A Superstar: Top Auction Record breaker for American Artists

“I wanted to be a Star not a Gallery Mascot”

Jean-Michel Basquiat

You might ask yourself what all the fuss is about? The artist had an incredibly short career, was a self-taught artist who started with graffiti art, tagging trains and buildings on the streets of Manhattan under the pseudonym of SAMO. However, this young African American from Brookyln, from the age of 20 started to create a completely new language in art and quickly was lauded for regenerating the 1980s art scene in New York. Famous for elevating graffiti art, he is also revered for being a multi-talented genius as an artist, poet, musician and DJ.

His highly distinctive artworks, often using striking block colour contrasts, unusually distorted flat figures, are littered with scribbled text and symbols, that are powerful messages referencing his heritage, religion, pop culture but also troubling dichotomies in society, such as the shocking imbalance between rich and poor and between people of different race. His works go beyond opportunistic statements or personal history and speak of universal truths.

For any viewer ready for the challenge of Basquiat’s unique visual language, get ready for endless esoteric interpretation and fascination, as well as the physical raw energy and power of his imagery. Often imbued with spirituality, one needs to dig deep to understand the artworks, they are not just politically charged as they raise timeless philosophical questions.

Basquiat achieved his goal and quickly shot to Stardom.

There was plenty of glamour as he hung out with other celebrities in the arts such as Blondie, Warhol and Keith Haring. Basquiat is famous for his artistic collaborations with other greats such as Warhol.  

Within a 7 year period of artistic fame Basquiat’s life tragically ended, with the curse of aged 27, as many other young talents suffered the same fate, drugs and fame took its hold and he died of a drug overdose.

But he is not famous for being famous, or famous for dying young, this Artist has entered the ranks of true talent and is a heavyweight when it comes to the value of Contemporary Art as demonstrated by the extremely high prices his artworks command today.

His art has consistently climbed in value over the last 6 years. 11 of his artworks have exceeded 20 million dollars in recent auctions and his artworks have steadily advanced to the very top of the auction prices at the Contemporary Art sales.

Very few (about 10 artists) have ever managed to break the $100,000,000 million dollar price level for auction sales and Basquiat has done it.

With one painting Untitled (1982) selling for $110.5 million dollars in a Sotheby’s auction sale in 2017, this was the 6th most expensive painting to be sold at auction. Basquiat had also set an auction world record as the highest amount ever paid for an American Artist.

He is now as important as artists such as Warhol, Picasso and Francis Bacon when it comes to the most exceptionally desired and highly prized artworks for top end collectors.

So when the Barbican Art Gallery in the UK decided to hold their first retrospective of the Artist’s works, called Basquiat Boom For Real (an exhibition that has recently closed in London on 27th January 2018) it is perhaps unsurprising the Gallery achieved their best ever attended exhibition in the history of the Gallery; with over 200,000 visitors, a sell-out show, with late viewings to accommodate the high demand and nearly complete sell out of all merchandise and books.

With over 100 paintings and drawings on display, as well as archival material and rare film and photography, it was the first major exhibition of Basquiat’s works in the UK for over 20 years.

Blockbuster exhibitions like this make our Galleries and Museums great. The phenomenal work it takes to pull together many works from international collectors, galleries and museums cannot be overstated. These exhibitions take several years to plan and organise and that is why they become more than just an exhibition but a once in a lifetime event for hundreds of thousands of people to enjoy.

If you missed the Barbican exhibition, the good news is you can still see it in Frankfurt as it opens on 16th February 2018 at the Schirn Kunsthalle. However, book early as its likely to be a sell out show there too.

If you would like to have a free consultation from our arts consultancy on buying art, please contact me at jessica@vitrivianartsconsultancy.com. We advise clients on buying artworks at all pricing levels, from affordable art under £5000 to high value art.

A night of record breakers at Sotheby’s

Following on from a very strong Impressionist and Modern Art evening sale at Christie’s on 28th February, last night on (1st March 2017) the evening Sale at Sotheby’s for Impressionist & Modern Art was the one to watch.

It was a master-class in how an auction house is rising to the challenge and meeting the art market’s rampant demand for major blue-chip works.

Helena Newman the auctioneer for the evening, also the Global co-head of Sotheby’s Impressionist & Modern Art department and Chairman of Sotheby’s Europe deftly moved the bidders along, as for nearly each of the artworks up for sale there were several bidders actively competing for the works.

The highlight work for this season of sales, was the Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt’s landscape painting called ‘Bauerngarten’ (Flower Garden), I mentioned in my article see here.

