Follow Mint Lounge

Latest Issue

Home > Fashion> Trends > What's driving so many multimillion-dollar auctions? 

What's driving so many multimillion-dollar auctions?

The 10 biggest sales of November auctions at Christie's and Sotheby’s add up to $606 million

A staff member holds a historically valuable sapphire and diamond brooch and a pair of ear clips during a preview at Sotheby's, before their auction sale in Geneva, Switzerland, on 2 November.
A staff member holds a historically valuable sapphire and diamond brooch and a pair of ear clips during a preview at Sotheby's, before their auction sale in Geneva, Switzerland, on 2 November. (REUTERS)

An auction house specialist’s job is to smile during auctions—at colleagues, at clients in the room, and at no one in particular while standing at a phone bank, waiting for bids, but during this November’s megasales in New York, the grins seemed more genuine than usual.

And no wonder. At Christie’s, a solid, 100%-sold 21st century evening sale was followed two days later by an almost unbelievably successful, single-owner auction of impressionist works from the estate of the late oil baron Edwin Cox.

Also read: Marie Antoinette's diamond bracelets fetch $8 million at auction

A landscape by Vincent van Gogh from Cox’s estate sold for $71.4 million, nearly double its unofficial estimate. A painting by the artist of a flaxen-haired young man was estimated to sell for $7 million at most; with premium, its total ended up being $46.7 million. “We knew it was a great collection and that it would be a success,” says Guillaume Cerutti, Christie’s chief executive officer. “The magnitude of the success, the extraordinary moments during the auction with bidding for the van Gogh, and even the lower value works— that was a little unexpected.”

All told, the six live auctions and one online sale Christie’s held during its 20th century and 21st century week totaled about $1.1 billion. 

Then it was Sotheby’s turn. Last week, it held its own single-owner sale consisting of 35 artworks owned by real estate developer Harry Macklowe and his ex-wife Linda, which hurtled past its high estimate, totaling a stunning $676 million. 

“We’ve been lucky this week in the sense that with the restrictions from Europe lifted, we’ve had a lot of European collectors and people from the community in New York, and that’s been a big benefit,” says Sotheby’s CEO Charles Stewart. “We’ve had participants from around 40 countries in our sales this week.” 

But it does seem, Cerutti says, that American collectors dominated the auctions more than they have in years.

“Across the sales for the week, basically, the ratio of buyers and bidders was roughly: America, 50%; Asia, 20%; and Europe and the Middle East, 30%,” he says. This can be contrasted to the major spring auctions, where “Asian bidding and buying was more pronounced,” he says.

Cerutti cautions against reading too much into it, though. Instead of Asian enthusiasm declining, he suggests, it might be that American bidders simply became more aggressive. “We had clients back in the room and very well-attended viewings,” he says. “And therefore you had de facto more American clients interested in engaging in the sales.”

The work those clients were interested in, particularly at the very highest end, resembled, with uncanny accuracy, many of the top works collectors were buying five years ago. And indeed, for all the talk of NFTs and of greater attention being paid to women and non-White artists, the highest peak of the art market is pretty much the same as it ever was.

And so, should onlookers also infer that we're back to the old normal, where billions of dollars worth of art sell in just a few weeks? That, Cerutti says, has a lot to do with supply.

“Sometimes you can have a very strong market in terms of demand, but the supply, circumstantially, is less impressive,” he says. “And that discrepancy doesn’t mean there's a crisis, it just means that you need supply and demand to be aligned.”

This year, he says, “all the stars were aligned. The supply was fantastic, and the demand was still very strong. Those two ingredients together led to success.”

For the 10 most successful lots in New York’s marquee November art sales, look below.

Mark Rothko’s No. 7, from 1951, sold for $82.5 million

Sold at Sotheby’s

Alberto Giacometti’s Le Nez, cast in 1965, sold for $78.4 million

Sold at Sotheby’s

Vincent van Gogh’s Cabanes de Bois Parmi les Oliviers et Cyprès, from 1889, sold for $71.4 million

Sold at Christie's

Jackson Pollock’s Number 17, 1951, from 1951, sold for $61.2 million

Sold at Sotheby’s 

Cy Twombly’s Untitled, from 2007, sold for $58.9 million

Sold at Sotheby’s

Paul Cézanne’s L’Estaque aux Toits Rouges, from 1883-1885, sold for $55.3 million

Sold at Christie's

Gustave Caillebotte’s Jeune Homme à sa Fenêtre, from 1876, sold for $53 million

Sold at Christie's

Claude Monet’s Coin du Bassin aux Nymphéas, from 1918, sold for $50.8 million

Sold at Sotheby’s

Andy Warhol’s Nine Marilyns, from 1962, sold for $47.4 million

Sold at Sotheby’s

Vincent van Gogh’s Jeune Homme au Bleuet, from 1890, sold for $46.7 million

Sold at Christie's

Also read: New York's November auctions mark a return to billionaire-level art prices


Next Story