Arts & Leisure

Sotheby’s New York sale tanks as art market heads for correction

Posted on May 11, 2016

SOTHEBY’S sold $144.5 million of Impressionist and modern art, its worst showing at an evening sale in the category in New York since the 2009 recession and the latest evidence of a cooling auction market.

JEREMIAH EVARTS, Head of Evening Sales of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby’s New York speaks during an interview about the marble sculpture L’Eternel Printemps by Auguste Rodin on April 19. -- AFP
The auction capped a wild day that began with Sotheby’s reporting a larger-than-expected loss in the first quarter. The company’s shares fell as much as 8.5% before rebounding to a 6% gain on news that an unidentified investor may boost its stake to 10%.

Monday’s sale fell short of the presale target range of $164.8 million to $235.8 million and marked a 61% drop from a year earlier as 21 of the 62 lots went unsold. One bright spot was the top lot -- Auguste Rodin’s marble L’Eternel Printemps, which sold for $20.4 million including buyer’s premium, handily outperforming the presale estimate. A day earlier at Christie’s and Phillips, those auction houses also did a fraction of business compared with last May.

The high-end art market “appears to be going through a correction,” Taposh Bari, an analyst at Goldman Sachs Group, Inc., said in a note last month.

The biggest casualty at Sotheby’s was Andre Derain’s painting of a red sailboat, estimated at $15 million to $20 million. It didn’t get a single bid in the Upper East Side salesroom. Works by Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir also flopped.

The situation is also stark at Christie’s, where Picasso’s Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O) sold for an auction industry record $179.4 million a year ago. On May 12, its top lot is expected to be Monet’s painting of water lilies, Le Bassin aux Nympheas, estimated at $25 million to $35 million. The events are part of the spring bellwether auctions of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art in New York that began on May 8.

The dearth of big-ticket items largely stems from collectors’ anxiety about the market, said dealers and auction house executives. The auction houses were competing for consignments amid falling oil prices, underperforming hedge funds and roiling financial markets.

“Less A-plus and A material comes to the market because the sellers know they won’t get top dollars,” said John Good, a private dealer in New York. “So they wait. Your average collector is rich and doesn’t have to sell.” -- Bloomberg