Christie's kicked off the auction season in New York on Wednesday with a record price for Kandinsky and $44 million for a Monet water lilies painting. These key results were in sharp contrast to the thirty percent of offered lots that went unsold.
Many mid-level artworks languished without buyers while the top end fared well, but within estimates in this first of the Impressionist and modern art sales.
Low inventory, a storm following Hurricane Sandy, and the Dow Jones Industrial Index’s biggest drop in a year may have been factors in the lackluster results. High pre-sale estimates were another issue. Marc Porter, Christie's Americas chairman and international head of private sales, told Bloomberg that "the results were skewed by excessive presale estimates that a seller stipulated for 14 lots."
In all the sale brought $205 million, just under the low estimate of $210 million, with 30 percent of 69 offered works going unsold.
Monet's iconic "Nympheas," a 1905 painting from his water lilies series, fell in the middle of its $30 million to $50 million estimate, to fetch $43,762,500 including commission. The record price for Monet is $80.4 million.
Wassily Kandinsky's "Studie fur Improvisation 8," sold by Switzerland's Volkart Foundation. brought $23 milion, near its low estimate of $20 million.
Sotheby's sale begins on Thursday, after a delay of three days caused by damage to New York's infrastructure from Hurricane Sandy.
A highlight among the 68 lots is Pablo Picasso's "Still Life with Tulips," painted in 1932 in under three hours, which portrays his mistress, Marie Therese Walter.
This work last sold for $28.6 million in 2000, and it is expected to bring between $35 million and $50 million.
Nearly one billion dollars worth of art will be offered over the next two weeks at major New York auctions. Contemporary art sales begin next week. Jean-Michel Basquiat's "Untitled 1981" is expected to fetch a record price.