (including buyer’s premium), much higher than the presale estimate. But the most visible artist in these sales was definitely Claude Monet with a total of six paintings by Impressionism’s leading figure offered for sale. They include a version of his ultra-famous Nymphéas, painted in 1905 and estimated between $30 million and $45 million. Measuring 81 cm by 100.5 cm, this work is very similar to the Water Lilies (1906), which fetched $54 million (including buyer’s premium) at Sotheby’s in London on 24 June 2014. The version on offer yesterday sold for $54,01 million (including buyer’s premium).

On 11 May, Christie’s also has an important work by Claude Monet: Le Parlement, soleil couchant, painted between 1900 and 1901. The work is expected to fetch as much as the best Monet offered by its rival. But that is not all… Christie’s has managed to build an exceptional list of even rarer masterpieces, including some particularly sought-after works! It is clear that the London-based auctioneer wanted to impress and innovate for its first big spring sale in New York this coming Monday, 11 May 2015.

Although a week behind the sale organized by its direct competitor, rarely in the history of the Art Market have so many important masterpieces been brought together in a single session.

Titled Looking forward to the past the Christie’s sale could well produce a new world record for an artwork sold at auction, a record that the same auctioneer (Christie’s New York) set on 12 November 2013 when it hammered $127million (excluding fees) for Francis Bacon’s triptych Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969): $142.4 million (including buyer’s premium).

Looking forward to the past contains only 35 lots (versus 69 at Sotheby’s 5 May sale), including five for which the estimates are only provided on request. These are obviously the most important works of the sale.

The most iconic of all is one of the 15 versions of Pablo Picasso’s Femmes d’Alger (1955), with an estimate of $140 million!

Thanks to its unique database, Artprice has fished out details of the previous sale of this work. Les Femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) was in fact acquired in November 1997 for a hammer price of $32 million. Seventeen and a half years later, the work appears to have quadrupled in value! In fact, it could become the Spanish painter’s most expensive work ever sold if it exceeds the $106.5 million (including buyer’s premium) generated by Nude, Green Leaves and Bust (1932) on 4 May 2010 at Christie’s New York, and perhaps even the most expensive artwork in the world. In 2014, Picasso came second in Artprice’s 18 year-old global ranking of artists by auction revenue. His price index increased 132% between 2000 and 2015.

However… Giacometti’s L’Homme au Doigt (1947) could steal the spotlight from Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger. L’Homme au Doigt has been estimated at $130 million which would be a new record for the Italian-born artist who came eighth in the last Artprice global ranking. Giacometti’s price index rose 386% between 2000 and 2015. His current auction record stands at $103.6 million (including buyer’s premium) for L’homme qui marche.

The Christie’s sale also includes a major painting by Jean Dubuffet, Paris Polka, estimated at $25 million. The current auction record for the French artist is $7.4 million (including buyer’s premium) hammered on 11 November 2014 at Sotheby’s New York. Between 2000 and 2015, his price index rose 171%.

As mentioned above, Looking forward to the past aims to be innovative by including works produced in different periods, from the late 19th century to the early 21st century. It therefore contains some of the major signatures of the second half of the 20th century, including two paintings by Warhol and two by Jean-Michel Basquiat. However what really makes the sale stand out is the presence of artists considered “Ultra-Contemporaries”.

These include Scottish painter Peter Doig (b. 1959) whose work Swamped (1990) is now carrying an estimate of $20 million; on 7 February 2002, the same work fetched $410,000, implying an exponential value increase of 4,800% over 13 years: Peter Doig was 33rd in Artprice’s 2014 ranking and his price index rose 838% between 2000 and 2015.

At only 42, Swiss artist Urs Fischer also has a place in this ultra-prestigious sale. His paraffin-based candle sculpture, Untitled (2011), is expected to sell for between $1.2 million and $1.8 million.

All in all, Looking forward to the past could generate the second best performance of all time from a single session. It might even exceed the historic sale of 12 November 2014 at which Christie’s totaled more than $751 million (excluding fees). However, that sale had 82 lots, whereas next Monday’s sale has only 35 lots, all of them extremely top quality works.

As highlighted by Artprice in its latest Annual Report, the art market is booming! More museums were created between 2000 and 2014 than during the entire nineteenth and twentieth centuries; and in 2015 alone, more than 700 new museums are expected to open. In effect, we are now living in the era of the “museum industry” based on a perfectly honed business model that allows museums to buy exceptional works at prices above $100 million, because the return on investment in the museum economy justifies this type of acquisition.

The museum industry’s appetite for major artworks is therefore a key factor in the dramatic growth of the Art Market.

The principal levers of this growth are ease of access to Art Market information, the dematerialization of sales (all online with 91% art buyers and sellers connected to Internet) the “financialization” of the market, the massive growth in art consumers (from 500,000 after WWII, to 70 million in 2015), a major reduction in the average age of art consumers, and the geographical expansion of the market to include the entire Greater Asia region, the Pacific Rim, India, South Africa, the Middle East and South America.

The art market is now a mature and liquid market, offering yields of 10% to 15% per year for works valued at over $100,000. In 2014, in the battle of the titans (China vs. USA), the United States posted spectacular growth both in terms of auction records and overall turnover. However, the USA was beaten to first place by China, which has the largest market for Old Masters in the world.

Art represents a key element in the concept of “Soft Power”, itself an essential component of the international influence of countries like the United States, China, and on a different scale, Qatar.

Indeed, the price of art seems to be constantly changing scale. After stagnating under a ceiling of around $10 million in the 1980s, it rocketed to a ceiling of around $100 million in the 2000s, and, according to the “New York Times”, on February 5, 2015 it crossed the $300 million threshold with the private sale of a Gauguin to a Qatari buyer. Artprice firmly believes that “before long we will cross the billion dollar threshold”.

However, it is very interesting to note that with an average unsold rate of around 34% – a rate that has been stable since 2000 – we cannot describe the market as being in a ‘speculative’ mode. When the market goes speculative, the unsold rate drops dramatically. Likewise, when the market contracts the unsold rate approaches the 50% level.

The art market’s boom is nevertheless clearly reflected in the evolution of public auctions. In 2014, more than 640,000 lots were offered in Fine Art auctions, generating a total of $15.2 billion. There is of course intense competition between the primary auction operators on this market, and particularly between the two prestigious Western firms: Sotheby’s and Christie’s.

However, as the years go by, Christie’s seems to be gaining a significant lead over its rival, succeeding better than Sotheby’s in obtaining exceptional pieces. Presenting an unprecedented collection of fabulous treasures, next Monday’s 11 May sale, Looking Forward To The Past, could substantially consolidate the art market hegemony of the London auction house. A sale that should prove difficult for Sotheby’s 5 May sale to stay level with. The sales likethat of yesterday, although it commanded a total of $368.4 million (including buyer’s premium) and listed a mere 6 unsold lots out of the 69 on offer, remain in the shadow of the prestige sale organized by its rival.

Of course, all that depends on Christie’s estimates not being overvalued and on its ability to sell s many masterpieces in just a few hours. (c)1987-2015 thierry Ehrmann