August comments on the Art Market

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Peter Doig's Red Boat (est. £1.4-£1.8M) sold for £6.2M - the Doig was bought in 2004 for $162,000 Peter Doig's Red Boat (est. £1.4-£1.8M) sold for £6.2M - the Doig was bought in 2004 for $162,000
The Contemporary
Last month I left off at the HUGE London sales with the catalogs weighing in at 17.37 lbs. This series started on the evening of June 28th at Christie's and as expected, there was plenty of action. Taking to top three positions were Francis Bacon's Study for a Portrait (est. upon request - and I never requested it) that made £17.9M ($28.7M), Warhol's Mao, 1973 (est. £6-8M) at £6.98M and Peter Doig's Red Boat (est. £1.4-£1.8M) at £6.2M - the Doig was bought in 2004 for $162,000 and there was a little legal issue that arose prior to the sale ... to read more, click here: Legal Issue , and then the parties reached an agreement so the work could be sold: Agreement .
When the evening session ended, of the 65 works offered, 53 sold leaving a sell-through rate of 82% and a total take of £78.8M ($125.8M); the expected range was £55.3M - £76.7M, so with the buyer's premium they beat their expectations with only 82% selling - showing that the highly contested works will bring in the bacon!!!
On the 29th they followed with their day sale and taking the top positions here were Richter's Untitled, 1969 which sold for £481K ($770K - est. £350-£450K), Dubuffet's Frequented Neighbourhood, 1979 at £409K ($654K - est. £100-£150K) and Warhol's Portrait of Florinda Bolkan at £361K ($578K - est. £90-£120K). Of the 249 works offered 186 sold (75.1% sell-through rate) and a total take of £13.2M ($21M)
At the end of Christie's two days their totals were: 314 offered, 239 sold (76.1% sell-through rate) and a total take of £92M ($147M) ... and then came Sotheby's.
That same evening the competition launched their attack and taking top position here was ... go on, take a guess ... Francis Bacon's Crouching Nude, that sold for £8.3M ($13.3M - est. £7-£9M). In second was Polke's Jungle that made an auction record £5.7M ($9.2M - est. £3-£4M) and in third was Basquiat's Untitled at £5.4M ($8.7M - est. £5-£7M). At the close of the evening, of the 88 works offered, 79 sold (89.8% sell-through rate) and the total take was £108.8M ($174.1M) ... not only better than the competitions evening sale, but besting their combined evening and days sales.
On the 30th they followed with their day sale and the top item here was John Currin's Edwardian at £713K ($1.14M - est. £300-£400K) and coming in second was Parrino's Purple Monster Shifter and Zao Wou-Ki's 20.8.84 each at £601K ($967K - est. £150-£250K). When the day was done, of the 250 works offered 202 sold for a sell-through rate of 80.8% and a total take of £19.8M ($31.9M) ... again, beating the competition and topping their presale estimate of £13.3 - £18.8M.
At the end of their two days, Sotheby's racked up 128.6M ($206M) from the sale of 281 work (338 were offered) and leaving a nice sell-through rate of 83.1%.
For the week, the combined totals were: 652 works offered, 520 sold (79.75%) and a total take of £220.6M ($352.8M) - not too bad!
Old Masters
We then rolled into July with the Old Masters and while there were some fireworks, my overall impression is, and always has been, that July is a tough time to sell art. Let's face it; this is the time of the year when many people are more concerned about some fun in the sun.
On the evening of the 5th Christie's offered their Old Master & British Paintings (finally -- no 19th century works) and the top lot here was George Stubbs' Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath at £22.44M ($35.9M - est. £20-£30M) ... now while this was an auction record for the artist it should be noted that the work had a 'third party guarantee' (in other words, before the sale they basically presold the work). So, should that really be considered an auction sale since the work sold at what appears to have been the reserve? Not in my opinion. For more on this read Souren Melikian's take - Eagerness to Buy Old Masters at Odds With Their Availability in Auctions. Anyway, let's move on ... the number two position was taken by Gainsborough's Portrait of Mrs. William Villebois at £6.5M ($10.5M - est. £4-£6M) and in third was Michelangelo's drawing A Male Nude Seen from Behind that fetched £3.2M ($5.1M - est. £3-£5M).
When the evening ended, of the 61 works offered 41 sold (a sell-through rate of 68%) giving a total take of £49.7M ($79.6M). Last year's corresponding sale offered 56, sold 28 (67.8% sell-through) and took in £39M ($59.2M) - top lot here was a Rubens at £9M ($13.6M) ... so it was the extra £10M for the Stubbs that made the difference between 2010 and 2011. It was also interesting to note that the top 10 lots in the 2011 sale made £40M (about 80% of the gross).
On the 6th they followed with the Day Sale which further strengthened my conclusions that July is not the time to sell ... of the 118 works offered only 55 sold, leaving a sell-through rate of 47% and a total take of £2.3M ($3.8M). Top lot here was The Master of the Legend of Saint Mary Magdalene's A Triptych which made £301K ($483K - est. £120-180K). In case you are wondering, which I am sure you are not, but I am going to tell you anyway, the top 10 works in this sale made £1.1M or 46.4% of the total take.
Between these two sales there were 179 works offered with 96 finding buyers (53.6% - not very impressive) and a total take of £52.1M ($83.4M).
The evening of the 6th brought on Sotheby's offerings and the results were on par with the competition. Top lot here was a large Francesco Guardi scene of Venice that brought £26.7M ($42.9M - est. £15-£20M), in second was a Correggio Madonna and Child at 3.6M ($5.8M - est. 2-3M) and in third was Schaufelein's The Dormition of the Virgin and Christ... at £2.7M ($4.4M - est. £1.5-£2M). When this session ended, of the 73 works offered 50 sold (68.5% sell-through rate) and a total take of £47.6M ($76.5M) - a wash with Christie's. In the corresponding 2010 sale, Sotheby's offered 57, sold 39 (68.4% sell-through) and a total take of £53.5M ($80.8M) - they had a Turner in the sale that made £29.7M (44.9M). Still comes down to one or two paintings making all the difference.
Over the next two days Sotheby's offered 3 more general sales featuring Old Master and British Paintings ... to save time, here are the main highlights. The true 'Day Sale' found 268 offerings with 179 finding buyers (66.8% sell-through rate ... much better than Christie's) and a total take of £9.5M ($15.2M) - top lot was a work by the Studio of Vanvitelli that made £719K ($1.15M - est. £15-20K ... at least two people believe it could be and actual Vanvitelli).
This was followed by a Drawings sale which had 333 lots and sold just 167 (50.2% sell-through rate) for a total take of £3.5M ($5.6M). Top lot here was Ligozzi's A Sultan Standing Beside a Goat at £469K ($749K - est. £150-£200K. And then on the 8th they offered an Old Master Sculpture & Works of Art sale which had 112 works, sold 60 (53.6%) and took in £2.65M ($4.2M). Top lot here was a German Walnut Half-Relief at £529K ($845K - est. £60-£80K).
When the Sotheby's sessions were finished we saw 786 works offered with 456 finding buyers (58%) for a total of £63.3M ($101.5M). The gross was better than the competition, but it took them more than 4 times the number of works to accomplish this - not very impressive.
By the end of the week the two rooms had offered 965 works, sold 552 (57.2%) and grossed £115.4M ($185M). It appears that the salerooms are now throwing out whatever they can in the hopes that some of it sticks and they make their numbers ... this is fine for them, but not very good for all the people whose works did not sell.
On the bright side, at least Christie's is offering smaller and tighter sales and this showed in their Price Per Lot Sold: $868,692 versus Sotheby's rather dismal $222,658 ... come on boys and girls: get with the program!

