Celebrations are in full swing on Bond Street after a triumphant week for Britain’s art market — one that saw more than £110m of Picassos sold, writes Olenka Hamilton
This week’s Impressionist and Modern sale at Sotheby’s set a new record when a Picasso sold for £49.8 million — the highest auction price for any painting ever sold in Europe in pounds. It was the second highest for any work of art in Europe behind Giacometti’s Walking Man, which made £65 million in 2010.
The sale was part of a buying spree by Pall Mall art dealer Gurr John’s chairman Harry Smith, who bought four works by Pablo Picasso that night, totalling £73.8 million — having spent another £40 million on Picassos the night before at Christie’s. The client or clients remain unknown though speculation suggests it was for a Middle Eastern individual. All told Gurr John’s bought at least 13 Picasso worth £112 at the two sales.
The £49.8 million-Picasso, which was part of a private collection and had never been sold at auction before, was a portrait of Marie-Therese Walter, known as the artist’s ‘golden muse’. It was painted in 1937, in the same year as the famous Guernica. Thomas Bompard, head of Sotheby’s London impressionist and modern art evening sales, called it ‘one of the greatest portraits by Picasso to appear on the market in recent years’.
And the price fits.
It’s also fitting that London was the point of sale, according to Antony McNerney, director of post-war and contemporary art at Gurr Johns. ‘Nowhere else convenes as many potential art buyers from newer markets like Asia, Russia and the Middle East, as well as the traditional clients from Europe and America, and this has been great for the London market,’ McNerney tells Spear’s.
Fear of what Brexit and the US elections may bring caused a temporary blip seeing people ‘wait and see’ before deciding to sell works of art, so while there was plenty of demand, the sale volumes were a lot less than the previous year, notes McNerney, who adds: ‘Last year there was a bounce back as the situation settled and those who had waited pulled the trigger and consigned works for sale.’
The success of the Picasso sale reflects an ongoing trend towards a ‘masterpiece market’, where the top end of the market attracts increasing sums of money, and trophy works of art soar in value — while the majority of the market remains cautious. Last year, for example, will long be remembered for the sale of the Da Vinci painting Salvador Mundi in New York for a whopping $450 million – almost triple the previous record price for a work of art sold at auction.
So while by comparison this week’s record Picasso is a snip at £50 million — relatively speaking — the combined £232 million values of the two sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s this week represents a spree that keeps the capital firmly on the map and kicks any doubts over Brexit into touch.
Olenka Hamilton is staff writer at Spear’s