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June 30, 2009 

Only a year ago, the June auctions of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art in London provided evidence that the center of the art market was moving from New York to England, what with the thriving pound sterling rising to almost double the U.S. dollar.

But this month, the London sales are just like their opposite numbers in New York -- smaller, quieter and about half the size. Or make that one quarter. The London Imp & mod sales totaled about $140 million this time around, compared to $586 million in 2008. Yikes.

But money is still being made at the top. According to New York Times auction reporter Carol Vogel, the Pablo Picasso Man with a Sword (1969) sold at Christie’s London on June 23, 2009, came from the Juffali family of Saudi Arabia, which had bought it in 2005 for $5 million. This time around, the buyer -- at $9.3 million, almost double the purchase price -- was David Nahmad, the Monte Carlo dealer with galleries in London and New York.

As for the Picasso Man with a Sword (1969) that was sold Sotheby’s London on June 24, 2009 -- painted a day before the one at Christie’s -- it was consigned by Dallas financier John Tolleson, Vogel reports, who had bought it from Landau Fine Art in Montreal for around $6 million. The buyer this time around was Lebanese financier Samir Traboulsi, who paid $11.5 million, again a markup of almost 100 percent.

Did someone say that it takes money to make money?

Christie’s London sale of Impressionist and modern art on the evening of June 23, 2009, totaled £37,095,100 ($60,427,917), with 30 of 44 lots selling, or 68 percent. The top lot was Claude Monet’s fresh and sheltering Au Parc Monceau (1878), which went for about $10.3 million. The painting wasn’t new to the auction block -- it had been sold in 2001 at Sotheby’s London for half as much -- £3.7 million, or about $5.3 million.

Still another top lot, Picasso’s seraglio scene Nu assis et joueur de flûte (1967), had been sent to the auction block in 2004, again at Sotheby’s London, where it failed to sell with an estimate of £1,500,000-£2,000,000. Waiting five years proved salutary, as this time around the picture brought £3,401,250 (almost $5.6 million).

Another top lot was Joan Miro’s lively and sweet Peinture (Femme se poudrant), which went for about $6.5 million, and apparently was fresh to auction. David Nahmad told the Wall Street Journal that he was the buyer of the painting.

Sotheby’s London evening sale of Impressionist and modern art the following day, June 24, 2009, totaled £33,531,150 (about $55.3 million), with 23 of 27 lots offered finding buyers, or 85 percent.

The top lots, in addition to the Picasso Man with a Sword, included a Monet painting of a snowy road that sold for £3,849,250 ($6.3 million) -- it had sold at the same auction house for £1,980,000 almost 20 years ago -- and a lovely floral still life by Pierre-Auguste Renoir that sold for £2,842,250 ($4,656,832), just about double the price that the same painting brought at Phillips New York in 2000.

Prices given here include the auction-house commission of 25 percent of the first £25,000 ($41,000), 20 percent of the next £25,000 to £500,000 ($41,000 to $825,000) and 12 percent of the rest.

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