Like an actor, I am currently “resting.” To stave off complete boredom I visited the previews of Sotheby’s and Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sales, which will be held at the end of June. I did Art History at A- and degree level and the subject has long interested me.
The first stop was at Christie’s in King Street where I was hoping to meet Jussi Pylkkänen, President of Christie’s Europe and Middle East, who, the press office said, “will be available for comments and interviews on the international art market.” He was more interested in oligarchs than hacks, and I don’t blame him.
Instead I spoke to Giovanna Bertazzoni, head of the Impressionist and Modern Art department. She gave me an overview of the sale: nine works estimated at £1 million+, with the highest estimate at £5-7 million for Picasso’s 1969 Homme à l’épée, its high price supported by a recent Picasso retro in NYC curated by his biographer John Richardson. In 2005, the painting sold for £2 million.
Giovanna thought that Impressionism was a much more stable market than that for Russian and Chinese contemporary art, the prices of which were grossly inflated during the so-called “boom years.” The frothy contemporary art market was not unlike that of fine wine – it is a luxury and an indulgence, and as such is the first thing to go when the bonuses stop. She believes that the older, more classic works will always retain their interest and, to a certain extent, their value – ditto wine, I suppose. People will always crave Picasso and Romanée-Conti; they don’t necessarily retain their interest in Zhang Xiaogang and Sine Qua Non.
Giovanna also gave me the lowdown on Monet’s Au Parc Monceau, painted in 1878. The painting itself is very characteristic but the canvas is unusual in being “unlined” – that is, not having anything behind it to support it. She proved the point by making me touch the painting. I poked and prodded a £3.5 million painting – you can’t do that in a museum!
Up the road in New Bond Street, Sotheby’s was also offering another of Picasso’s Homme à l’épée series, never before seen at auction but estimated to sell at £6-8 million. Helena Newman, Vice-Chairman of the Impressionist and Modern Art Department, told me that the supply of fine art works is still mainly from private individuals. In Europe, it is not easy for state-owned museums to deaccess. She also believes that it is sentiment rather than price that causes people to retain works rather than sell them – ditto wine?
Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale is on 25 June; Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale takes place on 23 June.