Following an extraordinarily strong May auction season, led by Christie’s Post-War and Contemporary Sale, much of the art world was left wondering how the historically successful November sales would pan out. From the start, expectations were high as both Christie’s and Sotheby’s announced the consignment of a number of blockbuster works: more than 30 pieces of Impressionist, Modern, and Contemporary Art individually yielded preliminary estimates of over US$10 million. These works soon became the foundation for one the most exciting and successful auction months of all time.
Impressionist and Modern Art Auctions
The November auction season opened in an underwhelming fashion, as Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale failed to meet the pre-auction estimate of US$188–277 million. The sale, which only generated US$144 million, was led by Alberto Giacometti’s portrait Diego en chemise ecossaise (1954), which realized US$32.6 million (barely surpassing its low estimate). The work set a new auction record for a Giacometti painting, and was the eighth-highest-selling work of the month.
Despite the slow start to the season, sales picked up as Sotheby’s concluded one of its most lucrative Impressionist and Modern Evening sales (second only to the May 2012 sale, which included Edvard Munch’s The Scream). The sale totaled over US$290 million and had a sell-through rate of just over 81%, helping to relax the anxiety that had developed after the Christie’s sale. Stealing the spotlight was another work by Giacometti. The bronze sculpture, titled Grande Tête Mince (Grande tête de Diego) (1954), generated US$50 million, matching the high estimate.
While Christie’s evening sale brought in nearly US$60 million less than last year’s auction, Sotheby’s earned approximately US$125 million more than in November 2012. Combined, the evening sales for both auction houses surpassed the 2012 total by over US$65 million.
Post-War and Contemporary Art Auctions
While the Impressionist and Modern Art auctions were an overall success, it was the Post-War and Contemporary sales that captivated the auction audience. Coming into the November auction season, the market confidence for Contemporary Art was at an all-time high (due in part to strong May sales), and it was reflected in many of the auction records achieved throughout the week of sales.
Headlining the week was Christie’s New York’s Post-War and Contemporary Evening Sale, which shattered auction records with its total of US$691 million in sales. To put this in perspective, the second-highest-priced auction was Christie’s May 2013 Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale, which generated US$495 million. This November sale was bolstered by a strong core of blockbuster works and high demand (91% sell-through rate). The top five lots generated an astounding US$336.8 million, accounting for nearly 49% of the total sales value of the evening. Highlights from this auction include:
- Highest-selling lot of all time: Francis Bacon (Irish, 1909–1992), Three Studies of Lucian Freud (1969), US$142.4 million
- Highest-selling lot by a living artist: Jeff Koons (American, b.1955), Balloon Dog (Orange), US$58.4 million
- 10 artist auction record prices: Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons, Lucio Fontana (see more about his market here), Donald Judd, Wade Guyton, Vija Celmins, Ad Reinhardt, Willem de Kooning, Wayne Thiebaud, and Christopher Wool (see more about his market here)
- Bidders from 42 countries
While the Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Sale did not command as many high-priced lots, the auction was not without its highlights. The sale earned over US$380 million, making it the top-grossing auction in Sotheby’s history. Like Christie’s, Sotheby’s evening sale saw great demand, with a high sell-through rate of 89%. However, the number of high-value lots paled in comparison to Christie’s. The top five lots of this sale earned US$204.3 million, or 54% of the total sales volume for the auction. Highlights from this evening sale include:
Phillips rounded out the top three auction houses for the November Post-War and Contemporary auctions with an evening sale that totaled just over US$68 million. While the total did not match the US$79.9 million brought in last November, the auction fell within the pre-auction estimate. Peppered with artwork by younger artists, such as Lucien Smith, Rob Pruitt, and Oscar Murillo, the auction’s highest sellers remained the iconic Pop artists Roy Lichtenstein (American, 1923–1997) and Warhol. Lichtenstein’s Woman with Peanuts (1962)was the only work to sell above US$10 million (US$10.8 million).
November’s Top-Selling Artists
Over the course of November, the top artists (in terms of value) were a mix of consistently heavy-hitters and spotlight artists. In both 2012 and 2013, Warhol and Pablo Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) claimed the top two spots; however, the final three spots have seen significant change. Bacon’s record-setting painting propelled him to the number three spot, while Jean-Michel Basquiat’s continued success landed him at number four. Rounding out the top five was the highlight of the Impressionist and Modern sales, Giacometti.
Living artists also performed well over the course of the month. Five works by living artists broke the US$10 million mark, including Jeff Koon’s record-setting Balloon Dog (Orange) (1994–2000) and Christopher Wool’s letter painting Apocalypse Now (1988). Gerhard Richter (German, b.1932) also continued to show strength in this category as two of his paintings realized prices of over US$20 million.
Top Lots Sold in November
November’s top 10 lots earned a combined total of over US$596 million. Of these lots, seven were sold in the Post-War and Contemporary Art sales (six at Christie’s, one at Sotheby’s). The remaining three works were from the Impressionist and Modern category (one at Christie’s, two at Sotheby’s).