Auction failure sends art market into free fall: Half the pictures at Impressionist and modern sale left unsold as buyers decline to meet asking prices. Geraldine Norman reports (CORRECTED)

CORRECTION (PUBLISHED 29 JUNE 1994) APPENDED TO THIS ARTICLE

THE ART MARKET followed the stock market into free fall at Christie's last night, with only an occasional connoisseur ignoring world economics and expressing his passion for art by paying through the nose.

Lord Hindlip, Christie's joke-a minute-chairman, had to tease the bids out of a packed room - the world and his wife always turn out for sales of Impressionist and modern pictures, whether or not they hope to buy. Maybe they are attracted by the chance of hearing such huge sums of money intoned over a microphone.

There were 49 expensive art works for sale; 25 of them found buyers and 24 did not.

David Sylvester, the art historian, was one of the few undaunted connoisseurs. But he had to concede defeat in a ferocious bidding battle that carried a tiny head and shoulders study of Julie Belleli by Edgar Degas, painted in 1858-59, to pounds 408,500 where only pounds 140,000- pounds 180,000 was looked for. One of Christie's New York staff signalled the winning bid, no doubt on behalf of a rich US collector.

There was one other notable success, Joan Miro's Personnages, Oiseaux et Etoiles of 1946 at pounds 1,871,500. After working in Spain, mostly on gouaches and drawings, Miro found his mature style in a burst of confident activity in 1946. This picture has everything a Miro admirer could desire - colour, matchstick men, eyes and birds.

On such a night it could also be considered a success that a beautiful Modigliani managed to find a buyer. It was a head and shoulders portrait of Hanka Zborowska, his landlady's daughter, with a candle beside her, and a telephone bidder was prepared to pay Christie's low estimate at pounds 1,486,500.

But those were the exceptions. A Claude Monet landscape, a sweeping view with the village of Vetheuil in the distance, which had been expected to reach pounds 1.5m to pounds 2m was left unsold at pounds 750,000; a Vlaminck view, Bords de la Seine, painted in 1906 in blazing Fauve colours - on this occasion the nickname Fauve or 'wild beast' really applied - stopped at pounds 650,000 when it was expected to get to pounds 1.2m-1.6m.

The star lot of the sale also bit the dust. Braque's Atelier V was left standing at pounds 1.8m - pounds 2.5m- 3.5m was expected. The painting belongs to a famous series of eight abstracted renderings of his studio that he painted between 1949 and 1956 - this one is dated 1949-51. Apart from his Cubist paintings, this late series is regarded as the artist's greatest achievement.

But the picture was painted in tones of grey and brown and did not have obvious decorative appeal. The last of the Atelier series was sold at Christie's in New York on 11 May 1992, deep in the recession, for dollars 7.7m ( pounds 5m) or double what was hoped for at last night's sale - but that one used bright colours.

The most important accumulation of toy soldiers and figures to appear at auction fetched pounds 100,000 at Christie's yesterday. The sale attracted more than 250 collectors from around the world. A Californian collector, Michael Schreter, paid the sale's top price of pounds 7,158 for the only known surviving 'Blondin' cyclist, a 19th- century toy.

CORRECTION

David Sylvester, the art writer, whom I reported as having bid on a Degas portrait at Christie's on Monday night, asks me to point out that he was bidding on behalf of a friend and is not himself a collector of Impressionist pictures.

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Infrastructure Architect

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Infrastructure Architect is ...

Recruitment Genius: Production Coordinator

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Production Coordinator is required to ...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Assistant

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opening has arisen ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Day In a Page

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
Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

Poldark star Heida Reed

'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn