Impressionist auction bewilders dealers as paintings go unsold
Thursday 12 May 1994
Paintings still available included a Cezanne Still Life of apples on a table, which was expected to reach dollars 4m-dollars 5m ( pounds 2.68m- pounds 3.35), a Modigliani portrait of his friend Annie Bjarne (dollars 5m-dollars 6m), and a large Monet boating scene (about dollars 7m). 'It was just like the stock market when everyone panics,' one New York art dealer said afterwards.
The failure starkly highlights the extent to which art prices reflect the mood shifts of the mega-rich, as opposed to intrinsic value. It is often argued that the very best art is saleable even in troubled times, but on this occasion some of the best pieces came unstuck, including the Cezanne, the Modigliani and a very rare Italian Futurist painting by Gino Severini, unsold at dollars 2m, against an estimate of dollars 2.5-dollars 3.5m.
It is hard to trace any clear rationale for what happened. Christopher Burge, Christie's American chairman, confessed to being 'bewildered'. Christie's and Sotheby's seem to have been overconfident that the art market was recovering from the 1990 crash; they took in too many big-ticket items at reserves (minimum sale prices) that were higher than last year. But at the same time, the failure of the contemporary art sales in New York the previous week had probably made big buyers jumpy.
The sale started with brio. Christie's had seven major paintings from the estate of Jack Koerfer, a German industrialist, well-known as a connoisseur. Lot 1, a slight pencil drawing of a cushion by Cezanne ran to three times estimate at dollars 101,500; next came a rare landscape by Maurice de Vlaminck painted in 1905-06, in the blazing colours typical of the Fauve movement, which almost matched the auction record for the artist at dollars 6,822,500; lot 3 was also fiercely competed for, a Cubist oil and collage on canvas made by Picasso in the spring of 1913 which made dollars 6,272,500.
Then came a minor Braque which sold below estimate, followed by an early Picasso portrait of his mistress, Fernande Olivier, sewing which nobody wanted; it was left unsold at dollars 1.1m (estimate dollars 1.5- dollars 2.5m). That is when confidence began to ebb; Koerfer's handsome Pont-Aven landscape by Gauguin was allowed to sell for only dollars 4,182,500, where dollars 5m-dollars 7m had been hoped for.
The Koerfer estate was followed by 15 paintings from Meshulam Riklis, a retailing tycoon, and the corporate collection of his company, the McCrory Corporation. McCrory has filed for bankruptcy protection, while Mr Riklis is in the middle of a divorce - hence the need for money.
This psychology did not appeal to buyers who would not touch his best pictures, leaving an early Leger unsold at dollars 2.4m, the Modigliani at dollars 3.5m and the Monet at dollars 4.2m. And that was the end of any confidence in the room.
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...
£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...
£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...
£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...