Christie’s, an art auction house, a name that speaks of fine art, unparalleled service and expertise, as well as international glamour. Recently, Christie’s in New York, announced its special evening sale, Looking Forward to the Past. With 35 lots offered, this tightly-curated sale offered a mix of Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary works selected for their connection to a central theme of artistic innovation inspired by the past. Loic Gouzer, International Specialist in Post-War and Contemporary Art and curator of the sale, described the concept,”The majority of 20th Century artists were influenced by their predecessors, and through an exploration of the past they were able to venture into new and exciting territory of their own. The art of now is an endorsement of the art of the past.” The sale included masterpiece works by the leading artists of the 20th century such as Pablo Picasso, Claude Monet and Alberto Giacometti.
As the cover lot of the sale was Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger, a vibrantly-hued masterpiece featuring a scantily attired woman amid smaller nudes. Women of Algiers, once owned by the American collectors Victor and Sally Ganz, was inspired by Picasso’s fascination with the 19th-century French artist Eugene Delacroix. The painting combines the elements of Cubism, Fauvism and Neo-Impressionism. Picasso painted a series of 15 variations on Delacroix’s Les femmes d’Alger between December 1954 and February 1955, starting with Version A, and reaching his artistic crescendo in the stunning, fully-realised Version O. It has appeared in several major museum exhibitions.
The Christie’s evening sale, achieved a total of $705 million, with 34 of 35 lots sold. New world auction records may have been set for 10 works of art during the sale including, Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (estimated in the region of $140 million) sold for $179 million and Giacometti’s L’homme au doigt (Pointing Man) conceived in 1947 (estimated in the region of $130 million) achieved $141 million, which may have set a new record for any sculpture sold at auction. Christie’s beat its own record for the most valuable work by Picasso ever sold at auction. The previous record for any work of art sold at auction was $142.4 million, set in 2013 for Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud. Of the 35 works offered, 2 lots sold for over $100 million, 3 for over $50 million, 9 lots for over $20 million, 12 lots for over $10 million, 12 lots over for over $10 million, and 29 lots over $1 million.
Jussi Pylkkänen, Global President and the sale’s auctioneer, stated,“Christie’s will continue in years to come to innovate more sale concepts that inspire the art collecting public. We have entered a new era of the art market where collectors from all parts of the world compete for the very best across categories, generating record prices at levels we have never seen before.” It may appear that prices are driven by artworks’ investment value and by wealthy and established collectors seeking out for the very finest works. Art may have become an easy target for the wealthy, the setback may be the economy. The availability of vast amounts of cash to spend on art in the auction market, may suggest, a symptom of widening income inequality.
However, Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary works may continue to sway the market because they may be beautiful, accessible and a proven value. Prices for works from these periods may only seem to go up each auction cycle and the reputations of the artists may further more be realised. Even so, fine art may speak to everyone.
What makes art works such as Impressionist, Modern, Post-War and Contemporary, by the leading artists a true masterpiece?