Has The Art Market Peaked?

Picasso and Degas Fail to Sell At Christies Modern evening sale

As we reported on Monday, this week sees the start of the New York Impressionist and Modern art auction season, with all the major houses presenting big-ticket works. The results however, coming from the first sale of the season at Christies were anything but encouraging for the market.

Leading a stellar catalogue at Christies was Degas’s ‘Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans’, with a high estimate of $35m. But despite gaining much media interest, the bronze sculpture of a young ballet dancer failed to deliver, with bids stopping at just $18.5m. Another highly-valued lot which fared badly at auction was Picasso’s 1935 portrait of Marie-Therese Walter, which failed to draw any bids. The overall sale total at Christies was $140.8m, falling somewhat short of the pre-sale estimate of between $211.9 million and $304.4 million. Another Picasso portrait in the sale also failed to reach its reserve. It was expected to sell for $12m and two Giacomettis in the $10m (£7.2m) range also failed to sell.

Despite disappointing results for some of the highest-valued lots, other pieces surprised by far exceeding their estimates: the top-selling lot of the night was Max Ernst’s Surrealist painting ‘Stolen Mirror’, which reached $16.3m, more than twice its $6m estimate. Surrealist works in general seemed popular with buyers at Christies, with Magritte’s ‘Les vacances de Hegel’ comfortably exceeding its low estimate at $10m and Paul Delvaux’s ‘Les mains’ fetching $6m. However, this handful of successes could not make up for lacklustre sales overall.

Christies officials have so far commented that overly optimistic estimates, rather than an ailing market, are likely to blame for disappointing results; it remains to be seen whether Sotheby’s and Phillips De Pury, also offering a number of lots valued in the millions, will fare better later this week.

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