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ART MARKET WATCH
June 27, 2008 

JUNE SALES IN LONDON: LOOKING GOOD
As the gallery and museum world prepare for the long lazy summer with a slew of new shows opening in June, the major auction houses close out the season with a string of very high-key modern and contemporary auctions in London. Christie’s and Sotheby’s both held sales of Impressionist art this week, which demonstrated that the top end of the art market remains blithely unaffected (as yet?) by the downturn in the U.S. financial sector.

Christie’s London evening sale of Impressionist and modern art on June 24, 2008, totaled £144,440,500 ($283,970,023), with 66 of 81 lots finding buyers, or 81 percent. The overall total, according to Christie’s, is the highest ever for an art auction in Europe. Exactly two-thirds of the sold lots, 44 works in all, went for over $1 million. New auction records were set for Claude Monet, Natalia Goncharova, Henry Moore and five other artists.

As for the buyers, almost two-thirds came from Europe and the U.K, with a smattering from Asia and elsewhere. Only a third came from the U.S. What, is the dollar losing its power or something? Christie’s total for the week, which included day sales of Impressionist and modern art and a separate sale of works on paper, was £168,407,700 ($297,753,944).

The top lot, as was widely reported, was Monet’s six-foot-wide painting of water lilies from 1919, Le basin aux nymphéas, which sold for £40,921,250 ($80,451,178), rather more than the presale high estimate of £24 million. The buyer was Arts & Management International, a London-based art consultant headed by Tania Buckrell Pos.

The Monet is one of 17 artworks consigned to Christie’s from the estate of J. Irwin and Xenia S. Miller. As head of Cummins Corp., the global diesel engine manufacturer based in Columbus, Ind., and founder of the Cummins Foundation, Miller (1909-2004) and his wife (1919-2008) underwrote an exceptional number of modernist buildings in Columbus, including their own home, designed by Eero Saarinen in 1957, now a National Historic Landmark.

The Miller consignment sold for a total of £67.5 million. Christie’s sale benefited from contributions by several other massive holdings, including seven works from the estate of British philanthropist Simon Sainsbury (1930-2006), which sold for a total of £10.4 million; 11 works from an unnamed European collection assembled nearly 50 years ago, which sold for £9.5 million; and seven works from Alfred and Elisabeth Hoh, who toured their collection to German museums as "Languages of Art" between 1998 and 2000 before sending this selection to the auction block, for a sale total of £12.8 million.

The record-setting Goncharova, Les fleurs (ca. 1912), a particularly colorful and energetic Cubist still life, sold to an anonymous buyer for £5,529,250 ($10,870,506). The price also is an auction record for any work by a woman artist. Goncharova’s prices started to move in 2007, when one of her works first broke the $1 million mark, and then really took off six months ago at the London auctions in November, with Christie’s selling Lilacs in a Vase (1905) for ca. $3.2 million and Sotheby’s selling Bluebells (n.d.) for ca. $6.2 million.

The total auction sales volume for Goncharova reflects this dramatic trend, according to the Artnet Market Performance Report on the artist, climbing steeply from $137,095 in 2005 to $3,822,747 in 2006 to $31,085,719 in 2007. The total number of lots put up for sale tripled between 2006 and 2007, jumping from 12 to 38.

The record-setting Moore, the 82-inch-long brown bronze Draped Reclining Woman (1957-58), sold for £4,297,250 ($8,448,394). The other records were for Vladimir Baranoff-Rossiné (£2,729,250), Vera Rockline (£2,057,050), Oscar Domínguez (£1,497,250), Leo Gestel (£505,250) and Frits Van Den Berghe (£241,250).

Sotheby’s London evening sale of Impressionist and modern art held the following day, June 25, 2008, totaled £102,246,500 ($201,210,887), above the presale high estimate of £97.4 million and "the highest total for any summer sale of Impressionist and modern art held by the company in Europe." Of 55 lots offered, 50 found buyers, or 91 percent. European bidders (that includes buyers from both Russia and the U.K.) won 70 percent of the lots.

The average lot price in the evening sale was £2,044,930. With the day sale and a sale of works on paper added in, the total for the week at Sotheby’s London was £129,530,507 ($255,072,281).

The top lot was Gino Severini’s Futurist Danseuse (1915), which sold for £15,049,250 ($29,615,419), a new record for the artist -- seven times the previous record of $3.6 million -- and a new record for a Futurist work at auction. The picture once belonged to the Guggenheim Museum -- but don’t tell Gugg foundation director Thomas Krens, he might want to sell still more works from the museum holdings.

Other eight-figure lots -- in dollars at least -- included an Alberto Giacometti bronze of three marching figures ($18,595,179), a Pablo Picasso head of Dora Maar ($15,508,512) and a musketeer ($10,881,011) and a Claude Monet beach scene ($15,068,702).

Picasso’s Tête de femme (Dora Maar) and four other lots in the sale were sold from the collection of the late Norwegian dealer Haaken A. Christensen (1924-2008) to benefit Médecins Sans Frontières. The combined total for the group was £13,022,250 ($25,626,486).

The big ticket contemporary sales in London at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips, de Pury & Co. all kick off next week.


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