Art lovers are bracing themselves for what could be the most valuable auctions yet held in London, which are estimated to fetch more than £500m.
Masterpieces by Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Edouard Manet are among the highlights of impressionist, modern and contemporary art sales this month that will attract the attention of the world’s collectors.
The record for a series of sales was set before the global recession in June 2008, when auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s sold £528m worth of art.
The market slumped after that, only to bounce back strongly. In February, a bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti fetched £65m at Sotheby’s in London, unexpectedly becoming the most expensive work of art sold at auction.
That record was broken last month when a painting by Picasso sold for £70m at Christie’s New York, and could be threatened again at Christie’s impressionist sale on June 23.
Two paintings – a Blue Period Picasso, “Portrait of Angel Fernandez de Soto” and a water-lily work by Monet, “Nymphéas” – are estimated at £30m-£40m, but may fetch much more, owing to the new-found depth and breadth of the market, which has the effect of driving prices up on the night.
The sale of the Giacometti in February, for example, saw 10 initial bidders, six of whom continued to bid after the £20m mark, and two of whom fought a fierce battle over the telephone after the £30m mark, taking the bidding past the world record figure.
The same could happen in the forthcoming auctions.
Jussi Pylkkänen, president of Christie’s Europe, Russia and the Middle East, described the Picasso portrait as “one of the most important works of art to be offered at auction in decades”. The painting is being offered by the Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, a charity established by the composer to promote the arts, culture and heritage in Britain.
The Monet work is another rarity to come on the market. The artist’s water-lily paintings were exhibited in 1909 to great acclaim, and the one on offer remained in the collection of the Durand-Ruel art-dealing family for many decades.
Other works in the Christie’s sale include paintings by Vincent van Gogh and Gustav Klimt, both of which are estimated at £8m-£12m.
The highlight of the Sotheby’s sale on June 22 is a self-portrait by Manet, which is estimated at £20m-£30m, and is the only self-portrait by the artist in private hands.
Melanie Clore, who co-chairs Sotheby’s impressionist department worldwide, said the high quality of the works consigned for the auctions reflected renewed confidence in the art market.
She said the sale of the Giacometti in February proved a watershed: “People realised that there were still a lot of collectors around willing to step up to the plate.”
Global competition was another factor in pushing prices up.
“There are Russian, Chinese, south-east Asian and Middle Eastern buyers who are competing strongly with the established buyers. There have always been new faces in the art market, but there are more of them than ever right now.”
The entry of new buyers may have proved an unwelcome shock to traditional participants in the art market “but ironically it is the depth in the market which has instilled confidence in sellers, and has seen all these great pictures come on the market”, said Ms Clore. The quality of the works also made them sound investments in times of financial uncertainty.
“They are masterpieces, not something that has just come into fashion. Anyone buying one of these works is not being speculative – they are buying into something with a highly esteemed history.”