Artprice Index | July 2013
A monthly report on the art market
Financial Times, 25 July 2013

Specialist territory attracts wider interest

The imposing image of “Saint Dominic in Prayer” – last exhibited over 75 years ago – took bidders by storm at a Sotheby’s auction of Old Masters this month.

One of two paintings on offer by El Greco, it achieved an unprecedented £9.15m, almost double its high end estimate and a world record for the artist.

Seven further records were broken on the same evening including the highest ever price for a female Old Master, with the sale of Rachel Ruysch’s “Still Life Of Roses” for £1.65m.

“Generally the market is performing extremely well,” says Helena Newman, Sotheby’s chairman of Sotheby’s European impressionist and modern art department.

“What’s interesting to note is strong bidding on works on paper,” she added, referring to both drawings and watercolours.

Previously the domain of specialist collectors, interest in the category is now much broader. “The geographical base of buyers has expanded,” says Newman, who thinks an improved understanding of how to preserve the works has given buyers greater confidence. Raphael’s black chalk drawing, “Head of a Young Apostle” sold late last year for a shade under £30m.

It is not the only category usually considered the realm of specialists which is attracting interest from a wider range of customers. A New York sale earlier this month included a selection of antique rugs which also defied expectations.

One Iranian carpet that had lain in the apartment of a New York politician for years – now visibly worse for wear – stormed past its high end guide of $1.2m. The hammer finally came down at $4.65m.

Soon afterwards the star lot, another piece from 17th century Persia, broke all records for a rug from the Middle East. A protracted auction saw four bidders fight for the carpet, estimated to attract up to $7m, with the final bid reaching $33.76m.

Art-JulySales of contemporary art in London at the end of June did not prove quite so dazzling. Around a fifth of the lots at a Christie’s auction went unsold, with some commentators suggesting that more obscure artwork made for a riskier investment in times of recession.

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s 1982 painting “Untitled” – in his trademark scribbled, colourful, style – was the most successful lot, fetching £18.76m. “Cup of Coffee”, a 1961 piece by Roy Lichtenstein that is not immediately reminiscent of his iconic Pop Art images, achieved a healthy £2.8m nonetheless.

A similar proportion of work failed to sell at Sotheby’s rival sale. The evening’s centrepiece, Francis Bacon’s “Three Studies of Isabel Rawsthorne” from 1966, only just beat its low end guide of £10m.

The Artprice Global Index fell to 72.62 this month, reflecting a lower volume of total sales. Martin Bremond, head economist at Artprice, thinks the drop is the result of less inventory being released to the market at this time of year. “During the summer, prices tend to fall due to the lack of good auction material,” he says.