Auctions

Hammer Time: consistency and caution are key at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern evening sale

The newly private auction house led the night's lots with its known money-maker Claude Monet, and set a world record for the Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka

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The Art Newspaper's editors break down the art market's biggest stories and spectacles, with the help of special guests. In our pilot video report series Hammer Time, our deputy art market editor Margaret Carrigan recaps the highlights of New York's billion-dollar auction week, interviews specialists and brings you live views from the salesroom.

On Tuesday night, at Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern art evening sale, all eyes were on Monet's London vista, Charing Cross Bridge— the only Impressionist work with an estimate over $20m this slim sales season, backed by a third party guarantee. The hammer fell squarely in the mid range of its estimate, at $24m ($27.6m with fees). But then Sotheby’s knows the artist's market well, having set the record for Monet in New York this past May when the artist’s iconic haystacks painting went for $110m, and leading all four of its Impressionist and Modern evening sales this year with works by the artist.

The other top two lots tonight, a charming painting by Gustave Caillebotte, Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au petit-gennevilliers, coming to auction for the first time with a $18m-$25m estimate, and a pointilist cityscape by Paul Signac for $14m-$18m, were also both guaranteed to sell and hammered on their low estimates, suggesting they were either appropriately priced or appropriately backed. The sale total clocked in a $178m auction ($209m with fees), which just went over Christie's $191m sale the night before but with a slightly lower 84% sell-through rate, a pace that has remained consistent for the auction house on Impressionist and Modern works throughout the year.

The other top two lots tonight, a charming painting by Gustave Caillebotte, Richard Gallo et son chien Dick, au petit-gennevilliers, coming to auction for the first time with a $18m-$25m estimate, and a pointilist cityscape by Paul Signac for $14m-$18m, were also both guaranteed to sell and hammered on their low estimates, suggesting they were either appropriately priced or appropriately backed.

A welcome surprise—one that elicited applause from the quickly dwindling crowd—was a new world record for the Polish artist Tamara de Lempicka, whose La Tunique rose was the only work by a female artist featured in the sale. It sold for more than double its low estimate, hammering at $11.5m ($13.4m with fees). This follows a similar if lesser success for the artist when her Les jeunes filles realised $5.2m (with fees), also more than twice its low estimate, at Christie's on Monday.

Also like Christie's evening sale, around a third of the lots sold for below their low estimates (before fees), meaning expectations were likely conservative at best when reserve prices were set—a safe play in the current cautious financial climate. "The market is price sensitive", the evening's auctioneer, Oliver Barker, explains. Eight lots went unsold, including two Magritte paintings, despite the Surrealist's Le Seize Septembre that lead Christie's sale.

Yet, perhaps spurred by the $14m Boccioni bronze that sold the night previously, there was strong competition for sculpture. Alberto Giacometti's Buste d'homme incited a six-minute bidding war before selling for $14.3m (with fees) on a $8m high estimate, while Auguste Rodin's Cariatide tombée portant sa pierre, agrandissement d'un tiers from Indiana's Ruthmere Museum sold for $7.6m (with fees).