Monet, Kandinsky and Brancusi lead Christie's autumn auction

It’s hard to define the origins of a trend, but somehow they emerge, infiltrate and embed themselves into our psyche. Often it is too late to resist and thus it is that we find ourselves caught in the collective euphoria. Think of the sudden realisation that the outrageously catchy tune you caught on the radio has been ringing in your eardrums for the last week. Trends are funny little things.
In the world of fine art auctions, the latest thing among collectors is the acquisition of modernist works – which in this context starts with the impressionists. Investors cannot get enough, and rightly so. The majority of works of art that have gone on sale throughout the year have been exceptional, both in value and in composition.
At the same time there has been a resurgence of interest in the classics, with Frieze Masters, for example, edifying the world that contemporary artists are no longer afraid or distrusting of the ancients, the masters, the men and women of old. This is outside of sales of course.
Why then, this renaissance in works of yesteryear – from a personal and critical point of view – and fervour for modernism from an investment vantage? From the economic malaise and the growing financial power of emerging economies to the frustration of many in contemporary art’s loss of direction, the reasons are many. It is a truly exceptional period in art.
For now, as the major fall auctions get underway, let us turn our attention towards impressionism and modernism. It is starting with a bang, as Christie’s evening sale of such works at the Rockefeller Plaza in New York on November 7th is expected to achieve in excess of $250 million (approximately £156 million).
Brooke Lampley, head of impressionist and modern art at Christie’s New York, said that the sale was reflective of the exuberant, intelligent and perceptive market of today.
“Participation in our evening sales is more global than ever, with buyers from growth markets in South America, Asia, and the Middle East now competing with clients from established collecting markets in North America and Europe,” she added.
“To answer this growing demand for the finest works from the impressionist and modern era, we have assembled an exciting sale that is carefully tailored to what our clients want most right now: rarity, superb quality, impeccable condition, exceptional provenance and exhibition history, and stable long-term value.”
Exciting it most certainly is. Leading with Claude Monet, Wassily Kandinsky and Constantin Brancusi, the auction is likely to result in record prices, especially for the latter. The sculptor’s excellent Une Muse (1912), which featured in one of his first ever shows in America, is estimated to go under the hammer for $10-$15 million (£6.2 million-£9.3 million).
Equally, Kandinsky’s Studie für Improvisation 8 (1909) could break the current record for the abstract artist at auction if it achieves its top end price of $30 million (£19 million). Though this is one of a number of paintings in his celebrated improvisation series, number eight is considered to be one of the foremost examples of the Russian at his pioneering best.
As for Monet, the iridescent impressionist, collectors can vie for his Nymphéas (1905), which gracefully depicts a lily pond at Giverny. Typical of the worth of the artist – and the fact that this painting was part of his supremely amazing string of Water Lilies paintings – Christie’s calculates that $50 million (£31 million) will be easily realised.
Other seminal works on sale include offerings by Heinrich Campendonk, Lyonel Feininger, Emile Nolde and Alexej Von Jawlensky, one of the strongest concentrations of German expressionists seen at auction in quite a few years.
Finally, there is also a decent representation of modernist sculpture to contend for – Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Alberto Giacometti and Henry Moore all in attendance. This is an area of art that is of increasing interest to collectors and well worth an inquiry. Who knows, maybe we’re about to turn a new corner. Trends are, after all, a funny thing.
Christie’s evening sale of Impressionist and Modern Art takes place at the Rockefeller Plaza, New York, on November 7th.
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