Christie’s and Sotheby’s Knit Together Solid Results at Paris Contemporary Evening Sales, Setting Artist Records

Hopes are high for the Paris auction market, as the city's arts calendar expands.

Cécile Verdier, President of Christie’s Paris selling Joan Mitchell's Sans titre. Courtesy Christie's.

Christie’s Paris contemporary art evening sale on Wednesday totaled €13.9 million ($15 million), including fees, led by works by Pierre Soulages, Jean Dubuffet, and Joan Mitchell.

The house called the auction a “white glove sale,” as 100 percent of the 26 lots on offer were sold. However, two lots, including a monochrome work by Yves Klein and Le Justicier by Martial Raysse were withdrawn prior to the sale. That put the sell-through rate at 93 percent when taking the withdrawals into account.

The hammer total was €11 million ($12 million), within presale estimates of €8.2 million ($8.8 million) to €12 million ($13 million). Presale estimates before withdrawals were €9.5 million to €14 million ($10 million to $15 million). Wednesday’s sales total was down from that of the contemporary art evening sale in June 2022, which achieved €16.9 million ($18 million).

The evening’s top lot was Soulages’s 1990 canvas work Peinture 130 x 290 cm, 21 novembre 1990, which sold for €1.8 million ($1.9 million). This was followed by Dubuffet’s work on paper La vie interne du minéral, which sold for €1.4 million ($1.5 million), surpassing the higher end of the presale expectation at €650,000 ($701,004). Both were fresh to auction. Also of note was Mitchell’s canvas work Sans titre (circa 1955), which fetched nearly €1.2 million ($1.3 million), more than seven times the price achieved in November 2009 when the work hit the block at a Christie’s New York sale and sold for €169,000 ($236,462). (Sale prices include buyer’s premium unless otherwise stated.)

Josef Šíma (1891-1971), Jour du royal bleu, 1968 © Christie’s Images Limited 2023

Josef Šíma (1891-1971), Jour du royal bleu, 1968 © Christie’s Images Limited 2023.

The sale also set two artist records. Josef Sima’s painting Jour du royal bleu (1968) sold for €806,400 ($869,677), more than double the high end of the presale expectation, and Fabienne Verdier’s 2006 diptyque Ascèse sold for €403,200 ($434,838), slightly more than double the high estimate.

Meanwhile, rival Sotheby’s achieved a combined total of €16.5 million ($17.7 million) at its contemporary art evening sales in Paris on June 3, which was within expectations. The event was a combination of the Art Contemporain sale, which garnered €13.8 million ($14.8 million) after hammering for €11 million ($12 million) and the sale of post-war paintings and African and Oceanic art from the collection of Michel Lequesne, a one-off single-owner sale that totaled €2.7 million ($2.9 million) after hammering for €2 million ($2.2 million).

The top lots of the Sotheby’s sale included a work by Yves Klein that hammered for €2.6 million ($2.8 million), a Zao Wou-Ki abstract piece (€1.6 million/$1.7 million), and a Soulages work (€1 million/$1.1 million). It also set a record for Swiss artist Gérard Schneider for the sale of his work Opus 21B, which went out the door for €342,900 ($369,731) after a reportedly prolonged bidding war.

Sotheby's Paris sale June 2023

Highlights from Sotheby’s Paris sale of the collection of Michel Lequesne: Serge Poliakoff’s Composition abstrait sold for € 419,100 and a Tshokwe Chikwekwe Mask, Angola, sold for €78,740. Courtesy Sotheby’s.

Hopes for the Paris market have been high particularly after Brexit and last year’s inaugural edition of Paris+ by Art Basel. Auction houses are also beefing up their 20th and 21st century art-sales calendar in the French capital. In addition to the regular post-war and contemporary art evening sale in spring and autumn, Christie’s has added one evening sale of modern art to each of the spring and fall seasons and day sales for each of the contemporary and modern art categories.

Christie’s Paris aims to host specialized auctions and is shining a spotlight on single-owner collection sales, which represent more than half of the house’s businesses in the city, according to a Christie’s spokesperson. Notable sales over the past 12 months include the Avant-Garde(s) Including Thinking Italian, in October, which totaled €66.7 million ($72 million), setting a record for Paris sales in this category, and a series of auctions of the private collection of designer Hubert de Givenchy in June, which achieved a combined total of $119.7 million.

Sotheby’s, for its part, is expected to announce at least one new Paris sale in the near future.


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