Christie's London sale falls short of low estimate

LONDON (Reuters) - Christie’s, the world’s biggest auction house, raised 37.1 million pounds ($61.12 million) at its London sale of impressionist and modern art on Tuesday, falling just short of the lower end of expectations.

The evening auction, which kicked off a series of big London sales over the coming fortnight, had been forecast to raise 37.8-51.7 million pounds not including the buyer’s premium. The sale result includes the premium.

Christie’s said the result was “solid” and suggested the market had stabilized during the last six months after contracting sharply.

“During the last six months, our auctions of impressionist and modern art in London, Paris and New York have produced consistently solid results,” said Giovanna Bertazzoni, head of impressionist and modern art at Christie’s in London.

“This evening’s sale confirms that collectors, both new and established, have confidence buying works by established artists in this category. We see consistent demand throughout and overall the prices of individual works remain stable.”

Yet the result underlines the difficulty auctioneers like Christie’s and Sotheby’s face during the recession.

While the value of top-quality paintings appears to have stabilized at lower levels, the number of important works on offer has fallen sharply from a year ago as sellers shy away during uncertain economic times.

Christie’s raised 144.4 million pounds at the same auction last year, although the total included four collections.

The top lot on Tuesday was Claude Monet’s 1878 work “Au Parc Monceau,” which went under the hammer for 6.3 million pounds, above its estimate of 3.5-4.5 million. It sold for 3.7 million pounds in 2001.

The other star lot on the night was Joan Miro’s “Painting” from 1949, which raised 4.0 million pounds versus an estimate of 2.2-2.8 million.

Pablo Picasso’s “Homme a l’epee,” one of two representations of a Musketeer by the artist on offer in London this week, fetched 5.8 million pounds, toward the lower end of the pre-sale range of estimates. It realized 2.7 million pounds at auction in 2005.

Rival Sotheby’s follows on Wednesday with is impressionist and modern art sale which is expected to raise 26.8-37.3 million pounds. Last June it made 102.2 million pounds.

Reporting by Mike Collett-White