Art auctioneers see strong 2012 start, Miro in focus

Mon Jan 16, 2012 8:26am EST

* Auction houses eye strong start to 2012

* Joan Miro works in limelight

* Sellers bank on art boom continuing

By Mike Collett-White

LONDON, Jan 16 (Reuters) - Art market confidence shows few signs of flagging despite broader economic concerns, with both Christie's and Sotheby's predicting big sales in London next month.

Christie's, the world's largest auctioneer, is expecting to sell art worth 86.2-127.1 million pounds ($132-195 million) at its impressionist, modern and surrealist evening sales on Feb. 7.

That compares with estimates of 73.8-109 million before the corresponding auctions in 2011 and a final tally of 85.3 million, which included the buyer's premium.

At Sotheby's the picture is similar, with their main evening auction on Feb. 8 expected to raise more than 78 million pounds and comfortably exceed last year's sale total of 68.8 million.

As in 2011, the stress was on works that rarely, if ever, come to market or are of high enough quality to hang in major museums.

While concerns remain about prices of lesser works, the top end of the art market has been remarkably resilient despite the euro crisis and slowing economic growth, boosted by new super-wealthy buyers from China.

"Many of the works are appearing at auction for the first time or returning to the market after many decades in private collections," said Helena Newman, chairman of the Sotheby's impressionist and modern art department in Europe.

The highlight of the auctioneer's sale is expected to be Joan Miro's "Peinture" of 1933, which is expected to fetch 7-10 million pounds.

If the buyer's premium is added on, the work could come close to setting a new auction record for the artist which stands at $17.1 million at Christie's in New York in May, 2008.

Peinture is one of a series by Miro which the Spanish artist saw as a personal breakthrough, and referred to them in a latter to Matisse as "a red letter day in my career".

Also among the highlights of the sale is Gustav Klimt's recently rediscovered landscape "Seeufer mit Birken" painted in 1901 and not seen in public for more than a century. It is valued at 6-8 million pounds.

At Christie's, the top lot is set to be Juan Gris's Cubist still life "Le Livre", dating from 1914-15, with a pre-sale estimate of 12-18 million pounds.

Next in line is another Miro, "Painting-Poem", with a price tag of 6-9 million pounds and dating to 1925.

Paintings from the collection of the late Hollywood actress Elizabeth Taylor will feature, including Vincent Van Gogh's "Vue de l'Asile de la Chapelle de Saint-Remy" of 1889, expected to sell for 5-7 million pounds.

A total of 38 pictures from Taylor's collection will be offered at Christie's on Feb. 7 and 8.

In December, an auction of 80 items of Taylor's famous jewellery collection made $116 million in New York, more than double the previous record for a single collection.

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