EU vote boosts Lon­don mar­ket?

De­spite the po­lit­i­cal tur­moil, Brexit may be good for sales, says Colin Glead­ell

The Daily Telegraph - - Art Sales -

Bri­tain’s EU ref­er­en­dum oc­curred right in the mid­dle of Lon­don’s main sum­mer auc­tions, so the Im­pres­sion­ist and Mod­ern Art sales were held in the two days be­fore the vote. It is dif­fi­cult to tell if nerves about the out­come had any ef­fect on the auc­tions. Dur­ing the end of the busi­ness-get­ting pe­riod, a month ear­lier, cur­rency traders were al­ready fac­tor­ing in a vote for Brexit, an eco­nomic re­ces­sion and a re­duc­tion in the value of the pound. What over­seas sell­ers, there­fore, would sell in Lon­don when the pound was so weak?

Iron­i­cally, it was He­lena New­man of Sotheby’s who – af­ter a re­ally pos­i­tive £103 mil­lion sale in which a 1909 Pi­casso por­trait made a £43.3 mil­lion record for any Cu­bist pic­ture and a Modigliani por­trait £38.5 mil­lion – ac­knowl­edged that pre-Brexit cur­rency fluc­tu­a­tions had af­fected con­sign­ments and there­fore the low value com­pared to last year’s £178.6 mil­lion sale, com­pound­ing the shrink­age of sale to­tals this year.

Look­ing at the sell­ers, the Modigliani was sold by bil­lion­aire phi­lan­thropist and for­mer Con­ser­va­tive Party donor Wafic Said, who bought it in 1986 for £1.9 mil­lion, and the Pi­casso by Amer­i­can col­lec­tor Shel­don Solow, who bought it in 1973 for £340,000. Clearly, nei­ther were that con­cerned about a drop in the pound where such mas­ter­pieces and prof­its were con­cerned. While the buyer of the Modigliani is thought to be from China, in­dus­try in­sid­ers be­lieve the Pi­casso was bought by the US bil­lion­aire col­lec­tor Leon Black.

A more telling auc­tion was held the next evening at Christie’s af­ter a day in which the pound’s for­tunes had re­vived on hopes of a Re­main win, and where no great mas­ter­pieces were on of­fer. It may have hap­pened any­way, but, with cur­rency bar­gain-hunters put off the scent, one third of the lots were un­sold, three were with­drawn be­fore the sale, pos­si­bly be­cause there were no pos­i­tive signs of in­ter­est from buy­ers be­fore­hand, and an early Monet, es­ti­mated at £4.5 mil­lion, which Christie’s had guar­an­teed to sell, did not sell. Apart from thus ac­quir­ing a Monet, Christie’s fell short of its £33 mil­lion to £49 mil­lion es­ti­mate, re­al­is­ing just £25.6 mil­lion. That to­tal was lower than most peo­ple can re­mem­ber for an evening sale of Im­pres­sion­ist art in Lon­don. But few blamed it on Brexit nerves or cur­rency move­ments – just the qual­ity of the sale. This was only re­deemed by an­other Modigliani, which saw Asian bid­ding take it up to £8.3 mil­lion, and a record for the much-de­rided Bernard Buf­fet, whose paint­ing of clown mu­si­cians sold for £1 mil­lion.

Since Thurs­day, post-ref­er­en­dum blues has set in for the art world; most artists and cu­ra­tors favoured Re­main and will be be­moan­ing the po­ten­tial lack of EU fund­ing for ex­hi­bi­tions and projects, among other things. But a few Leavers are rais­ing a jar. Old Masters dealer Guy Sainty be­lieves the re­sult will be good for the Lon­don trade if the re­sult means we can re­move the EU’s 5 per cent im­port duty on art brought from out­side Europe. “It could make us the most im­por­tant art mar­ket cen­tre in the world,” he says. Oth­ers hope to see a re­peal of the droit de suite – an EU re­sale roy­alty payable on works by Euro­pean artists each time they are sold, which ben­e­fits artists and their heirs un­til 70 years af­ter the artist’s death.

The im­me­di­ate ques­tion for the Lon­don mar­ket is whether Brexit will af­fect this week’s art fairs (see mar­ket news) and key Lon­don auc­tions of con­tem­po­rary art. Es­ti­mates for the se­ries are be­tween £165 mil­lion and £233 mil­lion, head­ing for a dip from last June’s £290 mil­lion sales.

The big money is at Christie’s, where they’re ask­ing £20 mil­lion for a Fran­cis Ba­con por­trait of Hen­ri­etta Mo­raes splayed out on a bed with a hy­po­der­mic sy­ringe in her arm, for some­one who bought it nearly 10 years ago for a record $15 mil­lion.

The mas­ter­pieces may be safe from fi­nan­cial wor­ries. But below that level, buy­ers may not feel con­fi­dent and will sit on their hands. But then this is the most global of mar­kets. And if the pound is still per­ceived to be low, over­seas buy­ers us­ing stronger cur­ren­cies might see it as an op­por­tu­nity to buy cheaply. It could go ei­ther way.

Cu­bist record: Pi­casso’s Femme As­sise (1909) sold for £43.3 mil­lion

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