Sotheby’s is on the brink of big changes following news of its $3.7-billion acquisition by French telecom tycoon and collector Patrick Drahi. But it was business as usual at the auction house’s evening sale of Impressionist and modern art in London, which more than doubled Christie’s lackluster sale the night before.
The 25-lot sale at Sotheby’s saw just two works go unsold, for a sell-through rate of 92% by lot. Hammer prices for the 23 lots sold totaled £84.8 million ($106.3 million), just missing the sale’s low estimate of £87.5 million ($111.3 million). With fees, the auction’s grand total came to £98.9 million ($124.2 million), putting it 13% ahead of both the house’s February Impressionist and modern art sale, which grossed £87.7 million ($115.3 million), and the equivalent sale one year ago of £87.5 million ($115.7 million). And while last year’s auction was dominated by Pablo Picasso, this time around the money-makers were all artists with “M” names.
Though none of the night’s biggest lots sparked much fervor in the auction room, the sale did see feverish bidding for a work by the Bohemian Symbolist artist Alfred Kubin. His grim ink-on-paper work Epidemie (Epidemic) (ca. 1900–01) cruised past its high estimate of £200,000 ($250,700), with bidders in the room, on the phones, and online competing. The work finally sold to an online bidder for a hammer price of £790,000 ($990,000), or £963,000 ($1.2 million) with fees, setting a new auction record for Kubin.
Another lot on the lower end that caught the room’s attention and set a new record was a Mondrian-esque painting by Fritz Glarner. The work was recently deaccessioned by The Museum of Modern Art and was being sold to benefit the institution’s acquisitions fund. Competing phone bidders pushed the price for Relational Painting No. 60 (1952) toward its high estimate of £650,000 ($815,000), and it eventually sold for a hammer price of £620,000 ($777,000), or £759,000 ($951,000) with fees— barely besting Glarner’s previous auction record, set in 2013.