The effort to bring the painting to Asia clearly had an effect on bidding, said James Mackie, head of the Impressionist and Modern Art department in London.
“It was very much a battle between Patti Wong and Mark’s bidder,” he said in an interview after the sale.
When the dust had cleared, Christie’s had scored a total, with premiums of £149.6 million ($206.1 million) somewhat short of the £166.9 million ($229.9 million) high estimate. Sotheby’s pulled £136 million ($187.4 million) over a high estimate of £126.4 million ($174.1 million). Christie’s suffered from a glut of work on offer, with 76 of the 97 lots finding buyers for a 78 percent sell-through rate by lot. At Sotheby’s, despite having a tighter sale, a few big untaken lots resulted in a 77 percent sell-through rate, with 36 out of 47 lots sold.
The sale at Christie’s began with a pair of Picassos that both went to Smith, who oversaw Gurr Johns’s purchase, last year, of the Dreweatts & Bloomsbury auction house. After matter-of-factly outbidding the livelier-than-usual mass of paddle-bearers in the seats, Smith sat tight until, six lots later, came two more Picassos. He won those, too, for £5.5 million ($7.6 million) and £6.7 million ($9.2 million). Pylkkänen had to get used to saying the paddle number 137 again and again, and after Smith bought a fifth—Mousquetaire et nu assis (1967) for £13.7 million ($18.9 million)—Pylkkänen seemed to be more amused than surprised at the final buyer.
Keith Gill, head of Christie’s evening sale, said in the post-sale press conference that the sale of so many Picassos bodes well for the sale of the Rockefeller collection this May in New York. That treasure trove is set to be led by a Rose Period Picasso, estimated to go for $70 million.
At Sotheby’s, even if there were a few notable passes, more than half of the sold lots went for more than the high estimate, suggesting buyers will cough up for the right piece. A record was achieved for
, the Italian
who had a painting sell for £9.1 million ($12.5 million) after cross-room jousting between Fine Art Division chairman Amy Cappellazzo and Brooke Lampley, who was poached from Christie’s in 2017 to become vice chairman of the Fine Art Division at Sotheby’s and just recently wrapped her garden leave.
The Impressionist and Modern sales are not the bellwethers of market strength that the contemporary sales can be, so market prognosticators can reserve judgement until the contemporary sales in London next week. But this showing was strong enough to contribute to what could still be an impressive string of London sales over ten days.
“I think it’s been a really great start for 2018, as there’s been a fantastic start to the season,” Mackie said. “The Marie-Thérèse is the most expensive painting ever sold in Europe—that really speaks volumes; that tells you all you need to know about how strong the market is in London.”