The Daily Telegraph
$300m auction could keep internet sales surge going
When this column last appeared in print five months ago, no one would have predicted that online auctions of fine art at the top three auctioneers, Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Phillips, would increase by 240 per cent in the first eight months of this year compared to last. But that is what happened.
Yes, there has been a precipitous fall in revenue from real-life auctions, which all but ceased, leaving the market in negative territory overall. But, after the steep drop from March to May, an internet-generated recovery has happened – sooner and more sharply than the recovery from the 2008 financial crisis.
The key component here is the number of $1 million works offered. Before March, they were as rare as hen’s teeth on the internet because no one believed they could sell there. But after the salerooms got bolder online this summer, they became almost commonplace again, driving the average price of artworks sold by the big three during those eight months up by 176 per cent from $9,500 last year to $25,300 (£19,500). Two sales by Sotheby’s and Christie’s, in which one Francis Bacon painting made $84 million, generated
This evening, Christie’s in New York is setting out to prove that the summer action was no fluke with a live internet sale of modern and contemporary art that is estimated to fetch over $300 million. Among the lots on offer is a delicious still life watercolour of fruit and jug on a table that is set to break the record for a Cézanne watercolour at $25 million. It belonged previously to Ford Motor Company heirs Edsel and Eleanor Ford, whose house was turned into a museum after their deaths.
Another museum disposal is a rare drip painting by Jackson Pollock estimated at $12 million to $18 million. The Everson Museum will use the proceeds to buy works by female artists and artists of colour who are under-represented in their collection.
The biggest private seller is Revlon owner Ron Perelman. His businesses have not been doing well. Once worth $20 billion, Bloomberg rates his wealth at less than $4.5 billion, having dropped out of its top 500 Billionaires Index. A “squiggle” painting by Cy Twombly (which Charles Saatchi once owned, selling in the depths of the early Nineties recession for $1.2 million) is Perelman’s top disposal with an estimate of $35 million to
$50 million. He is also selling a dark and moody abstract by Mark Rothko for $30 million to $50 million together with a classic abstract expressionist painting of a woman by Willem de Kooning, which is hoping for $20 million to $30 million.
Such a sale would normally be held in November, but Christie’s decided to bring it forward while the appetite to sell was there, and well enough before a presidential election to avoid the uncertainty that creeps into the market at election time. With President Trump’s condition still unconfirmed, though, some uncertainty among buyers could become apparent. We’ll know more on that score later tonight.