Hot Lots: 5 Works That Smashed Their Estimates at London’s March Sales

We look at the lots that overperformed and consider what they tell us about the state of the market.

Sotheby's in London. Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Evening sales grab the headlines and ignite the imagination, as paintings and sculptures change hands for seven, eight, and even nine figures. At the recent London auctions of Impressionist, modern, and contemporary art, a Francis Bacon went for a cool $25 million and a late Pablo Picasso made $17.4 million. But given the careful planning that goes into marketing (and, sometimes, securing guarantees for) such star lots, it can be difficult to get a pulse for the actual art market at these events.

How strong is buyer demand? Which emerging artists are on the rise? Which long-gone figures are now enjoying a comeback? The day sales, with their lower price points and more obscure names, can sometimes offer valuable clues. Perusing the catalogues from the London day sales at the big three auction houses, and analyzing the final results, the market team at Artnet News has selected five lots with intriguing tales—artworks that shot beyond expectations and that could augur new developments in the field. They follow below.

Emma McIntyre (b. 1990)

If there is light that has weight (2021)

A color photo shows an abstract painting with a white background splashed with orange washes and minute strokes of various other colors.

Emma McIntyre, If there is light that has weight (2021).

Auction: Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Art Day Sale, March 9

Estimate: £15,000 to £20,000 ($19,100 to $25,500)

Sold for: £100,800 ($129,612)

This impressive result comes on the heels of McIntyre’s arrival at the David Zwirner gallery, where the 33-year-old New Zealand-born Angeleno is the youngest artist on the roster. Her abstract paintings, pretty and easy on the eye, have been a hit with collectors for a couple of years now, albeit at much lower price point. Two years ago, for example, Los Angeles’s Château Shatto gallery, which launched McIntyre and continues to rep her, sold eight paintings for $4,000 to $26,000 at Frieze New York. Zwirner test ran the artist in September, hosting her solo New York debut at its East 69th Street space to positive reviews. Then, paintings were priced between $15,000 and $75,000. Now that she’s ensconced at the mega gallery, a Hong Kong show beckons, and the sky is the limit.

Katya Kazakina

Eugène Boudin (1824–98)

Étude de ciel (1860s)

A serene landscape painting depicting a vast sky with clouds rendered with soft, brushstroke textures and subtle gradients by Eugene Boudin

Eugène Boudin, Étude de ciel (1860s). Image courtesy Christie’s.

Auction: Christie’s London, Impressionist and modern art works on paper, March 8

Estimate: £20,000 to £30,000 ($25,000 to $38,000)

Sold for: £201,600 ($254,000)

Kudos to the lucky (and eagle-eyed) client who consigned this work to Christie’s, after picking it up at auction seven years ago, when Paris house Millon & Associes offered it from a private collection. At that time, they got it for a mere $5,600 (€5,200). That result, a fraction of the latest price, likely had to do with the inclusion of two specific words when Millon & Associes catalogued it: It was “attributed to” Boudin, as opposed to “by” Boudin.

The former phrase is used for a work when there is not absolute certainty that it was created by the artist and there is a chance that a studio assistant or “follower” may have been responsible. Sometimes, though, careful observers have a hunch—or perhaps some additional information—that prompts them to bet big. The recent result is a whopping 45 times the original price, a pretty good return on a seven-year hold.

“Boudin pastels are very rare to come up at auction so when they are offered, they tend to draw good competition, performing well within the sale,” said Veronica Scarpati, Christie’s acting head of works on paper sale for the Impressionist and modern art department.

— Eileen Kinsella

Alfie Caine

Interior with Sunflowers at Sunset (2020)

A warm colourful painting depicting a bunch of sunflowers in a vase housed in a room lit by sunset.

Alfie Caine, Interior with Sunflowers at Sunset (2020). Courtesy of Phillips.

Auction: Phillips, 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale, March 8

Estimate: £12,000 to £18,000 ($15,273 to $22,909)

Sold for: £120,650 ($153,556)

British artist Alfie Caine, who was born in 1996, had his first solo show, “What Lies Beyond,” at the Union Gallery in London in 2021, and his paintings began to appear at auctions last fall, setting one auction record after another for the artist. He has three entries in the Artnet Price Database, all for works executed in 2020. The most recent entry is the warm, colorful Interior with Sunflowers at Sunset, which achieved a hammer price of £95,000 ($120,923). With fees added, the sale price was more than 10 times its presale low estimate.

Caine, who lives and works in Rye in England, studied architecture at University of Cambridge. This training is often reflected in his figurative and richly colored works, which regularly depict an architectural structure as part of a landscape or offer views of the countryside from a domestic interior.

Becoming an artist was not his original plan, the artist has said. But after graduating in 2018, he took up drawing and found himself earning a following for his art on Instagram; soon, fans began to inquire about making purchases. He is slated to appear at the Independent Art Fair in New York with London’s Cob Gallery, and he has a show planned with Massimo De Carlo in Paris.

—Vivienne Chow

Sayre Gomez

Untitled Landscape (2018)

a painting of a pink sunset in Los Angeles

Sayre Gomez, Untitled Landscape, 2018. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Auction: Phillips London, 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale, March 8, 2024

Estimate: £40,000 to £60,000 ($51,000 to $76,000)

Sold for: £190,500 ($240,000)

A new auction record was set for Los Angeles-based artist Sayre Gomez with this acrylic painting of a polluted magenta sunset in L.A., as seen through what appears to be a screened-in window. The work more than tripled its high estimate, selling for a cool £240,000, which comes on the heels of his work Roofing Tar selling for $90,000 at Jimmy Iovine’s charity sale with Sotheby’s during Frieze L.A. this year (that was just above his previous auction record of $88,900).

The piece is one of Gomez’s “X-scapes,” which exaggerate the urban landscape of L.A. by employing the stencils and airbrushing techniques used on Hollywood sets. Avery Semjen, the house’s head of the “New Now” auctions in New York, said that the new record is “a testament to the increasing preference for landscape art and Gomez’s rising influence within the genre.” She added, “Gomez’s photorealist paintings blend together L.A.’s natural beauty with its gritty urban landscape—think strip-mall nail salons and junkyards. Exhibited globally, his art challenges our perceptions of realism and depth, capturing the essence of modernity with striking precision.”

Annie Armstrong

Théo van Rysselberghe

À l’ombre des pins (Agay) or Sous les pins (Agay) (1905)

A neo-impressionist painting of women bathing by the ocean.

Théo van Rysselberghe, À l’ombre des pins (Agay) or Sous les pins (Agay) (1905), Courtest of Sotheby’s.

Auction: Sotheby’s London, Modern and Contemporary Art Day Auction, March 7, 2024 

Estimate: £400,000 to £600,000 ($510,000 to $766,000)

Sold for: £1.38 million (about $1.75 million)

Working at the same time as Seurat, Pissarro, and Matisse, Théo van Rysselberghe may be one of the lesser-know Neo-Impressionist painters, but if the sale of À l’ombre at more than double its high estimate is any indication, the Belgian painter may be getting his belated due. Since it was acquired in 1916, the work has hit the auction block several times, selling to a private collection most recently for £76,300 at Christie’s in 1998, which adjusts to about £168,000 GBP (about $214,000) today.

The artist’s current auction record is $9.1 million, for the Pointillist piece Barques de pêche–Méditerranée, which was achieved in 2020 at Christie’s. This painting, of two women bathing on the Mediterranean seaside, was made later in the artist’s career, when he had transitioned into a softer form of Impressionism.

Annie Armstrong

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