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous

As if they had not put enough works on the market that week, the two main London rooms created sales geared exclusively towards the rich and famous. Now I know you are asking: More? You are kidding? Nope! After a while you just have to laugh at this. However, what the results will continue to show is that for the right material, there are tons, and I mean tons, of money available.
During the Old Master week Sotheby's offered Treasures, Princely Taste which featured 33 very expensive items, including furniture, vases, clocks, etc. Of these, 20 sold (60.6%) for a total take of £10.8M ($17.4M) - top lot was a pair of Italian carved giltwood settees at £1.7M ($2.8M - est. £300-£500K). The next day Christie's offered The Exceptional Sale, 2011 ... who comes up with these titles? I heard that some of the other options were: Most Of You Cannot Afford This Stuff Sale, Show Us The Money Sale, Stuff For the Super Rich, The Big Bucks Sale, Black Card Holders Only Sale ... just kidding, I think!  Of the 50 items offered 36 sold (72%) creating a total take of £28.8M ($45.9M) - not too shabby. Top lot here was a set of four Chinese vases which were purchased by Wynn Macau, Ltd. (Steve Wynn) for £8M ($12.7 - est. £600-1M) - guess you need something to attract people to a CASINO!
I would have delved deeper into these sales, but if you click on the following link: Buyers Scoop Up the Trophies at Auction, Mr. Melikian has done a nice job so there was no reason to rehash it.
What all of these sales continue to illustrate is the desire by people with some 'extra money' to find alternative areas to 'invest'; and this is not limited to the extremely wealthy. There is continued demand for the best in all areas and price levels of the art and antiques market. Our gallery has been lucky to have enjoyed continued interest in the works we are offering ... the partial list of works passing through the gallery during the normally quiet month of July testifies to this.

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