SALES ANALYSIS / December sales New York 2022
New York brings records for Printz, Legrain, Rateau and Dupré-Lafon, but are there signs of a softening market?
OVER THE PAST couple of weeks New York hosted a marathon of auctions. For design aficionados, the design marquee week opened with two successful sales: The Perelman Collection at Sotheby’s (117 lots) was 93.16% sold and totalled $42,896,646 ($34,157,100 hammer price) against a total high estimate of $26,060,000. Four new records were broken – Eugène Printz (Lot 8, sold for €4,164,000, hammer price $3,400,000), Pierre Legrain (Lot 10, sold for $882,000, hammer price $700,000), Armand Albert Rateau (Lot 42, sold for $3,922,000, hammer $3,200,000) and Jean Dupré-Lafon (Lot 48, sold for €882,000, hammer price $700,000) – placing The Perelman Collection amongst the most successful of Art Deco sales.
The next day at Christie’s, Marie Lalanne’s collection (157 lots) of her parents’ art works was a white glove success totalling $77,043,008 ($61,220,800 hammer price) against €28,061,100. The lively bidding lasted seven hours with 18 works selling above a million (ten of these lots already had six-zero estimates). The top lot of the collection turned out to be the ‘Ane planté’, which sold for $8,405,000 (hammer price $7,000,000, estimate $300,000-500,000) – most likely delighting the owners of the seven other editions. The three ‘Grands Moutons de Peter’, at $6,300,000, was the next highest lot (hammer price $5,200,000 (Lot 51, estimate $1,000,000- $1,500,000).
‘Le grand oiseaux de Peter’ – one of the best performing lots – sold for $1,980,000 (Lot 8, estimate $200,000-300,000, hammer price $1,600,000), more than five times its high estimate. Will this collection have a second chapter?
These collections were followed by themed sales – ‘Sculpture by Design’ at Sotheby’s (42 lots, 97.62% sold) that totalled $26,864,646 ($21,587,020 hammer price) against a high estimate of $22,263,000; and ‘Designs by Alberto and Diego Giacometti’ at Christie’s (12 lots, 83.33% sold). The Giacometti brothers’ sale achieved $6,701,400 (hammer price $5,340,000) against a high estimate of $5,600,000.
Finally, the week ended with the annual ‘various owners’ sales, which both sold below their anticipated total high estimate. The Sotheby’s sale (138 lots, 77.54% sold) totalled $11,903,346 (hammer price $9,447,100) for a total high estimate of $15,889,000. Christie’s 149 lots were 78.52% sold, achieving $8,474,130 (hammer price $6,725,500) for a total high estimate of $9,263,000.
It seems that the single-owner collections managed to create momentum and a particular enthusiasm amongst collectors, who paid for the provenance as much as they did for the works. However, looking at the other results, some signs of a softening market are evident.
It was surprising to see so many withdrawn lots. In the Christie’s design sale these included the crocodile bench by Claude Lalanne (Lot 330, estimate upon request), the Eugène Printz sideboard (Lot 332, estimate $200,000-300,000), and even four works by Jean Michel Frank. At Sotheby’s the Bougeoir table lamps (Lot 326, estimate $150,000-200,000) were taken out of the sale. It would only be speculation to try to guess the reasons and perhaps they might be several, but a lack of bidders is a valid hypothesis.
Furthermore, both auction houses saw important works bought in, such as the set of chairs by Jean-Michel Frank and Christian Berard (Lot 476, estimate $400,000-600,000) at Sotheby’s or the two ‘Guéridons aux bourgeons’ (Lot 209 and 213, estimate $150,000-250,000) at Christie’s.
However, there was still some lively bidding on high-quality lots and outstanding results.
In the various owner sale at Christie’s the Isamu Noguchi ‘Chess Table’ fetched the highest price for the model (Lot 373, result $655,200, hammer price $520,000, estimate $300,000-500,000) and the ‘Center’ table by Rateau sold for four times its high estimate (Lot 358, result $756,000, hammer price $600,000, estimate $100,000-150,000).
At Sotheby’s the ‘Porte plume’ by Diego Giacometti sold for $226,800 (Lot 328, hammer price $180,000, estimate $60,000-80,000) and a ‘Snowflake’ chandelier by Paavo Tynell started a bidding war, eventually selling for $302,400 (Lot 516, hammer price $240,000, estimate $50,000-70,000).
A new record was nearly set for Claude Lalanne, not in the Marie Lalanne collection – where the ‘Grand Choupatte’ sold for $3,540,000 (Lot 17, hammer price €2,900,000, estimate $1-1.5 million) – but at Sotheby’s for the ‘Pomme d’Hiver’ (Lot 305, $4,285,000, hammer price $3,500,000, estimate $2-3 million). This narrowly missed on a technicality – the dollar conversion of the previous record, registered as €3,740,000 in September 2021, translated then as $4,412,849. The result of the unique ‘Moufflon de Ram’ weather vane at Christie’s was particularly stellar as it sold for $100,800 (hammer price $80,000, Lot 52 estimate $10,000-15,000).
These sale results are overall positive, especially given how full the art market calendar has been since September, and the number of masterpieces presented by the auction houses was impressive. Listening to the sales, the rooms did feel less passionate than they have been, the bidding being more focused and moderate. The auction houses were careful to have low reserves against what can be perceived as aggressive estimates (some journalists have been calling them “summer estimates” in reference to the heights reached in the last months). The 20th-century masterworks, the museum quality pieces and outstanding provenances still found buyers, but the market is undoubtedly changing. The question is at what speed and intensity? Are these signs of softening, or of a more sustainable way to acquire art?
‘The Perelman Collection: Masterworks of Design’ at Sotheby’s New York, 6 December 2022.
‘Sculpture by Design: Rateau | Giacometti | Les Lalanne’ at Sotheby’s New York, 8 December 2022.
‘Important Design’ at Sotheby’s New York, 8 December 2022.
‘Sculpting Paradise: The Collection of Marie Lalanne’ at Christie’s New York, 7 December 2022.