As the most important work by Klimt, to come to public auction, it did not disappoint and broke auction records.

This exceptional oil on canvas painting depicting an “informal profusion of poppies, daisies and roses” has become the third most expensive artwork ever sold in Europe, after fetching a record price of £47,971,250 ($59,321,248).

This painting follows Alberto Giacometti’s ‘Walking Man’ (£65,001,250 in 2010) and Peter Paul Rubens’ ‘The Massacre Of The Innocents’ (£49,506,648 in 2002) in the list of the top three most expensive works sold in Europe.

The line up of stellar artworks continued with some fantastic works by Pablo Picasso.

Another world record was broken as fierce bidding took place for Picasso’s ‘Plant de tomates’, which quickly rose above the estimate of between £10 Million to £15 million and surpassed expectations when it sold for £17 million, becoming a record still-life sale for this Artist’s work.

Eight works by Picasso reached a combined total of £54.7 million, with three works selling over £10 million.

This is an indication of the import of the works in this sale as these were high value works by this exceedingly popular Master.

Other high points in sale for me, was watching the bidding for Amedeo Modigliani’s Portrait of Baranowski, this work sold for £16,021,250.

Also Paul Gauguin’s very beautiful ‘Te Arii Vahine – La Femme aux mangos’ (The Woman With the Mangoes) sold at £8,371,250 within the estimate of £7 million to £10 million.

Sotheby’s had an exceptional night and broke their own sales performance records by making £194.8 million in sales ($240.8 million).

As I mentioned yesterday, for anyone who has doubts about the art market, if these last two important sales of this season are anything to go by, the London art trade and market as a whole is thriving.

Whilst the Impressionist and Modern sales continue over the next few days, the market will now look ahead to The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht, the world’s leading fair for antique and modern artworks.

We will now all look forward to seeing how the rest of the trade – the galleries and dealers perform.  At the symposium at TEFAF, the Fair will reveal its annual market report and its predictions of market-trends which is hugely informative data for the art market. We will bring you more information about this in due course.

At Vitruvian Arts Consultancy Ltd our independent art advisers have expertise across specific artistic fields and can help clients determine whether to buy or sell art through auction, private treaty or privately. For more details about our services visit www.vitruvianartsconsultancy.com.

For my review of the extremely impressive Christie’s Impressionist and Modern Art Sale on 28th March see here.


One of the best Klimt landscape paintings hits the auction block tonight

Following on from an extremely impressive first evening of the Impressionist and Modern Art Sales last night (28th February 2017) at Christie’s (to read my article about this sale – click here) now all eyes are on an extremely important work by world renowned Austrian painter, Gustav Klimt.

The work in question is an elegant and picturesque garden scene entitled ‘Bauerngarten’ which, according to Sotheby’s is one of the most important works by Klimt to come to public auction. Most of Klimt’s works are in museum collections and have remained in museum collections.

This work was painted during Klimt’s best artistic periods (the same time as his masterpiece Portrait of Adele Bloch-BauerI), its quality is extraordinary and therefore there is little surprise that this work has a pre-sale estimate price tag of $45 million.

In an article on the sale of this piece, Artnet sighted Sotheby’s Helena Newman’s praise of the work, where she attests the work is… “innovative in its composition and jewel-like in its exquisite blaze of colors, it is one of the artist’s greatest masterpieces ever to come to auction. Most of the artist’s oil paintings of this calibre are in major museums around the world with only a handful works of this importance having appeared at auction in the last decade.”

The work displays a rich tapestry of flowers, draped across the centre field of the painting like a stunning cloak that could be worn. The work is incredibly delicately painted and, despite not including any of Klimt’s iconic figures, remains totally captivating. Bright colours painted in a combination of short dashes and more solid looking circles seem to almost dance across the surface of this energetic canvas.

Certainly, all eyes will be fixed on the sale of this masterpiece when it eventually goes under the hammer at Sotheby’s evening auction on 1st March 2017.

Sotheby’s auction tonight promises to be exciting as a smaller selection of high quality works are likely to draw in the bidders.

What we are seeing is a consistent demand for very good quality artworks by the world’s most recognised artists and the auction houses are meeting this demand.

At Vitruvian Arts Consultancy, we help clients buy and sell art privately, through private treaty and through auction. We work with specialist art consultants with expertise in specific art fields and provide independent advice and assistance for buying art and selling art.

