S otheby’s first-ever online Impressionist & Modern Art Day Sale closed on Monday, 18 May, achieving $9.9 million. Leading the sale was Giorgio Morandi's Natura Morta, which realized $1.6 million – the highest price for any lot sold in an online sale at Sotheby’s.
Other auction highlights include the sale of Edgar Degas's Buste de jeune femme presque nu (sold for $596,000, above its pre-sale high estimate $450,000) and Camille Pissarro's Effet de niege à Osny, “La Ferme à Noël” (sold for $560,000, above its pre-sale high estimate of $350,000).
Scott Niichel, Co-Head of Impressionist & Modern Art at Sotheby’s in New York, Head of Day Sales, commented: “The depth of bidding we saw over the last two weeks, especially on some of the top lots, is a testament to the strength of market demand when great material is presented. It was gratifying to see strong interest across all the many genres we present in our category, including excellent results for Impressionists Pissarro, Degas and Renoir, and Modernists Morandi, Lempicka and Léger, as well as Latin American artists Rivera, Tamayo and even Ivan Tovar – whose painting La Menace achieved a new auction record for the artist. It’s clear that our clients are responding well to our expanded calendar of online sales, and we’re proud to have the leading platform to support the market.”
The results follow the closing, on 14 May, of Sotheby's Contemporary Art Day Auction Online, which achieved $13.7 million – the highest total ever for an online sale at Sotheby’s and more than double the previous record, drawing bidders from across 35 countries. Together, both day sales achieved $23.6 million; the results represent the two highest online auction totals in Sotheby's history, and propel the total for global online sales above $110 million to-date in 2020 – more than 1.5 times our full year results in 2019.
The sales benefited from the debut of Sotheby’s new, immersive digital catalogue experience, which emphasizes visual storytelling through video, interactive presentations of data, and other rich content formats, helping to attract and educate the substantial percentage of new buyers – almost ⅓ of the sale – to Sotheby’s. These results mark more than a $100 million total in global online sales at Sotheby’s in 2020, nearly five times the total for online sales during the same period in 2019.
Moving online for the first time, the auctions were important tests of the market’s willingness to embrace a transformative moment, as buyers and sellers looked to assess an art world propelled into the future. Amy Cappellazzo, Chairman of Sotheby’s Fine Art Division, commented: “Our Impressionist & Modern, Contemporary and Latin American teams worked with innovation, harmony and precision to achieve amazing results that exceeded our expectations. These results are testimony to our teamwork and commitment to creating a more robust and efficient marketplace for both buyers and sellers. This week’s sales were peerless in this regard, especially in a time when normal business functions have been uniquely challenging, and are an encouraging sign of market appetite as we look forward to our sales at the end of June.”
"These results are testimony to our teamwork and commitment to creating a more robust and efficient marketplace for both buyers and sellers."
Leading the Contemporary Art Day auction was Christopher Wool’s Untitled, 1988, bringing $1.2 million. The work is an exceptional example of the artist’s ‘pattern paintings' that saw his style develop away from his early Abstract Expressionist works through the original use of wallpaper rollers. This seemingly simple innovation opened the possibility of mechanical reproduction in painting – much in the same way that Andy Warhol’s innovation of the silkscreen encouraged production in 1962.
Brice Marden’s ethereal Window Study No. 4., 1985, made after nearly a decade of conceptual development on his commission for the windows of the apse of the Basel Cathedral, reached $1.1 million. It reflects Marden’s move to address notions of spirituality and unites cool and warm tones in ethereal washes, crafting the sensation of light and warmth emanating from within the canvas. The performance is encouraging not only for the price achieved, but also because it represents the market’s willingness to compete online for an artwork rich in academic art historical significance.
“The results from Thursday’s sale are a bellwether of the strength of the market right now and the growing possibilities of online sales,” says specialist Max Moore, co-head of the Contemporary Art Day auction. “To set a new record for an online sale as Sotheby’s is a testament to the strength of the market at all levels right now and the quality of the works on offer,” continues Nicole Schloss, co-head of the auction. “We were especially proud to see two works achieve more than $1 million, which rank among our top prices ever for works sold in online sales, and is a very strong sign that the top end of the market will continue to find a place in bigger and more ambitious online sales.”
“The results from Thursday’s sale are a bellwether of the strength of the market right now and the growing possibilities of online sales.”
“We saw active bidding not only at the top end of the market, but also for younger, up-and-coming artists,” says Moore, “including noteworthy results for Matthew Wong and Kengo Takahashi, both of whom made their auction debuts.” Wong’s Untitled, which sold for $62,500 following a bidding battle between eight bidders – achieved more than four times its $15,000 high estimate. Japanese artist Kengo Takahasi’s Flower Funeral Deer sold for $100,000 – surpassing its $80,000 high estimate. It’s among the largest works from his Flower Funeral series, in which he examines spirituality, belief and religion through the fabrics of contemporary art.
Works by some of today’s most covetable artists also achieved exceptional results again with competition from multiple bidders, including Lucas Arruda’s Untitled, which reached $300,000; Genieve Figgis’s Gentleman, which sold for $52,500 – over 1.5x its $30,000 high estimate; and Loie Hollowell’s Curves Under a Moon, which sold for $40,000. Richard Estes’s Broadway and 64th, 1984, depicting the well-known Manhattan intersection at the epicenter of Lincoln Center on the Upper West Side, achieved $860,000, surpassing its high estimate of $400,000. Significant works by Yoshitomo Nara, Georg Baselitz and George Condo also performed strongly, as collectors looked to add artists with a long history of market stability.