Has Impressionism still got it? This months auctions should tell us

Will the wave of young Asians buying hot young artists also wash into the higher-priced, blue-chip artists on offer in New York, or has older art lost its charm?

© Illustration by Katherine Hardy

© Illustration by Katherine Hardy

Art Market Eye

Georgina Adam, our editor-at-large, comments on major art market trends and their impact on the trade. Her column appears on the first Thursday of every month on our website and in our Art Market Eye newsletter in which our art market editors Anna Brady, Anny Shaw and Kabir Jhala analyse the latest news and works coming up for sale. Sign-up here: http://ow.ly/3ZBF50GFW0M

This autumn sees an excess of riches come onto the auction block, thanks to two of the classic “D”s which trigger sales: Death and Divorce (the third, Debt, is certainly not the case here).

On 11 November Christie’s opens the ball with the storied collection of 34 Impressionist works from the estate of the Texan oil tycoon Edwin L. Cox. Estimated at between $167.6m and $267.6m, the 23 lots include Gustave Caillebotte’s Jeune homme à sa fenêtre (1876), targeting over $50m. This price is making some art dealers blanch because it would quite simply double the existing record for Caillebotte, if indeed it goes that high. Also in the sale is a $40m+ Vincent Van Gogh, Cabanes de bois parme les oliviers et cyprès (1889) and a beautiful classic Monet, Le Bassin d’Argenteuil (1874, est. $15m-$25m).

The firm has guaranteed the group near the level of the high estimate, according to rumour, and has been busy laying off the risk by seeking third party guarantors, apparently with considerable success. Interest is so strong that potential backers are apparently being offered “paired” guarantees—they can guarantee a sure-fire winner, as long as they also back one of the less stellar works.

Then look out for major fireworks four evenings later at Sotheby’s New York, when the first half of the famed Macklowe Collectiongoes under the hammer. It is coupled with a massive guarantee, reported to be between $650m and $700m for the 65 works—the other half will be auctioned in May next year. The works were sent for sale by court order after the divorcing couple failed to agree on anything, including the value of the group. 

The sale features multiple 20th-century masterpieces: for instance, Giacometti’s Le Nez (1947), cast around 1965, the last remaining example of the sculpture in private hands (est. $70m-$90m). Or Rothko’s imposing pink, yellow and orange No 7 (1951), which stands a full eight feet tall (same estimate). Or Warhol’s Nine Marilyns (1962), the star’s familiar features repeated in silvery greys (est. $40m-$60m). The group of 35 works is estimated at $400m with 18 lots already bearing an irrevocable bid symbol—and possibly more to come on the night.

But can the market absorb so many top-notch works in one great gulp? Recent auctions in London and Hong Kong have shown a frenzied appetite, particularly in Asia, for the up-and-coming, and speculative, stars of contemporary art. Artists such as Ewa Juszkiewicz, Flora Yukhnovich, Jadé Fadojutimi, Loie Hollowell, Joel Mesler and Shara Hughes as well as the “stunt” Banksy were bid to sometimes ten times estimate, often by a new generation of young Asian buyers.

Is the Macklowe and Cox material of interest to these new buyers, and does it matter? My sense is that it doesn’t, because the US has a deep pool of mega-collectors with pockets to match. I predict determined bidding for Macklowe works from the US, and from elsewhere as well.

As for classic Impressionism, the Cox sales will reveal whether this category still has its mojo. Again, I believe that it will also do well because of the quality of the art on offer. And don’t forget that while Banksy and KAWS might wow young buyers, Monet and Van Gogh are still names to conjure with in Asia as well as in the West.