At its salesroom on Tuesday evening in London, Sotheby’s sold £87.7 million (about $116.3 million) worth of art in a doubleheader: an Impressionist-modern sale that flowed into one of Surrealism. The auctions offered the first major chance to assess the state of the art market in 2019, and the results were generally positive, with 32 of 39 lots selling, for a healthy sell-through rate of about 82 percent by lot.
The top-performing lot of the evening (and also the top-estimated) was Claude Monet’s Le Palais Ducal (1908), which sold for £27.5 million ($36.4 million), solidly within its estimate of £20 million to £30 million ($26.5 million to $39.8 million) with buyer’s premium. The work—a radiant view of the Palazzo Ducale from the water in Venice—had carried an irrevocable bid, so it was guaranteed to sell. Following the sale, Sotheby’s trumpeted the result as the most ever paid at auction for a Venetian scene by the artist: the more you know.
(Unless noted, all sales prices include buyer’s premium, which is 25 percent of the hammer price up to and including £300,000, which is about $398,000; then 20 percent for the next segment up to and including £3 million, about $3.98 million; and 13.9 percent for everything above £3 million.)
Also finishing strong was an Egon Schiele sea scene, Triestiner Fischerboot (1912), which went for £10.7 million ($14.2 million), over a top estimate of £8 million ($10.6 million). That work, too, carried an irrevocable bid.
Also notable in the sale: a brushy, brightly colored picture by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner that was deaccessioned by the Museum of Modern Art in New York, which made £3.84 million ($5.08 million), just edging out its high estimate of £3.8 million ($5.04 million) once premium was added. In keeping with industry practice, MoMA will use proceeds from the sale to fund new acquisitions.
The two passes in the Imp-mod portion of the evening were a 1911 Schiele gouache and pencil on paper, which had been estimated at £1 million to £1.5 million ($1.33 million–$1.99 million) and a 1907 Alexej von Jawlensky that failed to find a buyer on a £800,000-to-£1.2 million estimate ($1.06 million–$1.59 million). The Jawlensky’s seller had acquired the work at Christie’s London for £512,800 back in 2007.
In the Surrealist section of the evening, the top lot was René Magritte’s L’Etoile du matin (The Morning Star), 1938, which pulled in £5.32 million ($7.05 million), above a high estimate of £4.5 million ($5.96 million). Showing the face of the artist’s wife on the back of the head of a Native American man (it’s quite a vision), the work had been in the family of today’s seller for 80 years.
Demand in the Surrealist portion proved to be considerably softer, with 5 of the 17 works passing—two by Miró and one each by Ernst, Arp, and Duchamp.
The auction action continues in the British capital on Wednesday, with an evening sale of Impressionist and modern art at Christie’s and a day sale in that same collecting area at Sotheby’s.