By the Numbers: A Breakdown of Results From Sotheby’s London Modern and Contemporary Evening Auction featuring The Now, March 2024

Let the numbers tell the story.

Sotheby's specialists take bids over the phone in the London sale room. Photo: Haydon Perrior, courtesy of Sotheby's.

The first big-league auctions of the year started on Wednesday night at Sotheby’s London, with a sale of Modern, contemporary, and “The Now” in the house’s parlance. As Colin Gleadell reports, the event hauled in about £100 million ($127 million), with a late Picasso topping the proceedings. Its result: £13.7 million ($17.4 million). However, another early Picasso was among the 10 lots that were withdrawn (from 70 initially planned) before the festivities began.

For more on the sale room action, pop open the link for Gleadell’s report. Below, the story by the numbers…

A color photo displays a painting of a woman that is largely blue and gray. Her skin and dress are various shades of gray.

Françoise Gilot’s Portrait de Geneviève avec un collier de colombes (1944), which sold for about $919,000 at Sotheby’s in London. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby’s.


Total Sales After Fees: £99,731,294 ($126,578,958)

Total Sales of Equivalent Sale Last Year: £172.6 million ($208.2 million)

Hammer Total: £82,205,000 ($104,334,586)

Top Seller: A meaty late Picasso, Homme à la pipe (1968), which went for £11.7 million ($14,849,640) against a £8 million low estimate. It’s remarkable to remember that there was a time when works from this period were considered undesirable. (Put that in your pipe and smoke it!)

Lots on Offer: 70

Lots Withdrawn: 10

Lots Sold: 53

Lots Bought In: 7

Sell-through Rate: 76 percent

Sell-through Rate Excluding Withdrawals: 88 percent

Presale Low Estimate: £90.5 million ($115.3 million)

Presale Low Estimate After Withdrawals: £75.5 million ($96.3 million)

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate: -£8.3 million (-£11 million)

Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate (revised after withdrawals): +£6.6 million (+$8 million)

Lots Guaranteed: 21

Lots With House Guarantees: 1

Lots With Third-Party Guarantees: 20

Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lots: £15,650,000 ($20 million)

Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: £30.8 million ($39.4 million; 34 percent of total presale low estimate)

Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: $30.8 million (33.9 percent of total presale low estimate)

Lasting Memory: This was something less than the most compelling auction ever staged, so claiming a lasting memory might be pushing it. That said, it is certainly not every day that publisher Arianna Huffington sends a portrait by Françoise Gilot to auction. The 1944 picture offered on Tuesday was a gift from Gilot to Huffington, and it soared well beyond its £150,000 (about $191,400) low estimate to finish at £723,900 ($918,774). That strong figure is still short of the $1.131 million auction record for the artist, who died last year at the age of 101.

Quote of the Night: Helena Newman, Sotheby’s chairman of Sotheby’s Europe and worldwide head of Impressionist and Modern art, was a beacon of calm and equanimity at the rostrum, even when bidders (or the specialists bidding for them) were moving at something like than an ideal pace. When a 1906 Paul Signac seascape, one of the evening’s top lots, was climbing toward its $9.83 million finish (with fees), there were some long pauses between bids. “Are you connecting on another line or something?” she playfully chided one specialist on the telephone. She explained to the room: “I have a very patient bidder at £6.5 million.” In the auction game, patience pays off.

Parting Shot: Withdrawing 10 lots from a 70-lot auction is far from ideal (especially when one is a Blue Period Picasso with a $5 million low estimate), but the results were at least solid enough to allay fears of a true art-market recession, for now. There were also some intriguing bright spots: 60 percent of the lots made by women artists beat their high estimates, Sotheby’s noted, and three artists (all women) lodged new auction records: Etel Adnan (at $564,159), Takako Yamaguchi ($1,128,319), and Rebecca Warren ($725,348).

Next Sale Up: The Sotheby’s London day sales of Modern and contemporary art this morning, March 7, and then a doubleheader of big-ticket auctions in the capital city: The 20th Century and Contemporary Art Evening Sale at Phillips followed by Christie’s 20th/21st Century and Art of the Surreal sales.

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