Christie’s 250th Anniversary Sale A Big Celebration
The anniversary sale at Christie’s offered 31 lots by British artists and a definite environment of celebration on the night of 30th June.
Of the 31 lots 27 found interest and buyers establishing a solid 87% sell through rate and the sale brought in a total of £87.2 million which managed to miss the estimate (£95.7 million to £138 million) by just that much. There, however, was some discontent when a 1992 work Ib and her Husband by Lucian Freud estimated at £18 million failed to generate interest and didn’t find a buyer. It is interesting however that this very work was sold for $19.4 million at Christies in a previous sale in the year 2007. As Jussi Pylkkanen, the auctioneer later pointed out, it is an unpredictable subject and some of the works do not perform as predicted.
With seven artists Frederic Leighton, Henry Moore, David Roberts, Frank Auerbach, Lynn Chadwick, Bridget Riley and Thomas Daniell setting auction records the rest of the event took a favorable turn. The epic 1951 Reclining Figure which was cast as an edition of five by artist Henry Moore was the belle of the ball and ended up selling well above the estimate at a generous £22 million. The untitled (Diagonal Curve) by Bridget Riley broke the artist’s previous records by bringing in almost the double of the previous one by selling at £3.8 million. Pylkkanen mentioned that Riley herself was in the building but was observing her other works in a different non-selling exhibition in another part of the building and seemed to have no interest in what her works were bringing in the auction.
A great number of US and Asian buyers in the sale also indicated that the foreign buyers are ready to take advantage of the devalued pound sterling. A 1954 painting by Alfred James Munnings The Queen and ‘Aureole’ in the Paddock at Epsom before the Coronation Cup turned into an unlikely star due to a passionate bidding war between two Asian bidders. Though the set estimate of the work was £400,000 to £600,000, it eventually ended up being sold at £1.8 million. The international director and head of British paintings John Stainton accepted that The Queen actually was a big contributor to the evening sale and to the morale.
The fact that quite a few of the house guarantees were converted to third party guarantees further went on to indicate that owing to the vulnerable and precarious economic and political situation, there was a certain nervousness. The experts however, heaved a collective sigh of relief when the results and figures came in. Pylkkanen went on to say that it was in fact for the first time that 32 countries were bidding for British art.
This whole week of contemporary sales solidified the grounding of the market and the only low in the month of June maybe was on 22nd June at the Impressionist and Modern evening auction held at Christie’s. The conspicuous lack of bidders on the night that was the eve of UK’s EU referendum vote was also credited to the strong speculations of a great surge in pound sterling against other currencies if UK were to vote and stay in the EU. For the foreign buyers it might actually be a big risk to buy art at that time as the rise in currency value might have meant paying a lot more after the conversion.