Art Market, New Picture


Contemporary Art - Bacon 2

Sought after art is categorized into four categories: Old Masters; Impressionists; Modern Art; and Contemporary Art. “Old Masters” generally refers to quality European artists, who painted between the Renaissance and 1800. Historically, quality Old Masters paintings, such as Rembrandt’s, had commanded the highest prices at auction.

Art Market 1 - Old masters

Several decades ago, there was a significant shift.  Wealthy collectors began bidding up the prices of quality pieces of impressionism and modern art. Impressionist artists, painting in the late 1800’s, typically painted outdoor scenes with limited detail but with small thin brush stokes and bold colors. Claude Monet is a prime example of an impressionist painter.

Art Market - Impressionism

Modern art generally refers to art produced between 1860 and the 1970’s with artists who painted the world in abstract ways.

Art Market - Modern Art

Art connoisseurs indicate it is now quite possible for a Monet to go for the same price as a Rembrandt. But suddenly, it is also possible for a Warhol, Bacon or Newman to sell for more than the Rembrandt.


Last fall’s major art auctions may have been another historical turning point. A contemporary triptych (three paintings/panels forming a whole) by Francis Bacon “Three Studies of Lucian Freud” was auctioned at Christie’s for $142.4 million in New York, the record for the most expensive piece of art ever sold.

Art Market - Contemporary Art

Contemporary paintings are being highly sought after by wealthy young buyers in particular, looking to assemble their own significant collection. A decline in the number of quality impressionist and modern art pieces on the market has been partially responsible for this trend.

Through acquisitions and bequests museums have come to own most of the important impressionist and modern art masterpieces. Collectors, interested in museum quality paintings are, therefore, turning to contemporary art.



New contemporary collectors are now hedging their auction lots by obtaining a presale price guarantee from a third party or the auction house.  According to Kelly Crow of the Wall Street Journal “All this means that contemporary collectors, unlike buyers of Impressionist and modern art, are going to unprecedented lengths to keep fueling their segment’s momentum…”  “If the strategy works, it could reshape the way art is auctioned, with sellers essentially pre-selling their art privately prior to the auction but angling for a higher, backstop price at auction.”


This week the art world will be closely watching as the houses of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips all hold auctions of contemporary art. Many experts are expecting prices for the works of well known contemporary artists to take quantum leaps, possibly rearranging the pricing structures throughout the art market for decades.

UPDATE ……This Just In.

May 14, 2014 – Christie’s auction of 72 contemporary works of art this evening set a record for the highest total sales at any auction ever held reaching just under $745 million. This beat the experts’ top-end estimates of about $710 million. Christie’s saw records set for the art of ten contemporary artists, continuing the trend of ever increasing value in this category.

Art Market -White

Thirty nine of the lots had back-up guarantees attached, reflecting an increase in popularity of this hedging mechanism. A well known subject, a Warhol silkscreen of Marilyn Monroe brought $36.5 million, more than double its high estimated value. The evening’s top draw was ” Black Fire1″ by Barnett Newman, which sold for $84.2 million.

Art Market - Black Fire 1

Despite the high prices, bidding was reportedly thin throughout the auction but shored up by the pre-sale guarantees. For example, there were only three bidders involved in a mild bidding war for the Newman. As expected however, there was some interest and bidding throughout the auction from Chinese collectors. In a New York Times piece by Carol Vogel , collector Bill Bell was quoted with regard to Asian buyers: “I think they are Hoover vacuum cleaners – they’re buying everything,” he said. Mr. Bell was beaten by Xin Li, deputy chairman of Christie’s Asia, bidding on behalf of Asian buyers for Warhol’s “White Marilyn”. Of the ten most important works sold at the auction, Ms. Li was the high bidder on half of them.

The night’s sale compared very favorably to last week’s Sotheby’s auction of impressionist and modern art. At that auction, about a third of the offerings went unsold. Experts noted that auction was similar to, but not quite as bad as, a Sotheby’s auction in 2008 which marked the beginning of a major decline.

Hang on to your paddles!