sun 03/07/2022

'Sale of the Century' falls flat | reviews, news & interviews

'Sale of the Century' falls flat

'Sale of the Century' falls flat

This time, the hype was perhaps deserved: Christie's did have a claim to be putting on, last night, the sale of the century.

The Impressionist and Modern works were of a distinctly high calibre: Picasso's high Blue Period Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto, a moody but perceptive masterpiece; a Nymphéas by Monet verging on the abstract, with subtle fields of colour; and a clutch of 10-million-pounders, including another Picasso, a Van Gogh and a Klimt.

So how can a record-breaking sale total of £153m be a disappointment? First, the Monet didn't sell, reaching £29.4m before it was withdrawn for not meeting its reserve. Next, the major Picasso went for £34.8m, far below its high estimate of £40m. (And that £34.8m was including buyer's premium, whereas the estimate does not.)

The total estimate for the evening was between £163m and £231m, so £153m - again, including the premium the houses always use to bump up the apparent sales totals - is much worse than it first looks.

This is truer still because of all the talk recently of money sloshing round the art world, thanks to new Arab, Russian and Chinese patrons. If they can't be persuaded to buy major works in the Western tradition, what hope is there for the middle of the market, or Contemporary pieces, which have swiftly fallen from favour?

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