Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Sale

I am travelling on an assignment, so just a quick update and an article from the Wall Street Journal on the Monday evening Sotheby's impressionist and modern sale.

According to Sotheby's the sale totaled $144.55 million including buyer's premiums. The pre sale estimate total range was 164.8 million to $235.8 million, so the total results, even with buyers premiums was far under the low estimate. Sixty Two lots were offered and only 41 sold, for a rather poor sell through rate of 66.1%. The sale also sold a poor 68.2% by value, which is not surprising given the number of unsold lots.

Not a real good start, and this is on top of some poor first quarter financial results, with a decline in sales of 35% from last years first quarter and a loss of $25.9 million for the quarter on revenue of $106.5 million (against expectations of $125 million).

The WSJ reports on the sale
Sotheby’s hoped for smooth sailing on Monday when it offered up an AndrĂ© Derain painting of a London barge with “Red Sails” for at least $15 million on Monday—but bidders sniffed at the price tag and let the work sink. The painting, along with 20 other works in Sotheby’s cringing sale, went unsold.

Despite a reasonably chipper, smaller sale of contemporary art at rivals Christie’s and Phillips the night before, Sotheby’s $145 million sale of impressionist and modern art landed like a reality check, confirming that the market is still churning through a contraction. Sellers who could afford to hang onto their trophies sat out this round, while buyers squinted at whatever was left rather than overpay—with a few exceptions.

The bright spot of Sotheby’s sale was Auguste Rodin, whose creamy marble sculpture of a kissing couple from 1901-02, “Eternal Spring,” sold to a telephone bidder for $20.4 million, a record for the artist at auction and well above its $12 million high estimate. The Metropolitan Museum of Art owns a similar “Spring,” but the Rodin Museum in Paris does not, which may have given this example extra cachet.

New York art adviser Nancy Whyte engaged in a dogged duel with a telephone bidder in order to win Maurice de Vlaminck’s 1905 landscape, “Undergrowth,” for $16.4 million, within its $12 million to $18 million estimate. “It’s rare and it’s great,” Ms. Whyte said after the sale, “but there were things in this sale that weren’t top quality and needed lower estimates. It’s a new paradigm.”

Her Vlaminck also got a boost because of its safe-bet ownership history, having been in the family of Texaco heiress Sarah Campbell Blaffer for the last half-century. Several pieces from the estate of New York pharmaceutical executive Elmer Holmes Bobst and his wife, Mamdouha, also fared well, including a Claude Monet’s seashore scene, “Low Tide at Petites-Dalles,” that sold for $9.9 million, well over its $5 million high estimate.

Paul Signac’s 1892 “Houses at Port, Saint-Tropez,” a butter-yellow pointillist view of the French Riviera city, sold for $10.6 million, within its $8 million to $12 million estimate.

Elsewhere in the sale, bidding proved eerily thin. “Apocalyptic, no?” whispered a Paris dealer, Vincent Matthu, even as the sale was ongoing. “Where are the Chinese?”

Indeed, Sotheby’s chief seller to Beijing buyers, Patti Wong, stood at the phone banks but didn’t lob a single bid for her clients all night, a turnabout from several years ago when her collectors took home several trophies in any major sale. Mr. Matthu said the expected star of the sale—that sunken Derain—should have elicited a few bids from Asia. After the sale, Ms. Wong shrugged when asked about Chinese collectors, and another Sotheby’s expert, Helena Newman, said Derain’s rarity at auction makes it “harder to find a right price for him,” she said.

Monte Carlo dealer David Nahmad said Sotheby’s simply peppered its sale with too many mediocre pieces that carried estimates that looked fair a few months ago but now appeared steep. “In every auction, there are mistakes in finding the right evaluation,” he said.

Sotheby’s missed the mark more than it has in several seasons, though—only managing to sell 66% of its offerings and failing to meet its own presale expectations of $165 million. Casualties included examples by Rene Magritte, Joan Miro, Paul Gauguin, Pablo Picasso and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Overall, the house’s total amounts to a fraction of last May’s $420.4 million total.

The result comes at a time of staff-shuffling turmoil and lower-than-expected first-quarter earnings for the house—all of which may put redoubled pressure on Chief Executive Tad Smith to deliver when the house holds its contemporary sale on Wednesday.

“Sellers want prices they could have gotten six months ago,” added Mr. Matthu, “but it’s a new market.”

Earlier Monday, Sotheby’s reported a much deeper-than-expected loss in the first quarter of the year as the company reported a 35% decline in net auction sales.

For the quarter ended March 31, Sotheby’s reported a loss of $25.9 million, or 41 cents a share, compared with a year-earlier profit of $5.2 million, or seven cents a share. Sotheby’s posted an adjusted loss of 35 cents a share, worse than analysts’ expectations of a 23-cent loss.

Revenue fell 32% to $106.5 million, below analysts’ forecasts of $125 million.
Source: The Wall Street Journal 

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