Making A Case for Impressionist and Modern Art At Auction In Asia

Portrait of Elaine Holt, Christie’s Vice President, Director of Impressionist and Modern Art for Asia. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’), 1955, oil on canvas, 114 x 146.4 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché, 1917–18, oil on canvas, 59.9 x 92 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.
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CoBo Social Market News Reports

Sparked by an insightful Christie’s lecture on the Impressionist and Modern art market, CoBo Social Managing Editor Denise Tsui spoke to Elaine Holt, Christie’s Vice President, Director of Impressionist and Modern Art for Asia, on why this evergreen category has a growing place in the Asia market.

 

TEXT: Denise Tsui
IMAGES: Courtesy of Christie’s

Traditionally a category that brought top-prized works to the auction block, the Impressionist and Modern Art (Imp-Mod) sector held one of the largest share values in the global auction market prior to the 2000s. As attention turned towards the rapid expansion of Post-war and Contemporary Art sales, Imp-Mod’s piece of the share value pie declined.

Over the past two decades, the Imp-Mod category has been on a rollercoaster ride of ups and downs. According to The Art Market 2020 report presented by Art Basel and UBS, in 2019, Impressionism and Post-Impressionism accounted for just 15% of the total share value and 14% of the total number of lots sold across all categories globally.

With that said, a case can still be made for the importance of Imp-Mod; on the one hand as a chapter of art history that arguably every aficionado should know, and on the other, as highly regarded works of art that can add value to an art collection. Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modern works of art have an evergreen attitude. While Post-war and Contemporary Art more often sees trending artists come and go, with just a handful that can hold firm to their spots on the top-selling ladder, the most favourable artists of the Imp-Mod category keep their trophy places. Demand is steady, but supply is limited, if not scarce at times.

“It is true that art is like fashion and every now and then one genre may gain popularity enough to impact demand and price,” says Elaine Holt, Christie’s Vice President, Director of Impressionist and Modern Art for Asia. “But genre along is never the overriding arbiter of value.”

 

Portrait of Elaine Holt, Christie’s Vice President, Director of Impressionist and Modern Art for Asia. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Holt reminds us that second to Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvatore Mundi (c. 1500), which still stands as the most expensive painting sold at auction, is Picasso’s 1955 painting Les femmes d’Alger (version ‘O’) sold by Christie’s in 2015. Third and fourth rungs of the top 10 ladder also fall to Imp-Mod artworks, respectively, two Amedeo Modigliani nudes, Nu couché  (1917-18) sold by Christie’s in 2015, and Nu couché (sur le côté gauche), also painted in 1917, sold by Sotheby’s in 2018.

Price determination, according to Holt, comes down to various elements, from beauty and rarity, the artist, an artwork’s condition and provenance, to size, subject matter and more. “Impressionist and Modern [art] has enjoyed a very long reign of popularity which I believe will continue, as many works of this genre possesses the[se] elements…plus an important one: production has long since stopped,” says Holt.

In Asia, a region that has for more than a decade, experienced fluctuating places with the UK in its wrestle for second place in the global art market, Imp-Mod works are lesser raved about but there is a growing buyer interest as collectors become more cultivated, informed and ambitious. “Asians are seasoned collectors of both Asian and Western works, and within this group, many have cultivated major Impressionist and Modern collections,” says Holt. “In Christie’s quest to promote Impressionist and Modern art around the world, we often bring important works to exhibit in the many cities of Asia, and these works are frequently snapped up by Asian collectors when they come up for sale in New York, London, Paris, and of course, Hong Kong and Shanghai.”

 

Pablo Picasso, Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’), 1955, oil on canvas, 114 x 146.4 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Amedeo Modigliani, Nu couché, 1917–18, oil on canvas, 59.9 x 92 cm. Image courtesy of Christie’s.

 

Data shared in the Christie’s lecture “Navigating the Impressionist and Modern Art Market,” as part of their seasonal programming and presented again in the recent Summer Learning programme of Christie’s Education, indicated that between 2008 and 2017, Christie’s noted a remarkable increase of Asian buyers across global sales. From a mere 12% in 2008, the percentage of Asian buyers measured against clients in the US and Europe has grown to hold a steady pace between 28% and 31% since 2014. Meanwhile, between 2014 and 2019, the auction house saw a 35% increase in Asian registrants and a 29% increase in Asian buyers globally across Christie’s sales.

The lecture further highlighted the November 2017 Christie’s Hong Kong sale Dear Monsieur Monet as evidence of growing buyer interest in the region. As the first dedicated sale of Impressionism in Asia, the 54-lot sale had a 100% sold out rate, achieving HK$85,460,000 (US$10,993,982) with a reported 75% of lots going to Asian buyers. The sale was led by Claude Monet’s 1884 oil painting Falaises des Petites-Dalles which realised HK$36,100,000 (US$4,644,076) and featured works on paper, from watercolours to pencil drawings, pastel works and more by Monet, Auguste Rodin, Édouard Manet, Paul Signac and others.

“Impressionism is itself a wide category, and spans a full spectrum of artists, subject matter and price points,” says Holt. “A lot of people think an Impressionist and Modern work means a wall-size Nymphéas that could cost a small private jet. It is actually a lot more buyer-friendly than that and spams a wide scope of price points. Oils are not the only option. Works on paper is an attractive choice. Many works of art in ceramics or bronze are also accessible.”

Asked what advice she would give to a client eager to enter the Impressionist and Modern market, Holt replies, “If you are buying for investment, work with a trusted, knowledgeable specialist who could guide you and advise you on condition, especially if the work is historic. Art is an interesting commodity because it involves emotion, and most collectors would only buy works they like.”

“Value in art takes time to grow, so do not expect to ‘flip’ and get a quick return. This is actually not so bad, as you could take the time to enjoy the work for yourself!”

 

 

 
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