Bottom falls out of the art market as Manet and Rothko fail to sell

Auctioneers feel the chill as sluggish sales and lower prices signal end of a boom

For so long, the booming art market had appeared impervious to the dipping fortunes of the global economy. But experts now fear the bubble may finally have burst after museum quality paintings by Mark Rothko and Edouard Manet failed to sell at auction. Major sales by Sotheby's and Christie's in New York achieved totals that were millions of dollars below even their lowest estimated prices this week.

On Wednesday night, a post-war and contemporary art sale at Christie's sold half of all the 58 lots at below their expected price, with 30 per cent failing to sell at all. The overall total for the sale was $47m (£38m), well below its estimate of between $100m to $150m.

No43 (Mauve), a painting by Rothko, whose work has set and broken auction records in recent years, failed to sell for between $20m and $30, while multimillion-dollar paintings by Manet did not attract any buyers.

The auction house was last night waiting to see if results of its Impressionist and Modern Art sales would come close to the $240m to $340m estimated total. Marc Porter, Christie's president, reportedly blamed the "difficult economic climate" for the poor results.

A spokesman offered some reassurance, saying: "People are more considered about what they are going to bid for. There is a difference to the art market but at the same time, considering the scale of what's been happening in the financial sector, we are still seeing significant amounts of money changing hands and plenty of liquidity and committed bidding."

Some in the industry suggested the disappointing sales signalled a downturn in the market after a decade of rising prices, and others questioned how much it might plunge.

A Sotheby's sale on Monday night failed to reach its low estimate of $339m, securing only $223m, with a total of 25 works out of 70 remaining unsold including paintings by Monet, Matisse and Cezanne.

A Sotheby's statement said the result was not unexpected in the light of the receding economy but that people were still buying. "This was the first true test of our market in this new environment, and what we saw is that the market is clearly alive," it said. "[The] sale was assembled over the summer and by the time the catalogue came out we were living in a completely different world."

The auction house said bidding among American buyers had remained strong. Three works had bucked the depressing trend, selling for more than $30m, each establishing a record for the artist at auction: Kazimir Malevich's Suprematist Composition sold for $60m, the highest for a Russian work of art at auction, Edvard Munch's Vampire achieved $38m and the Edgar Degas Danseuse Au Repos sold for $37m, also a record for any work on paper ever sold at auction.

The Art Newspaper reported that auction houses were reducing guarantees and lowering reserve prices in the aftermath of weak sales in London and Hong Kong last month. The Wall Street analyst, George Sutton, has predicted entry into "what could be a challenging year for the auction market".

Ian Peck, the chief executive of the art finance firm, Art Capital Group, said the auction results at Sotheby's had been a wake-up call to the art world which "firmly demonstrated that the concept of a recession in the art market is not abstract but real. Prices in all categories – the trophies, the great, and the merely good – were less contested, if at all, and end prices were likely reduced by 20 to 40 per cent".

But Charles Dupplin, from Hiscox art insurers, said it was important to assess the market's financial health after the week-long auctions in New York as well as the Art Basel Miami Beach art fair in December, a major commercial event in the art industry's calender. "It's clearly very tempting to leap to an instant conclusion and there clearly has been a shift in appetite in the market but whether this is realised in prices coming down or not is the real question," he said.

Art and recession: A brief history

The fortunes of the art market tend, as one might expect, to follow those of the economy. After the heady days of the 1980s, the price of art plunged in the early Nineties. However, it was a very different market from today, with collectors from America, Europe and Japan buying largely with borrowed money. When the Japanese economy faltered, so did the art market. It remained in the doldrums for much of the Nineties, after which it began slowly to rise. A tiny dip in 2000 was followed by a further rise, with some parts of the market, such as contemporary and Russian art, growing quicker than others.

Buyers in the Eighties and Nineties formed a narrow collecting pool. Today, there is a much more global group due to modern communication and online bidding. The growth of economies in India and China might soften any impending crash.

Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot