By the Numbers: A Breakdown of Results From Sotheby’s Modern Art Evening Sale, May 2024

Let the numbers tell the story.

Sotheby's modern evening auction. Photo courtesy of Sotheby's.

On Wednesday evening in New York, Sotheby’s auction of modern art totaled $235 million, within its estimated range of $180.9 million and $250.7 million but down 22.5 percent compared to a similar auction a year ago. Two lots—by Georges Braque and Sam Francis—were withdrawn before the auction. Two of the remaining 50 lots failed to sell, producing a sell-through rate of 96 percent. The biggest casualty was Pablo Picasso’s Femme au chapeau (1939), estimated at $6 million to $8 million, which failed to find a buyer.

The rest of the auction proceeded with businesslike efficiency. The brightest highlight was the sale of Leonora Carrington’s Les Distraction de Dagobert (1945) for an artist-record $28.5 million to Argentinean collector Enrico Costantini, who prevailed over two rivals to take the Surrealist masterpiece home.

Total Sales After Fees: $235 million

Total Sales of Equivalent Sale Last Year: $303.1 million

Hammer Total: $198.1 million

Top Seller: Claude Monet’s Meules à Giverny (1893), for $34.8 million

Lots on Offer: 52

Lots Withdrawn: 2

Lots Sold: 48

Lots Bought In: 2

Sell-through Rate: 92 percent

Sell-through Rate After Withdrawals: 96 percent

Presale Low Estimate: $184.4 million

Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: $180.9 million

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate: +$13.7 million

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate (revised after withdrawals): +$17.2 million

Lots Guaranteed: 34

Lots With House Guarantees: 32

Lots With Third-Party Guarantees (Irrevocable Bids): 34

Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lots: $3.5 million

Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: $136.9 million (74.2 percent of total presale low estimate)

Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: $127.9 million (69.4 percent of total presale low estimate)

Quote of the Night: “I was the underbidder 30 years ago for this picture, and I didn’t want to miss it this time,” collector Enrico Costintini said, of paying record $28.5 million for Leonora Carrington’s Les Distraction de Dagobert (1945).

Lasting Memory: An electric 10-minute bidding war for Les Distraction de Dagobert, which had been estimated at $12 million to $18 million, an unprecedented range for the British Surrealist. A new Chinese bidder jumped in at $20.4 million as the audience gasped.

Parting Shot: Buyers are looking for opportunities, and there were plenty to be had, with reserves lowered for many works. Hong Gyu Shin, an art dealer and collector in Miami and New York, went for Vincent van Gogh’s Head of a Peasant (1885), estimated at $1.5 million to $2.5 million, and ended up getting it for half that: $787,400. “It was a no-brainer,” he said.

Next Sale Up: Christie’s 20th-century evening sale tonight.

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