We can help facilitate and manage an entire sales process. We help collectors build art collections and provide training and support for budding collectors. We are transparent in our fee structures and have a protocol and service for our clients to ensure professional due diligence pre-sales, through the art due diligence group www.artduediligencegroup.com. For more information about our services click here.  For a free consultation please call us on +44 (0) 207 084 6312.

Blue-chip works dominate a cracking sale that has kicked-off the Impressionist and Modern Art Sales season in London 2017

Christie’s London successfully kicked of this season’s Impressionist and Modern Art sales at 7pm last night (28th February 2017) by offering exceptional quality artworks by Gauguin, Picasso, Rodin and Renoir, setting the tone and bar for this week’s series of sales.

With a sale total that evening of £94,306,000 including the buyer’s premium, this was an exciting sale with the mood of the room being one of keen interest and participation by a number of different competing bidders.

The 51 lot sale consisted of works largely of artworks from the ‘Personal collection of Barbara Lambrecht’ and ‘Le Corbusier: Important works from the Heidi Weber Museum’.

The sale of Lambrecht’s personal collection was to raise proceeds to benefit a highly prestigious artists’ prize, called the Rubens Prize in the Museum of Contemporary Art Siegen of which Mrs. Lambrecht was a leading patron.

Mrs Lambrecht, a philanthropist and patron of the arts, had collected works across the major Impressionist period and also there were some extraordinary quality modern works. Defining features were the classic Impressionist periods and strong daring Fauvist works. Lambrecht’s eye and taste made this a truly special sale.

All of the works in the sale were highly attractive pieces. She had collected mostly the best periods in each of the artists’ oeuvres, so the works were extremely interesting from an art historical point of view. Consequently, there was a lot of interest in this sale and a high demand for the works, as throughout the evening there were often several bidders competing for these blue-chip works.

The highlights in the evening sale for me were as follows:

Picasso’s ‘Joueur de Flûte et Femme Nue’. The estimate was £6,500,000-£8,500,000. This sensual work, characteristic of his late work, infused with eroticism, is of a female nude being serenaded by a bearded flute-player. It was painted in 1970 and depicts Picasso’s great love Jacqueline Roque, his wife and the last of his muses. She was first seen in his work in 1954. The price realised was £4,645,000.

‘Canotage à Bougival’ by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, is a beautiful landscape scene, depicting a lady in a boat and farm house in the distance.

It is thought that this painting was painted in the spring of 1881 after Renoir returned from his first trip overseas. He had travelled to Algeria and it was during his travels the artist turned his focus completely to the genre of landscape painting. After his return to France, the transition was marked and he continued to paint landscapes in the plein-air style that had come to define Impressionist works. This work has a significant provenance, as it was acquired in the 1920 by Dr Albert C Barnes, one of the most important collectors of 20th century art. The price realised was £4,197,000.

‘Le Baiser’ ( The Kiss), perhaps one of the most iconic works by Auguste Rodin, as two young lovers kiss in a sensual embrace, had an estimate of £4 million – £6 million but failed to meet it’s reserve.

‘Jeune fille aux anémones sur fond violet’ (1944), is a wonderfully vibrant Matisse portrait of Annelies Nelck (a young artist), set against a violet background, the foreground dominated by stunning arrays of anemones flowers, and that was a hot sale item. This is one of three portraits of this lady and the other two reside in museum collections.

The estimate was £5 million – £7 million and the work sold for £8,453,000 (the second highest price for a work the night).

The jewel of the night was Paul Gauguin ‘Te Fare’ (La Maison) painted in 1892. According to Christie’s it is one of the most richly coloured of his Tahitian landscapes and was painted on the artist’s first trip to the island, a year in which he produced some of his greatest masterpieces.

‘It is really life in the open – an intimate life all the same, among the thickets and the shaded brooks; these women whispering in an immense palace which Nature herself has decorated with all the riches that Tahiti holds. Hence the fabulous colours, this fery, yet soft and muted air.’ – Paul Gauguin

The colour in this work is breathtaking, as a rich luminescent lime green landscape populated with three small Tahitian female figures, draws you towards a wooden hut that is thought to have been the home Gauguin rented in Mataiea.

There was strong demand for this work and it quickly reached the upper estimate selling of £18 million and realised £20,325,000, achieving the highest lot price for the night.

Throughout the evening the auctioneer expertly guided the bidders along reaching excellent results for star pieces in the sale.

Other significant works in the sale were two works by Claude Monet, a portrait by Paul Cézanne and two works by Berthe Morisot, Fauvist artists Kees van Dongen and Raoul Duffy and works by Egon Schiele and Henry Moore and Giocometti.

