Sotheby’s London Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening Sale on February 4th 2020 counted the smallest number of lots consigned since 2009 and achieved a total Hammer Price (HP) of £41.9m, also the lowest total Hammer Price since 2009.
Already ahead of the sales, there were signs that this was going to be a challenging sale for Sotheby's as the number of catalogued artworks for the London Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening sale was limited to 33. This usually is a sign that sellers are hesitant to consign their artworks at the particular sale. When the market is at its top, as in 2014, many art collectors see the potential to sell some of their artworks. Indeed there were 90 artworks catalogued at the Sotheby's 2014 London Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening sale.
On the contrary, when the market is uncertain, as in 2009, art collectors tend to wait and see. This year definitely looked more like 2009 than 2014.
In addition to the smaller offering, Sotheby's selection of artworks consigned at this year's auction was missing some key artists names, Notably and in contrast to most of previous years, Sotheby's did not offer any artworks by Pablo Picasso nor Claude Monet. Again, only in 2009 and 2010 - the years considered as the worse years of the fine art market in the past 14 years - can we observe a similar situation.
While sellers were hesitant to consign, buyers also did not show great appetite to buy at the Sotheby's London Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening sale. As a result the total Hammer Price (HP) shown in gold on the graph below ended up at the level of the Total Low Estimate (LE) represented below as a gray line. This was in great contrast to the years 2017, 2018 and even 2019 when buyers' appetite lead to final total HP always way above the initial estimates.
A detailed analysis of the extraordinary results of the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Sotheby's London Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening sales shows that artworks with irrevocable Bids contributed significantly to the overall performance of sales. In 2018 and 2019, artworks with irrevocable Bids (IRB) even contributed to more than 50% of the total Hammer Prices.
This year, however, despite being the year with the largest number of Irrevocable Bids at the Sotheby's London Impressionist, Modern & Surrealist Art Evening sale, the Total Hammer Price obtained by artworks with irrevocable Bids did not help with the final results.
Is the magic of Irrevocable Bids gone?