On the first day of summer, all eyes were on Sotheby’s impressionist and modern sale in London. The sale was the talk of the town for several reasons. Firstly, it took place several days before the Brexit referendum, at a time when collectors and auction houses are worrying about the possible of the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, which could impact on the art market. During the sale, some observers had their eyes on the Pound, which dropped 0.5%. Secondly, a number of people were waiting to see if the evening sale confirmed a positive trend hinted at by nice sales at Art Basel (See Masterpieces, Up-and-coming Artists and Super Sales at Art Basel 2016).

Sotheby’s sale was carried by two market heavyweights: Modigliani and Picasso. Estimates of works by the two masters accounted for 80% of the total sale estimate.

Picasso Modigliani

Détail de “Femme Assise” de Picasso © Sotheby’s

The final results did not disappoint. The two paintings by Modigliani and Picasso offered Sotheby’s London its best sale since 2010. Picasso’s Femme assise (1909) had not been offered for sale since 1973. Back then, the work was valued at £340,000. On Tuesday, the painting sold for £43.3 million.

Modigliani’s portrait of Jeanne Hébuterne

Modigliani’s portrait of his mistress, Jeanne Hébuterne, was also popular with bidders. Like the Picasso, Modigliani’s painting had not been presented for auction for several decades and had been in the same collection since 1986. Several bidders battled it out until it finally went under the hammer at £38.5 million. Jeanne Hébuterne (au foulard) will be presented to the Tate Modern in 2017, for a retrospective of the artist’s works.

With an estimate of £2 million, a small still life by Paul Gauguin (Nature morte aux pommes) sold for £3.4 million. Giacometti’s Portrait de Diego also attracted some fierce bidding and sold for £1.3 million.

The only real disappointment of the evening was Rodin’s bronze Eve, grand modèle – version sans rocher à la base carrée, which did not reach its low estimate of £8 million.

While Modigliani and Picasso continue to soar, it should be noted that the overall sale total of £103 million was down on last year’s result. It would appear that while exceptional paintings continue to stir collector’s passions, the rest of the market is still struggling.

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