£23.7m Monet’s Nymphéas Painting Leads Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Sale

After Christie's disappointing sale the night before, all eyes are on Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern Art Evening sale in London. Compared to Christie's, Sotheby's delivered satisfactory results, with only 2 out of 25 lots going unsold. The sale generated a 92% sold by lots, totaling £84.8m (US$106.3m) excluding fees, slightly lower than the sale’s low estimate of £87.5m.

With all the leading lots sold, Sotheby's has outperformed Christie's. Claude Monet's Nymphéa (Water Lily) painting came to £23.7m after premium, shy of its presale estimate of £25m-35m, yet still sufficient to become the top lot of the sale. It came with a third-party guarantee which means that it was sure to be sold.

Although crowned the star lot of the sale, Monet's masterpiece which carried an estimate of £25m to £35m did not seem to arouse much enthusiasm in bidders. The auctioneer, Helena Newman, started the bid with a price of £17m. After four bids, however, the bidding became stagnant and paused at £21m. The auctioneer attempted to elicit more bids from Yoshiko Marutani, Deputy Director from Sotheby's Tokyo while she was conversing with her client through telephone. Unfortunately, in the end, Marutani's client gave in.

The hammer was put down for the client of Simon Shaw, Vice Chairman of Sotheby's Fine Arts Division New York at £21m, £4m below its low estimate. It is highly possible that the client was the one who provided guarantee for the work. 

Monet photographed at his lily pond at Giverny

The Water Lily oeuvres were executed in Monet's late years. The current lot depicts the effect of light on the surface of the pond and the water lilies, presenting a ray of light which meanders all the way to the bottom of the canvas.  On the contrary, in some of Monet's other Nymphéas paintings, a lily pad in the foreground intercepts the light.

The auction house revealed that the work came from a distinguished family collection in Argentina and has been residing in the family since 1932. It was last exhibited in 1962 and is appearing on the auction stage for the first time. 

Amedeo Modigliani's Jeune homme assis, les mains croisées sur les genoux sold for £18.4m

Sold also at its low estimate is the second top lot of the sale, Amedeo Modigliani's (1884 - 1920) Jeune homme assis, les mains croisées sur les genoux, estimated at £16m-24m. Again, bidders were very cautious and seemed reluctant in offering high prices. When the price reached £15.4m, bidders were offering bid increments of only £100,000. In the end, the work was hammered down for Sotheby's Senior Director Samuel Valette's client at £16m and realised £18.4m with premium.

Joan Miró's Peinture (L’Air) sold for £12m

The third top lot was Joan Miró's Peinture (L’Air) that carried a £10m - 15m estimate. It was hammered down at £10.5m and sold for £12m, slightly above its low estimate. 

Alfred Kubin's Epidemie (Epidemic) sold for over six times its estimate

The most and perhaps only exciting performance of the show was put on by Alfred Kubin's (1877 - 1959) Epidemie (Epidemic). With a starting bid of £100,000, the work ignited intense competition between bidders online, in the room and on the phone. Strong bids came from London dealer Richard Nagy as well as the online bidder which made the price soar to £790,000. The auctioneer finally put the hammer down for the online bidder and sold the painting at £963,000, a new auction record for Kubin. Valued at £150,000 to £200,000, the work was sold for over six times its estimate. 

The Moment of Birth (1902) by Alfred Kubin 

The present work, executed circa 1901-02, conveys death in a spider-like creature, plaguing a secluded house in the depth of winter and exuding the atmosphere of suppression and terror. Kubin is most well-known for his pen and ink drawings, as well as his depiction of supernatural creatures and fantastical elements.

Although many of the works had guarantee and were sold below their estimates, Sotheby's still managed to generate a £98.9m (US$125m) sale total after premium with 23 out of 25 lots sold, bringing some confidence back in the market despite the disappointing sale total pulled off by Christie's last night.

Top three lots

Claude Monet (1840 - 1926). Nymphéas.

Lot no.: 10
Created in: 1908
Size: 92 x 89cm

  • Galería Müller, Buenos Aires
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1932)
  • Thence by descent to the present owners

Estimate: £25,000,000 - 35,000,000
Hammer price: £21,000,000 
Price realised: £23,731,624

Amedeo Modigliani (1884 - 1920). Jeune homme assis, les mains croisées sur les genoux.

Lot no.: 8
Created in: 1918
Size: 92 x 60cm

  • Léopold Zborowski, Paris
  • Private Collection (acquired from the above in 1927)
  • Thence by descent to the present owners

Estimate: £16,000,000 - 24,000,000
Hammer price: £16,000,000
Price realised: £18,422,000

Joan Miró (1893 - 1983). Peinture (L’Air).

Lot no.: 16
Created in: 1938
Size: 55 x 46cm

  • E. Tériade (Stratis Eleftheriades), Paris (acquired by 1961)
  • Galerie Berggruen, Paris
  • Acquavella Galleries, Inc., New York
  • Private Collection, USA (acquired from the above. Sold: Christie’s, New York, 3rd November 2010, lot 25)
  • Purchased at the above sale by the present owner
  • Estimate: £10,000,000 - 15,000,000

Hammer price: £10,500,000
Price realised: £12,000,000

Auction summary

Auction house: Sotheby's London
Sale: Impressionist and Modern Art Evening Sale
Date: 19 June 2019
Lots offered: 25
Sold: 23
Unsold: 2
Sale by lots: 92%
Sale total: £98,875,924