Sotheby’s netted a total of £127.9 million (about $161.3 million) at its Impressionist and modern evening sale in London, healthily exceeding its low estimate of $141.2 million despite a middling sell-through rate of 74 percent. The haul was 24 percent up on the equivalent sale last year, giving the art market a jolt to start off the post-Basel sales in London.
There were three works that sold for over $20 million, a first for this sale, and two of those works were by Wassily Kandinsky. The first, Murnau – Landschaft mit grünem Haus (1909), went to a person on the phone with Gallus Pesendorfer, who runs the Sotheby’s office in Munich. It hammered at £18.5 million, which made it £21 million ($26.6 million) with fees—a new record for the artist at auction.
That record did not last long. Six lots later came Kandisky’s Bild mit weissen Linien (1913), which immediately sparked a bidding war between Sotheby’s Asia chairman Patti Wong, London Imp-mod head James Mackie, and an unidentified bidder in the room. After Wong silenced the salesroom with a bid of £28.8 million, the bidder in the room came back in at £29 million and fought off final jabs to seize the work at a hammer of £29.2 million. With fees, that’s £33 million ($41.6 million), crushing the record set just minutes before.
The Imp-mod sale was preceded by a curious curated sale called “Actual Size.” The gimmick? That no work would be larger than its reproduction in the catalogue.
“We like the idea of breaking the addiction that much of the art market seems to have developed that bigger is always better,” the curators, Thomas Bompard and Allan Schwartzman, said in a statement. “We want to reanimate connoisseurship in different ways, in this case by focusing on exceptional works on an intimate scale.”
With a so-so sell-through rate of 65.7 percent by lot, the auction pulled in £20.9 million ($26.4 million) over the course of 36 lots.
The London sales continue tomorrow with the Impressionist and modern say sale at Sotheby’s.