Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art evening sales fail to dazzle



The verdict is out: Sotheby’s took USD 194 million (4 November 2004) and Christie’s USD 128 million (3 November 2004). Although these results are still very respectable, in the case of Sotheby’s they fall short of even the most cautious predictions.

At Sotheby’s, Paul GAUGUIN’s Maternité II attracted the highest bid of the evening, going under the hammer for USD 35 million. Although this represents the artist’s all-time high, it is nonetheless below the estimated range of USD 40-50 million. A total of six artists set new records at Sotheby’s on 4 November.High prices were also fetched—and artists’ records set—for works including New York, 1941/Boogie Woogie (1941-42) by Piet MONDRIAAN, which brought in USD 18.7 million (versus an estimate of USD 20-30 million) and Jeanne Hébuterne (Devant une Porte), an imposing canvas by Amedeo MODIGLIANI, which sold for USD 28 million. This performance could well trigger a rise in Modigliani’s Artprice Index, which, as of November 2004, is at the same level as last year. Exactly a year ago, a new record for Modigliani was set when Nu couché, sur le côté gauche (1917) sold for USD 24 million at Christie’s New York.At Sotheby’s, the biggest disappointment was reserved for Skizze für Sintflut II (Sketch for Deluge II), a major work by Wassily KANDINSKY which had been expected to sell for USD 20-30 million, but was in fact bought in.
Of the 61 lots put up for auction, 48 found a buyer. The no-sales ratio was therefore 21.3%, almost identical to that at Christie’s, where 47 of the 58 lots offered went under the hammer.

At Christie’s, just one record was set, with the sale of Kees VAN DONGEN’s Femme Fatale (1905) for USD 5.3 million (USD 5.9 million including buyer’s premium). This marks a high point in an ongoing uptrend in van Dongen’s price level, which gained 149% between January 1997 and October 2004. The top-selling work at Christie’s auction on 3 November was Claude MONET’s Londres, le Parlement, Effet de Soleil Dans le Brouillard (1904), with a hammer price of USD 18 million, exactly in line with the high estimate. This result is very encouraging, since Monet’s price level, like that many other impressionist artists, has been steadily falling since 2000.