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Buoyed by Ronald Perelman’s Meditative Miró, Sotheby’s Cross-Category Hybrid Auction Netted $193 Million in London

Buoyed by Ronald Perelman’s Meditative Miró, Sotheby’s Cross-Category Hybrid Auction Netted $193 Million in London

3 August 2020

The sale included works spanning 500 years of art history.

Sotheby’s auction house’s cross-category evening sale in London 28.07.2020 rounded off the marquee summer sales with a bang, realizing £149.7 million ($192.7 million). Three records were set, and a £22.3 million ($28.7 million) Joan Miró netted the highest price for an artwork sold at auction in Europe this season.

In total, across its sales this season in Paris, Geneva, Hong Kong, and New York, Sotheby’s raked in an impressive $1.1 billion. But in times of extreme uncertainty, the auction house has taken pains to carefully orchestrate that success, and its final hurrah was no exception.

The sale’s total fell within the presale estimate of £108.2 million to £155.5 million ($139.3 million to $ 200.1 million), but only after six lots were withdrawn at the last minute, including a Francis Bacon, which had carried the second-highest estimate of the night, and a work by 19th-century German painter Gustav Bauernfeind that was quietly dropped mid-sale.

Twelve works in the auction carried a guarantee, 10 of which also had irrevocable bids placed ahead of the sale. Five lots cracked the £10 million mark with fees, but three works failed to sell, making for a 95 percent sell-through rate. (Sales results include the buyer’s premium, unless otherwise noted; presale estimates do not.)

A New Normal for Auctions

London’s first live evening sale since February was carried off similarly to Sotheby’s first hybrid contemporary sale in New York last month, but the results fell shy of the earlier event’s $363.2 million total.

28.07.2020, Sotheby’s Europe chair, Oliver Barker, fielded bids from an array of screens streaming telephone banks packed with specialists in London and New York, and a select few in-person bidders, as well as online collectors. Bidders from 47 countries registered for the sale, and Sotheby’s claimed the three-and-a-half hour event was watched live by an audience of 150,000 people. 

But the sale was a testament to the new normal of auctions in more than just form. Attractively titled “Rembrandt to Richter,” it included works spanning 500 years of art history, fully embracing the emerging trend towards the collapse of auction-house categories, perhaps most famously embodied by Christie’s inclusion of Salvator Mundi in a contemporary art sale in 2017.

The cross-category feast was, of course, partly forced by the pandemic, which suspended several major sales but left many consignors unwilling to wait until the next season to cash in. On the other hand, those who could afford to hold out for better weather did so, leaving auction houses in short supply of top-tier lots.

Safe Bets

One big story from the sale—although it was a relatively modest financial success, considering its estimate—was a Joan Miró dream painting that once hung in Alexander Calder’s bedroom.

The work, which appeared at auction for the first time since 1966, sold at the low end of its £20 million to £30 million estimate, netting £22.3 million ($28.7 million). The winning bid was scored by Sotheby’s New York head of evening sales, Julian Dawes, after a protracted 11-minute battle with Impressionist and Modern specialist Helena Newman in London (who was dressed for the occasion in a Miró blue dress).

The Miró came from the collection of billionaire Ronald Perelman, as did Henri Matisse’s Danseuse Dans Un Intérieur, Carrelage Vert et Noir, which hammered at £5.5 million, well below its £8 million low estimate. 

But the sale of the pictures (both originally acquired in the late 1980s from Swiss dealer Thomas Ammann) was a fait accompli: they were each guaranteed with irrevocable bids ahead of the sale.

Source: Artnet

3 August 2020
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