World Economy

Sotheby’s Sale Plunges 61%

Sotheby’s Sale Plunges 61%Sotheby’s Sale Plunges 61%

otheby’s sold $144.5 million of Impressionist and modern art, its worst showing at an evening sale in the category in New York since the 2009 recession and the latest evidence of a cooling auction market.

The auction capped a wild day that began with Sotheby’s reporting a larger-than-expected loss in the first quarter. The company’s shares fell as much as 8.5% before rebounding to a 6% gain on news that an unidentified investor may boost its stake to 10%, Bloomberg reported.

Monday’s sale fell short of the minimum presale target of $164.8 million and marked a 61% drop from a year earlier as 21 of the 62 lots went unsold. One bright spot was the top lot—Auguste Rodin’s marble “L’Eternel Printemps,” which sold for $20.4 million, including buyer’s premium, handily outperforming the presale estimate. A day earlier at Christie’s and Phillips, postwar and contemporary art auctions also did a fraction of the business they tallied last May.

The high-end art market “appears to be going through a correction,” Taposh Bari, an analyst at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., said in a note last month.

  Derain, Picasso, Gaugin Flop

The biggest casualty at Sotheby’s was Andre Derain’s painting of a red sailboat, estimated at $15 million to $20 million. It didn’t get a single bid in the Upper East Side salesroom. Several works by Pablo Picasso also flopped, along with pieces by Paul Gauguin and Pierre-Auguste Renoir.

“That’s very much a reflection of the marketplace we are in right now,” said Helena Newman, Sotheby’s global co-head of Impressionist and modern art. Like many dealers and advisers, she described the market as “discerning” and “selective.” She added that the estimates for London sales in June will “reflect what we saw tonight.”

The situation is also stark at Christie’s, where Picasso’s “Les Femmes d’Alger (Version O)” sold for an auction industry record $179.4 million a year ago. On May 12, its top lot is expected to be Monet’s painting of water lilies, “Le Bassin aux Nympheas,” estimated at $25 million to $35 million. The events are part of the spring bellwether auctions of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art in New York that began on May 8.

The dearth of big-ticket items largely stems from collectors’ anxiety about the market, said dealers and auction house executives. The auction houses were competing for consignments amid falling oil prices, underperforming hedge funds and roiling financial markets.