Fears of a dire crisis for the art market following the deadly terrorist attacks against the World Trade Center twin towers in New York and the Pentagon in Washington seemed to fade away between November 5th and 7th 2001 thanks to a series of record bids during the sales of the Hoener, Smooke and Gaffé collections.
There were frantic bids during the three days of sales in New York and many dealers heaved a sigh of relief after fearing that the September 11th terrorist attacks would affect the art market more seriously than the 1991 Gulf War did.
The Hoener, Smooke and Gaffé collections yielded $ 13.8 million, 86.1 million and 73.3 million respectively with 18 new price records.
Prestigious collections have always stirred the want of many buyers and these sales were no exception to the rule.
Egon Schiele's “Haus mit Trockender Wäsche” dating from 1917 went to Swiss collector Werner Merzbacher for $ 9,9 million at Phillips on November 5th but Degas' sculpture, “La Petite Danseuse de 14 ans” remained unsold at $ 6 million, well below the expected bid of $ 10 million.
On November 6th Christie's met some tremendous success with the sale of the René Gaffé collection in favour of the UNICEF organisation thanks to a series of incredible bids.
Fernand Léger's “Motor” of 1918 was knocked down at a record$ 16,7 million and Joan Miro's “Portrait of Mrs K” dated 1924 rose to a record$ 12,6 million. Another painting by Miro, “ Landscape near the Love River” dated 1927 leapt to $ 11 million while a bronze sculpture by Picasso, “Head of a woman” (Fernande) dated 1909 went for a record $ 4,9 million.
Another Picasso work, a gouache study for “Nude in a forest” (La Dryade) of 1908 sold disappointingly at $ 6,11 million while Max Ernst's “Carmagnole de l'Amour” dated 1926 fetched $ 850,000.
Hans Arp's painted relief on cardboard titled “Pablo and Francesca” (1926) climbed to a record $ 886,000 and Jean Metzinger's Cubist painting titled “Woman with a pink hat and pearl necklace” (1912) culminated at $ 580,000.
There was however a slowdown in bids once the last lot of the Gaffé collection was sold by Christie's and many works remained unsold or reached prices under their low estimates despite bearing the signatures of Degas, Monet, Renoir or Picasso. The following day, Christie's second sale of Impressionist and Modern works yielded bad results despite the $ 1,7 million bid recorded for Claude Monet's painting titled “Tempête à Belle-Île”.
Pissarro: "Rue Saint-Lazare" $ 6,6 million at Sotheby's
Meanwhile, a sale of modern works of art yielded $ 33,1 million on November 7th at Sotheby's with 65,7% of lots sold. The main surprise of that evening was a record $ 6,6 million bid fetched for Camille Pissarro's “Rue Saint-Lazare” painting of 1893.
A watercolour study of an apple by Cézanne went to Heinz Berggruen's son for
$ 400,000 and the portrait of Mrs Giulia Belli by Degas fetched $ 600,000. Overall, the market is thus apparently healthy but certain price distortions might in fact suggest some active speculation for important pieces.
These distortions can be explained by the fact that some cunning millionaires have discovered that gambling on the art market was more secure than selling or buying shares on the Dow Jones or the Nasdaq. The present moves are therefore rather based on speculation meaning that corrections may occur sooner or later.