The three Le Corbusier works offered by the Heider Weber Museum Collection were very quickly snapped up, one work achieving just under £3 million and the other two works realised figures above £3 million, all three surpassing their high estimates.

After a short break the auction sale resumed with the surrealist sale including some fine works by René Magritte, Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Joan Miró, Jean (Hans) Arp, Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, Francis Picabia and Paul Delvaux. Again very good results were gained with a sale total of £43,415,250 including buyer’s premium.

The star piece was René Magritte’s La Corde sensible, painted in 1960, which sold for £14,441,348.  According to Christie’s this almost doubled the previous world auction record for the artist set in February 2014 and also a second work by Magritte in the sale called ‘La domain d’Arnheim, also easily overtook the artist’s previous auction record and sold for £10,245,000.

Brexit or no Brexit – if tonight’s sale is anything to go by – one of London’s top auction houses demonstrated the art market is buoyant, as  collectors and dealers snapped up the works and very few works went “passed” – not reaching reserves and most of the artworks met or exceeded the estimates.

This proved to be an exciting and very interesting first night that has set the mood for the next big Impressionist and Modern painting sale at Sotheby’s tonight (on 1st March) in London.

At Vitruvian Arts Consultancy Ltd, our specialist art consultants provide independent advice on buying and selling high value art. We also assist clients with private sales, sales by private treaty and sales in auction. For more details please visit our services page here.

Will Romania’s National Treasure “The Wisdom of Earth” by Constantin Brancusi be lost in election politics?

What started as an exciting cultural campaign to save a stunning early sculpture by Constantin Brancusi (one of the most important sculptors of the 20th Century) has turned into a political fiasco.

“Cumintenia Pamantului” or “The Wisdom of Earth” depicts a female nude, made in limestone and is typical of the sculptor’s timeless style. Drawing on the mythical, the relationship between heaven and earth and the ancient, the work strongly resembles primitive art, in particular the ancient heritage of Romania – see The Thinker and the Sitting Woman that were found in Romania and are around 7,000 years old from the Hamangia culture.

(The Thinker of Cernavoda and the Sitting Woman, 5,000 BCE Terracotta Sculpture, National Museum of Romania.) 

This artwork’s provenance has not been without controversy. The piece was originally bought by a friend of Brancusi, Gheorghe Romascu, who purchased it in 1911 from the artist. Then in 1957 the artwork was seized by the Communist government and it took an extremely long legal case, for the work to restored to Romascu’s heirs in 2012.

The desire to keep the cultural treasure within Romania is marked by the fact that very few works by Brancusi are in Romania, as the sculptor left to live in Paris when he was 28 years old.

The Government keen to secure the work, were faced with having to raise €11 million to buy the artwork from the Romascu family heirs to try to keep it in Romania. Unable to purchase the work outright with public funds, the government proposed to contribute €5 Million to the purchase and through a fundraising campaign called “Brancusi is mine” they hoped to raise the rest of the funds from voluntary donations from individuals and companies.

A deadline was set for September 2016, but the amount raised from the public fell woefully short, amounting to just over €1 million.

In October, the Government still keen to secure the work passed an emergency ordinance to purchase the work and to look for a financial mechanism to cover the shortfall. The Government then looked to Parliament to approve the acquisition but this approval was not given.

According to the Romania Insider in the lead up to the Presidential elections, the issue of the public fundraising campaign and the government pledge to bridge the gap from the budget had received virulent public criticism. It further became a battleground for criticism and reprisals as the former Romanian PM Dacian Ciolos now faces a complaint filed at the National Anticorruption Directorate by PRU leaders. Ciolos is accused of an abuse of power and deceit for the way in which his cabinet handled the public fundraising campaign. The claim is that the price the government agreed to pay far exceeded its value. PRU president Bogdan Diconu further said “The Ciolos Government has spent €11 million from the Romanians’ money for a work of art that was part of the national heritage anyway, and couldn’t have been taken out of the country.”

A law was passed that stated if the Romanian state did not acquire the sculpture until 21st October, those who had donated money could ask for their money back.

After a meeting with the new Government to understand whether the Ministry of Culture still wanted to purchase the work, according to the Romania Insider, it now seems the sculpture’s owners may now decide to sell the artwork in auction.

This artwork has had quite a journey and it will be interesting to see whether it does come up in auction and what price is realised for this masterpiece. Watch this space.