The art market endures after a jittery 2019
Wealthy Americans step up to help calm the art market’s jitters
There were some big art sales in 2019, but much of the action came within a month. Claude Monet’s Meules (1890 – pictured below) sold for $110.7m (£84.5m) in New York with Sotheby’s in May, raising the nominal price bar for an Impressionist painting. That price was far in excess of the estimated $55m (£42.3m) – a valuation that was 22 times higher than its previous auction sale price in 1986, but one that was justified in the eyes of Sotheby’s Impressionist department head August Uribe. It was, he said, “the best one” of the 25 paintings in the Haystacks series, still in private hands.
So maybe it wasn’t all that surprising that it made nine figures. After all, pre-sale estimates tend to be conservative and another painting from the series had sold for $81.4m (£62m) in 2016 with Christie’s. The problem is, it was the only art work to make nine figures in 2019. And it only made nine figures once the fees had been added (the “hammer price” was $97m (£70m)).
Nonetheless, May also saw Jeff Koons’s Rabbit (1986) fetch a record price for a work by a living artist – $91.1m (£69.9m) at Christie’s, again in New York. Robert Rauschenberg’s Buffalo II (1964) sold for $88.8m (£86.4m) and Andy Warhol’s Double Elvis [Ferus Type] (1963) fetched $53m (£40.7m). That same month, Sotheby’s in New York sold a Pablo Picasso (Femme au chien, 1962), a Francis Bacon (Study for a head, 1952) and a Mark Rothko (Untitled, 1960), each for over $50m (£38.4m).
All in all, not bad. “Wealthy Americans showed their backbone,” as Melanie Gerlis put it in the Financial Times. And thank goodness they did.
Trade wars, the threat of recession and uncertainty over Brexit had looked at one point to have scared away the guarantors, as Abby Schultz noted in Barron’s Penta. These are the people who agree to stump up the money to buy a lot if it otherwise fails to sell at auction. Their presence injects confidence into the market. When they’re not there, the market gets rattled, but the auctioneers pulled through in the end.
“Amid a challenging global environment, demand for art remains strong and is reflected in our 2019 results, especially for modern and contemporary art,” says Guillaume Cerutti, CEO at Christie’s. Yet at the start of 2020, those uncertainties haven’t gone away. Whether that demand remains strong will be the main question for this year.
Whisky breaks records
If the art market had reasons to be concerned, the demand for rare whisky, on the other hand, went from strength to strength in 2019. Sotheby’s in London raised £7.6m from the sale of a single-owner collection in October, which also saw a new record set for a single bottle – another 1926 Macallan, this time costing £1.5m (different bottles of the 1926 have broken the record three times over the past two years).
From 7-17 February, Whisky Auctioneer is hosting a sale of 3,900 rare bottles of whisky. “Expect it to far exceed its lowball £7m-£8m estimate,” says whisky expert Fiona Shoop in The Daily Telegraph. It contains yet another 1926 Macallan.
This article was originally published in MoneyWeek