If Christie’s, Sotheby’s, and Phillips reach the high ends of their presale estimates next week at their contemporary art auctions, the art world could see yet another $1 billion-plus season.
Across the board, overall sale estimates are higher than last fall’s season, though totals will probably not be quite as high as this past spring’s staggering $1.6 billion auction season. Due to calendar and category shake-ups in recent years, the season that typically played out over the course of two weeks—divided into Impressionist and modern, followed by postwar and contemporary art—is now jam-packed into a single break-neck week.
This means a double-bill for Thursday evening with Phillips and Sotheby’s holding back-to-back evening sales. Phillips’s 20th century and contemporary auction at its Park Avenue headquarters kicks off at 5 p.m., while Sotheby’s starts its contemporary evening sale at 6:30 p.m. In total, the week will see nine major sales, starting on Monday and wrapping with the final “part two” sale on Friday, November 16.
Though Christie’s is not organizing a dedicated hybrid sale of Impressionist and contemporary art this time around, it remains committed to disrupting traditional sale categories—as evidenced by its placement of Leonardo da Vinci‘s rediscovered masterpiece Salvator Mundi smack in the middle of its postwar and contemporary sale. The idea is that so-called trophy hunters will be interested in top-flight works whether they are from this century or are a few hundred years old. With a $100 million price tag and an outside guarantee, there are sure to be fireworks.
Looking at the top end of the market, Christie’s Impressionist sale has six works estimated at more than $20 million. It has seven works in its postwar and contemporary sale priced at that level. Meanwhile, Sotheby’s Impressionist sale has three works estimated more than $20 million, while its contemporary sale has two. Phillips has one work priced that high in its 20th century and contemporary sale.
“We’re confident about our sale as we continue to see worldwide demand for great art,” Jean-Paul Engelen, Phillips’s deputy chairman for the Americas, told artnet News. “The art market is strong as we’re seeing an increasing number of buyers and a healthy supply of inventory. It’s also an intelligent market as collectors want quality work at realistic prices. While geopolitical risk remains a factor, economies around the world are recovering and financial markets are climbing.”
Here is a rundown of the major auctions and the expected top sellers at each.
Monday, November 13
Presale estimate: In excess of $360 million
Presale estimate for the same event last year: $202–283 million
Star Lot: Fernand Léger‘s pre-World War I canvas Contraste de Formes, making its auction debut, is expected to sell in the region of $65 million. The primary-color canvas reflects Léger’s break from the traditional constraints of figurative painting. In a sequence of roughly 14 paintings (including this canvas) he transitioned fully into abstraction, synthesizing movements like Futurism and Analytical Cubism. If the work hits its mark at auction, it will instantly set a new record for the artist, far surpassing the $39.2 million record set in May 2008 at Sotheby’s for Léger’s La femme en bleu (1912–13).
Tuesday, November 14
Presale estimate: $205.3–297 million
Presale estimate last year: $145–186.5 million
Star Lot: Two works by Claude Monet, Les Glacons Bennecourt and Les Arceaux de Roses, Giverney lead the sale, each carrying estimates of $18–$25 million. However, many eyes will also be on an early lot by Marc Chagall, titled Les Amoureux. The painting is estimated at $12–$18 million and has never appeared at auction before. And it could potentially break the nearly 30-year-old record of $14.85 million for a Chagall work. Notably, that previous record for Chagall at auction was achieved back in 1990 when frothy Japanese buying helped push art prices to ultimately unsustainable levels. This painting, which depicts the artist’s lover and muse Bella Rosenfeld, was acquired shortly after it was painted through the Paris gallery Bernheim Jeune & Cie. It has been in the same (unidentified) family ever since.
Wednesday, November 15
Presale estimate: In excess of $410 million
Presale estimate last year: $216.6–306.6 million
Star Lot: It goes without saying that Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi is the star lot of this auction season and of Christie’s contemporary sale (even though it’s a Renaissance painting). The eerie portrait carries a hefty price tag of $100 million (estimated), and as the last Leonardo still in private hands, there is bound to be excitement on the saleroom floor. Chatter about the restoration of the painting and its tangled provenance, along with the firepower of biographer Walter Isaacson’s new book, has further deepened fascination with the work. A major part of the recent conversation homes in on the how and why of the way the artist portrayed the mysterious orb in Christ’s hand. Isaacson found it so interesting that he dedicated an entire chapter of his book to the subject.
Thursday, November 16
Presale estimate: $90–123.5 million
Presale estimate last year: $100–144 million
Star Lot: Phillips continues its reign as the house of Doig, with the star lot of this November’s sale: an early landscape by the Scottish-born painter. Following last May’s sale of Doig’s Rosedale (1991), which broke his previous auction record, fetching $28.8 million, Red House is estimated at $18–$22 million. The snowy painting was begun immediately after Doig’s Turner Prize Nomination in 1994, marking a breakthrough moment in his career.
Presale estimate: $256.5–352.5 million
November 2016 presale estimate: $206–302 million
Star Lot: Even though Christie’s has taken up most of the attention in advance of the contemporary sales, Sotheby’s is offering its own impressive wares, with a triptych by Francis Bacon leading the sale, estimated at $35–$45 million. The painting hasn’t been seen in nearly 50 years and is one of only five triptychs depicting the artist’s lover George Dyer, with two others ensconced in museum collections. Last May, Christie’s sold a triptych of Dyer (once belonging to author Roald Dahl) for more than $51 million, including premium, just edging out its presale estimate of $50–$70 million.
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