Preview: The May Impressionist & Modern Auctions - New York

Monday, December 18, 2017

By Stefany Morris

Between May 5 and May 15, the main New York auction houses will feature no fewer than 11 sales comprised of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary Art. Monet takes center stage with 10 canvases, four of which are estimated at or above $15 million, Giacometti and Picasso are also poised to break records.

Sotheby’s won the flashier consignments for their Impressionist Evening sale, kicking off the Spring sales with stunning examples by Modern artists Leger, Chagall, Miro and Giacometti — all from the Jerome H. Stone collection. With a Van Gogh on the cover (which sold for $11.8 million in 2003 against an estimate of $12 million to $13 million) and six Monets coming from several different sources keen to capitalize on the 'masterpiece market,' the Upper East Side auction house will nonetheless be challenged to set the tone for the next two weeks.

The most interesting works this season are not necessarily those making the headlines. Even as the Impressionist and Modern market in particular becomes a ‘Masterpiece' market, where the absolute best breaks records as the rest struggles to find competing bids, this season offers several beautifully unique and diverse artworks below the radar.

The John C. Whitehead collection makes up the greater portion of the Christie’s Evening sale in volume and quality. This refined collection, quietly amassed over three decades by the former Goldman Sachs head and acquired through galleries, private individuals and at auction, includes beautiful examples of important early 20th Century Masters such as Gauguin, Monet, Renoir, Pissarro and Seurat. The Henry Moore family group from the Sirkin collection, cast in 1956 and in their collection since 1957, has a delightfully rich patina, and is one of several works coming from private hands that rounds out the more modest offerings at Christie’s.

The most interesting development, and a clear indicator of the times, is Christie’s shifting their auction schedule to line up the Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary Sales together in the same week. It will be kicked off by the juggernaut 20th century sale entitled 'Looking Forward to the Past.' Pulled together by senior specialists in both departments, this sale boasts potentially record-breaking works by Monet, Picasso, Giacometti, Rothko and Warhol alongside each other, in addition to On Kawara, Klein, Basquiat, Kippenberger. While this surely creates a logistical headache for those concerned, the message is clear and sensible: today’s informed collectors buy across categories. Clients who can buy Rothko also appreciate Picasso and understand they live well together. This similar idea was behind the promotion for the Jan Krugier sale in 2013, but was derailed and overshadowed by aggressive estimates and property that was not fresh to the market. This phenomenon appeals not only to buyers but to the sellers – the keys works in this sale were surely only lured out of their collections by the promise of a galvanizing effect of this cross-promotion.

With nearly 1,800 works to consider this season alone (this number does not include the relatively smaller Bonham’s and Phillip’s), reviewing each lot in detail is a daunting task for both new and experienced collectors. The key is to work with an objective specialist who can read between the lines of a catalogue entry, analyze condition reports and understand where a specific painting, sculpture or work on paper lies within the context of an artist’s oeuvre. The specialists at Fine Art Brokers welcome your inquiry with no commitment necessary.