Sotheby’s London Sales See Drop from 2022, Bringing $208 M. and a Record-Setting Kandinsky

Following Christie’s $202 million London sale on Tuesday, Sotheby’s held two auctions devoted to modern and contemporary art in the British capital on Wednesday that brought in a combined £172.6 million ($208.2 million) with fees.

Across the two sales, 53 out of a total 57 lots sold, yielding an 92 percent sell-through rate. That figure marks a solid rate, above the 89 percent seen in last year’s equivalent sale. It’s just slightly above the result Christie’s achieved earlier this week with its London auctions.

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After three lots were withdrawn, the sale’s final sum marked a 28 percent drop from the £221.4 million ($297.2 million) result from last’s year’s equivalent sale, which had a larger offering of 74 lots. Ten works in the sale, including works by Caroline Walker and Lucian Freud, were offered with irrevocable bids. Nine records were set for artists such as Jenny Saville and Wassily Kandinsky.

The work which fetched the highest price on Wednesday was a painting by the latter. Murnau With Church II (1910) came to auction after a decade-long ownership dispute between a Dutch museum and legal heirs of two Jewish German collectors. Backed with a guarantee, the work went to the financial backer on a bid at the low estimate. It sold for a final price of £37.2 million ($44.9 million).

Among the other blue-chip sales by canonical male artists was one for a 1997 canvas by Freud. The portrait of his daughter Isobel Boyt, titled Ib Reading, was sold with a guarantee after having been held in the same collection since the late 1990s. It sold for a below estimate price of £17 million ($20.5 million), a typical result for high-value works with behind-the-scenes financial backing.

A large-scale painting by Edvard Munch, Dance on the Beach (1906), came to auction after a legal settlement between the heirs of its original owner, a Jewish art historian persecuted during World War II, and a Norwegian collector who had purchased it. The work, which was given an estimate of £12 million ($15 million) and backed by an irrevocable bidder, hammered at just below public estimate, on a bid of £14.5 million ($17.3 million). The painting had been given a third-party guarantee.

Mohammed Sami’s Family Issues I (2019). Courtesy Sotheby’s.

As in past sale seasons, Sotheby’s auctioneer Michael Macaulay took to the rostrum begin the event with the “Now” evening sale. Dedicated to works made by living artists, the format was inaugurated only last year to drum up fervor around emerging talents. Barker passed the gavel on to Helena Newman, co-head of the Impressionist and modern art department in Europe, for the portion of the sale series focused on modern art.

Bidding was lively at the “Now” sale, in which all 20 lots sold, making for what people in the industry call a white-glove auction. The event exceeded its high estimate of £9.3 million, hammering at £10.9 million. The segment notched seven artist records, including ones for Michael Armitage, Miriam Cahn, and Raghav Babbar.

Cahn’s 2018 painting Das Genaue Hinschauen (The Close Look) sold for £584,200 (704,779), nearly 15 times the high £30,000 estimate. Meanwhile, Babbar’s sold for £609,600 ($735,421), more than 20 times its high estimate.

A painting by Mohammed Sami, who is currently the subject of a show at the Camden Arts Centre, received a good deal of attention in the salesroom. The Baghdad-born artist’s Family Issues I (2019), an interior scene showing a broken mug and potted plants, resembles the aftermath of a domestic fight. Despite the dour subject matter, bidders did not shy away. It went for an above-estimate £355,600 ($424,977).

Caroline Walker, a painter with an ascendant market and a show on right now at Shanghai’s K11 Art Foundation, gained further traction here. Her poolside painting In Every Dream Home (2013) was backed by an irrevocable bid—the only one for a work in the “Now” sale—so it was guaranteed to sell. Even still, the painting exceeded expectations, selling for more than six times its low estimate. It went for a final price of £622,300 ($751,004).

Asian bidders seemed active, despite economic uncertainty. Following the sale, Sotheby’s noted that Asian collectors accounted for more than half of the bidding on works offered in the “Now” portion, in particular for works by Gerhard Richter and Emma Webster, the latter of whom made her auction debut here. Webster’s 2019 utopian forest scene Primavera sold to a collector in Asia for £406,400 ($490,281). The result was more than six times the high estimate.


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