S otheby's May Contemporary and Impressionist & Modern auctions saw hundreds of exquisite works go under the hammer. Sotheby’s sold $842.2 millions of art, and set records prices for 28 different artists.
Though many works came to public auction for the first time, many others were no strangers to the hammer and had been auctioned previously. These works, which have public prices, are tracked by Sotheby’s Mei Moses. Price changes can tell fascinating stories of the ever-evolving art market, and below are ten thrilling examples:
Impressionist & Modern Art
Second Time Topping the charts
Claude Monet’s Meules made headlines as the most expensive work sold at auction so far this year, selling for $110.7 million and setting the record for both Claude Monet as well as any Impressionist work at auction. When the current consignor originally purchased Meules in 1986, it was acquired for the second highest price paid for a Monet at the time. It sold for $2.5 million, a hair behind the record at the time, $2.6 million, set in 1983. At 44 times the original price, the work appreciated at a 12.1% compound annual return over its 33 years in the same private collection. Using data from Sotheby’s Mei Moses, we can see how 12.1% compares to other Monet repeat auction sales since 2014 with similar holding period, and how Meules leads the pack.
A Day Sale Record This Go-Around
When George de Fuere’s Femme dans la neige (élégante au petit chien) was first auctioned in Paris in March of 1995, it sold for the second highest price for a De Fuere, selling for $69,700. Coming back to auction 24 years later, it smashed estimates, selling nearly four times the high estimate at $350,000, which represents a solid 7.0% compound annual return.
Continuous Growth over Four Auctions
One of the longest provenance listings in our May auctions was for Pierre-Auguste Renoir’s Nature Morte au Melon, Amandes et Figues. Painted in 1882, it had at least nine different owners over next 137 years, and was auctioned three times before selling to a tenth owner. Prices appreciated at varying rates between the different auctions. It first came under the hammer in 1927 for $9,500. It came back to auction in 1984, 57 years later, selling for $341,000 (a 6.5% compound annual return). Two and a half years later it nearly doubled in price, selling for $615,300 in London (26.6% compound annual return). The current consignor was the buyer, and 32 ½ years later sold for $2.4 million, for a 4.3% compound annual return.
African American Artists on the Rise
Contemporary art made by African American artists has been selling for increasingly higher prices. No work better exemplifies this increasing demand than Barkley L Hendricks’ Yocks. The painting sold for $3.7 million, over three times the high estimate, and nearly doubled the prior record $2.2 million set exactly one year prior at Sotheby’s. Yocks previously sold in May 2017, and set a then record for the artist at $942,500. It surpassed its highest estimate of $400,000 and nearly tripled the prior record of $365,000. That price was immediately bested by the following lot, also by Hendricks, which sold for $960,500. With a short two-year holding period, Yocks realized a jaw-dropping 99.2% compound annual return.
Basquiat Momentum Continues
Demand for works by Jean-Michel Basquiat continues to grow at a staggering pace. Untitled (Head), which sold for $4.1 million, grew considerably from its last public auction in 2004 of $225,900. Though it changed hands several times over the past 15 years, the price realized an eye-popping 21.3% compound annual return over that time as it appreciated 18 times its 2004 value.
Soaring Demand for Female Artists
Works by female artists have become a focal point for many collectors. Increasing demand has led to strong price growth at all levels. One notable example from the May sales is Cecily Brown’s massive 75 x 90 inch Confessions of a Window Cleaner. Selling within its estimates at $3.6 million, it appreciated at a 15% compound annual return from its prior $632,000 sale in November 2006.
Big Gain for a Big Work
Another large work by a female artist was Helen Frankenthaler’s Newfoundland. Coming from the venerated collection of Blema and H. Arnold Steinberg, the 52 ½ by 110 inch color field painting sold about its pre-sale estimates for $2.72 million. Previously auctioned in May 1980 for $41,800 and acquired by the Steinberg’s privately the subsequent year, it grew over 65 times its original auction price for an 11.3% compound annual return.
To Infinity, and Beyond!
One of the fastest growing artists is Yayoi Kusama, whose market has grown considerably in recent years. Her Infinity Nets (H10), which sold for $300,000, was previously purchased in 2009 by the consignor for only $20,000 at Sotheby’s. Over a ten-year holding period, it appreciated by a whopping 31.1% compound annual return.
Skyrocketing Demand for KAWS
With an astonishing $14.8 million record set at Sotheby’s Hong Kong last month, KAWS has become the latest contemporary artist to draw attention with rapidly increasing prices. In the Wood was first auctioned at Sotheby’s and flew past estimates selling for $430,000. Back at auction a mere three years later, it again soared past estimates again, selling for $3.9 million. At nine times the purchase price, the astounding 107.7% compound annual return is indicative of the skyrocketing demand for KAWS.
A Well-Timed Warhol
Though Andy Warhol has been well established in recent years as one of the top selling artists, the history of Mao sales tells a interesting story of the changes in Warhol’s market over its four auctions since 1978. When Mao was offered for the first time, it sold for $7,250. Returning three years later, it resold for a loss at $4,400 (a -14.9% compound annual return). A year and a half later in 1983, it resold for a further loss at $3,500 (a -14.4% compound annual return). Mao was then held in the same collection for the last 36 years, as demand for his work skyrocketed. Selling for $1.2 million, the fortuitous consignor realized a 17.5% compound annual return as the work appreciated 328 times its 1983 price.