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Art Market

The London auction season kicks off with strong sales

3 March 2017

Overseas buyers make the running in London | Postponed until after Chinese New Year, London’s first major auction series of 2017 got off to a flying start this week with strong sales of Impressionist, modern and surrealist art. Like the capital’s post-EU referendum sales last summer, favourable exchange rates continued to entice overseas buyers, while Asian interest drove many of the priciest lots.

Bauerngarten (Blumengarten) (1907), Gustav Klimt. Sotheby's London, £48m

Bauerngarten (Blumengarten) (1907), Gustav Klimt. Sotheby’s London, £48m

Sotheby’s bumper 54-lot evening auction set a new benchmark for London sales, totalling £194.7m with 89 per cent sold. As expected, Sotheby’s top seller was Gustav Klimt’s serene garden scene Bauerngarten (Blumengarten), painted in 1907 during the artist’s ‘golden period’. With an undisclosed estimate thought to be in the region of £35m, it went on to sell for £48m – the third highest price for a work sold at auction in Europe. A beguiling small Klimt portrait, Girl in the Foliage, also attracted keen interest and doubled its high-estimate, selling for £4.3m to the Gustav Klimt Vienna 1900 foundation.

Plant de Tomates (1944), Pablo Picasso. Sotheby's London, £17m

Plant de Tomates (1944), Pablo Picasso. Sotheby’s London, £17m

It was a good night for Pablo Picasso, with all seven works comfortably getting away. The highest price was fetched for a 1944 still life of a tomato plant that grew on the artist’s windowsill during the Nazi occupation of Paris. Plant de Tomates sold on top estimate at £17m – one of five canvases in the sale to exceed £10m – and established a new record for a Picasso still life.

By comparison, Christie’s £136.9m sale, held the night before, had fewer star pieces and netted less, but nevertheless posted solid results and a higher sell through rate at 92 per cent. Paul Gauguin’s exotic Tahitian painting, Te Fare (La Maison), was the star turn, reported to have come from the collection of Russian billionaire, Dimitry Rybolovlev. It sold to a Chinese bidder for £20.3m against a £12–18m guide.

La corde sensible (1960) René Magritte. Christie's London, £14.4m

La corde sensible (1960) René Magritte. Christie’s London, £14.4m

Surrealist art was the one area Christie’s could claim the upper hand over Sotheby’s. Dominated by René Magritte, this section of the sale established a new auction record for the artist when Magritte’s large and airy canvas, La corde sensible, sold at £14.4m.

New directions for the Armory Show | The Armory Show has opened its (revamped) doors this week under new director, Ben Genocchio. The leading contemporary art fair of New York’s Armory Week has undergone a makeover, including a new booth layout, as it seeks to adapt to stiff competition from Art Basel and other overseas fairs. Wednesday’s VIP preview was, reports Art News, initially a slow burner before sales picked up. Guidepost to a New World (2016), a series of red spotted mushroom-style blocks by the ‘priestess of polka dots’ Yayoi Kusama, sold in the range of $1m through Victoria Miro. Blain Southern also got off to a good start, selling a work by Jonas Burgert for $400,000 to $500,000.

End of the road for Auctionata | Troubled online auction house Auctionata is winding down after an attempt to find new investment failed. The firm said in a statement this week that it will ‘cease its German operations under the Auctionata brand as sufficient funds for maintaining the going concern could not be found.’ It was announced in January that the company’s subsidiaries, Paddle 8 and Value My Stuff, had been sold to investors in the US and UK.