Two Sotheby’s auctions, held back-to-back on June 26 in London, reflected just how nimble the houses have become, particularly in the post-pandemic era. Sotheby’s main sale of modern and contemporary art directly followed a smaller sale of ultra-contemporary lots (The Now). The mix of works was wide-ranging and there was no shortage of powerhouse offerings.
With nearly 60 lots on offer in the latter evening sale, auctioneer Helena Newman deftly orchestrated the proceedings, moving at a rapid clip; the sale clocked in at just under two hours.
A pricey Klimt portrait set a new high-water mark for the European market, breaking the 12-year-old record for the priciest work sold at auction on the continent (a rank previously held by Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture . But there was more to the sale than the headline news.
Below, the story by the numbers…
Total Sales After Fees: £190,320,940 ($241,929,227)
Lots Sold Including Guaranteed Lots: 50
Lots on Offer Before Withdrawals: 60
Lots Withdrawn Presale: 1
Lots Bought In: 9
Sell-through Rate Counting Withdrawals: 83 percent
Sell-through Rate Excluding Withdrawals: 85 percent
Hammer Total: £136.98 million ($165.3 million)
Presale Low Estimate Before Withdrawals: £155.5 million to £197.5 million ($198.2 million to $251.8 million)
Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate: -£18.52 million
Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lots: £1 million
Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: £111.6 million
Lots With House Guarantees: 1
Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: £107.6 million ($137.2 million)
Lots with Third-Party Guarantees: 22
Top seller: Gustav Klimt, (1917-18) hammered at £74 million (£85.3 million after fees)
Quote of the Night: Newman proudly pronounced the Klimt portrait as “the most valuable ever sold in Europe,” as the room erupted into applause after a ten-minute bidding war. Earlier in the sale there was momentary confusion over a Renoir painting that Newman initially announced as a withdrawn lot, but she quickly recovered and confidently stated, amid murmuring in the room : “Why would we withdraw this wonderful Renoir?” Why indeed? The portrait, (1877) went on to hammer down for £1.2 million.
The slim offering of ultra-contemporary art that kicked off the afternoon under the label The Now was trimmed back even further at the start of the sale, when it was revealed that three lots had been withdrawn. With that out of the way, auctioneer Michael Macauley sped through the 14 remaining offerings in just under 40 minutes. Demand for the lots on offer seemed generally robust.
Here’s how the data shook out…
Total Sales After Fees: £8.7 million ($11 million)
Lots Sold Including Guaranteed Lots: 13
Lots on Offer Before Withdrawals: 17
Lots Withdrawn Presale: 3
Lots Bought In: 1
Sell-through Rate Counting Withdrawals: 76 percent
Sell-through Rate Excluding Withdrawals: 93 percent
Hammer Total: £7.02 million ($8.9 million)
Presale Low Estimate Before Withdrawals: £6.6 million to £9.9 million ($8.4 million to $12.6 million)
Hammer Total vs. Presale Low Estimate: +£420,000 ($535,000)
Total Low Estimate of Withdrawn Lots: £440,000 ($561,000)
Total Low Estimate of Guaranteed Lots: £3.5 million ($4.4 million)
Lots With House Guarantees: 0
Total Low Estimate of Third-Party Guaranteed Lots: £3.5 million ($4.4 million)
Lots with Third-Party Guarantees: 2
Top seller: Mark Bradford, (2018) hammered at £2.5 million (£3 million after fees)
Quote of the Night: When a woman seated in the room won Simone Yvette Leigh’s sculpture (2015), for a hammer price of £380,000, there was a pause in the proceedings as she either didn’t have a paddle or couldn’t seem to locate her paddle number for the required callout at the end of the bidding activity. Auctioneer Macauley assured her there was no worry, adding “We know you very well.”