Is Christie’s Abandoning the Impressionism and Modern Art Market?

Pablo Picasso, Femmes d'Alger, Christie's, art, modern art, fine art
Pablo Picasso Femmes d’Alger (1955) will be offered at Christie’s on May 11 with an estimate of $140 million.

When Christie’s puts Pablo Picasso‘s storied 1955 painting Les Femmes d’Alger (Version “O”) on the auction block with an estimate of $140 million next week, it may make history in more ways than one.

With that canvas, the auction house aims to set an auction record not only for the artist (Picasso’s high stands at $106.5 million, set at Christie’s in May 2010 with the painting Nude, Green Leaves and Bust), but also for any work of art at auction. That high water mark stands at $142 million for a triptych, Three Studies of Lucian Freud, by Francis Bacon, sold at Christie’s in 2013.

“It’s one of the great Picassos, period,” Derek Gillman, the new chairman of Christie’s Impressionist and modern art department, told ABC Australia, “and it’s one of the last great Picassos that has been in private hands.”

But while Picasso is a modern icon, this masterpiece is being offered not in the May 13 Impressionist and modern art evening sale, but rather on May 11, as part of a “curated” event the house is calling “Looking Forward to the Past.” Titled like a James Bond film, the sale will offer “a distinct and dynamic perspective on some of the greatest and most revolutionary artists of the 20th century,” Christie’s touts on its website—purportedly by showing how the artists looked to art history for inspiration.

The sale will also include a sculpture by Alberto Giacometti tagged in the highly elevated region of $130 million, which could set a record for a sculpture at auction (see $140 Million Picasso at Christie’s Is World’s Most Expensive Painting at Auction and Giacometti Bronze Set to Become the World’s Most Expensive Sculpture at Christie’s May Auction).

Getting the works for the auction has been a team effort, according to the house, but it’s billed as being conceptualized by postwar and contemporary art specialist Loic Gouzer, who has fronted headline-grabbing sales before, notably a May 2014 sale that set a dozen artist records (see Christie’s New Contemporary Sale a $135 Million Thumping Success). That blockbuster followed a 2013 sale he organized with Leonardo DiCaprio that benefited the movie star’s foundation, which aims to support efforts of environmental preservation. That sale set 13 artist records.

After all the very best modern works have been sold off and the buzz from the 20th-century auction dies down, the Impressionist and modern art sale will quietly kick off. The sale’s low total—it’s expected to bring in just $160 million—raises the question, is that sale getting phased out? And if so, what will move into its place?

The house has been making other surprising moves lately. For one, it recently shook up its calendar. While the houses have for many years held their Impressionist and modern sales in the first week of May, Christie’s moved this month’s sale to the following Thursday, without so much as announcing this seismic shift with a press release (see Why Is Christie’s Shaking Up Its Spring Auction Schedule?).

 

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