Christie’s kicked off its mid-season sales of modern and contemporary art in London with two auctions—one devoted to art made in the past century, the other to Surrealism. The sales brought in a combined £167 million ($202 million) with premium and hammered at a collective £137.8 million ($166 million), above the expected low estimate of £128 million ($154.3 million).
The specter of a recession is still looming in the US, and this sort of foreboding future tends to dampen the mood at auctions. The Christie’s salesroom thrummed with a calm buzz, however, and dealers Danny Nahmad and Danny Katz were among those present.
In total, 106 lots sold to buyers; three lots were withdrawn ahead of the sale. Twenty-seven works in the sales, including paintings by Marc Chagall, Cecily Brown, and Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, were offered with financial guarantees. Meanwhile, a total of six artists records were set.
Last year, an equivalent sale staged in Shanghai and London generated £249 million ($334 million) with buyer’s fees. This year’s result showed a drop by more than 30 percent.
Leading the sale was a work by Pablo Picasso, whose life and work are this year being revisited on the 50th anniversary of his death. Femme dans un rocking-chair (Jacqueline), 1956, was offered with a low estimate of £15 million ($18 million). In fashion typical for the top lots in UK evening sales, the work hammered below its expectation at £14.5 million ($17.4 million) after one bid fielded by the London-based Impressionist and modern art specialist Giovanna Bertazzoni.
Contemporary artists with rising markets injected some energy into the sale. The London-based painter Michaela Yearwood-Dan’s work has ascended rapidly on the market, and at Christie’s on Tuesday, her Love me nots (2021), a pink-hued canvas scrawled with treacly phrases like “Will you still love me tomorrow,” sold for £730,800 ($878,260) with fees. A bidder on the phone with Christie’s London-based specialist Tessa Lord won the work.
The sum brought for Love me nots was 18 times its low estimate of £40,000 ($48,000). It was the third time the artist’s record was re-set in recent months.
Other artists with established audiences in the UK surpassed expectations. Scottish-born painter Caroline Walker’s was represented by The Puppeteer (2013), featuring three bathing-suit clad women; after attracting seven bids, the work sold for £693,000 with fees, more than four times the £150,000 ($180,000) estimate. Claire Tabouret’s 2014 canvas Les débutantes (blanc lunaire) (The debutantes (moon white), which depicts a group of identical girls in white dresses, realized £529,200 ($636,000) with fees. The result was double its high estimate.
Some works, including Vincent van Gogh’s Kop van een vrouw (Gordina de Groot) (Head of a Woman), came to auction for the first time at the sale.
The van Gogh surpassed its £2 million estimate two times over, hammering at £4 million ($4.8 million). It had come to auction after more than a century owned by a Swiss banking family, and was produced around the time that van Gogh was accused of having fathered a child the painting’s titular subject. (Van Gogh denied this during his lifetime.)
Paintings by Paul Cézanne and David Hockney also made their auction debuts here, selling for prices around £4 million and £7 million ($4.8 and $8.4 million), respectively.
Highlighting the Surrealist section of the London event was a group of works from a West Coast collection. Artnet reported that the sellers of these 25 works were Gary and Kathie Heidenreich.
Óscar Domínguez’s macabre scene of a hooded nude woman, titled Machine à coudre électro-sexuelle (1934–35), sold for £4.6 million, setting a record for the Spanish artist. Remedios Varo, the subject of current retrospective in Buenos Aires that is set to travel to the Art Institute of Chicago, attracted attention in the sale. Her 1957 canvas Retrato del Doctor Ignacio Chávez sold for £3.9 million ($4.8 million), going above its high estimate.Her Surrealist peer Leonora Carrington’s painting Lepidoptera went for £460,000 ($553,058), nearly double its high estimate.
One artist less visible in the London art scene drew attention: the Chinese painter Liu Ye, who hasn’t had a solo show in the British capital in more than 20 years, even though he has widespread international recognition.
Liu’s painting The Goddess, a portrait of a woman smoking, hammered at £3.2 million. The result surpassed the expectation of £800,000 ($961,040) and went to a bidder on the phone with Christie’s Hong Kong–based specialist Elaine Holt. Meanwhile, a 2019 canvas by Shara Hughes, titled Rough Terrain, went for £630,000 with fees. A Singapore bidder was its buyer.
These were two of the rare moments when Asian buyers were in the spotlight at these sales. According to Christie’s, the Asia-Pacific region accounted for just 13 percent of bids placed during the two auctions.