Gustav Klimt painting sells for £48m at Sotheby's underscoring resilience of high-end fine art market

Combined sales for the evening hit £194.7m, an increase of 108 per cent on the figure from the equivalent event last year

Josie Cox
Business Editor
Thursday 02 March 2017 11:26 GMT
Gustav Klimt's 'Bauerngarten' sells for record £47m at Sotheby's

Any headwinds that sectors of the UK economy might be weathering at the moment don’t seem to be percolating through to the world of high-end fine art.

Auction house Sotheby’s has just sold a flowery impressionist landscape painted by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt’s in 1907 for the third highest price ever fetched by a piece of art at auction in Europe.

The painting, titled Bauerngarten, which was competed for by four bidders according to Sotheby’s, was sold for an above-forecast £48m, or almost $60m, on Wednesday in London.

It had been in a private collection since 1994 and was most recently exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art London. Sotheby’s described it as “one of the greatest works by the artist ever to appear at auction”, “innovative in its composition” and “jewel-like in its exquisite blaze of colours”.

“Tonight’s outstanding result is a new benchmark for London sales as much as it is a statement on the momentum of the global art market in 2017,” Helena Newman, the global co-head of Sotheby’s impressionist and modern art department, said late Wednesday.

During the auction, five lots sold for over £10m, including Pablo Picasso’s Plant de Tomates of 1944, which was snapped up for £17m.

That painting, done just days before the Liberation of Paris, is part of a series of five works depicting a tomato plant in the artist’s apartment.

Sotheby’s described the painting as “ripe with personal, political and cultural significance”. It was sold at Sotheby’s in New York for $198,000 back in 1976.

Also on Wednesday, Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Baranowski sold for £16m, meaning that combined sales for the evening hit £194.7m, an increase of 108 per cent on the figure from the equivalent event last year.

Despite Wednesday’s lofty price tags, the global art market has not proved completely immune to economic jitters.

According to Artprice, a French online art price database that pulls data from around 4,500 auction houses around the world, global art sales are down by 22 per cent from 2015. The fall is particularly the result of a 50 per cent plunge in sales of works valued at $10m or more.

However in a statement in February, Artprice said that the art market remains “a refuge against economic and financial turbulence, with substantial and recurring returns”.

It said that growth, amongst other things, was still being driven by the ease of access to information, electronic sales and a growing population of wealthy younger art consumers.

China topped the list of countries for art sales in 2016, recording $4.8bn in turnover and 91,400 lots sold, according to Artprice, followed by the US with $3.5bn and 72,500 lots sold and then the UK with 17 per cent of the global auction turnover.

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