Billionaires scramble for world’s finest art pieces

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Two weeks of semiannual sales of Impressionist, modern, postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips begin this Tuesday with online bidding as early as on Sunday. Their combined sales target represents a 77% increase from estimates for a similar round of auctions a year ago.

Art sales around the world approached their pre-crisis peak by rising 8% to $65.7bn (R690bn) last year, according to the European Fine Art Foundation.

The market’s higher end, the focus of this month’s auctions, is lifting sales as the portion of revenue from lots of more than à2m climbed to 35% last year from 29% in 2011.

“The market for the very best works is growing so fast,” said Suzanne Gyorgy, global head of art advisory and finance at New York-based Citigroup’s Citi Private Bank. “Many buyers, who collect under $5m, are having trouble winning any bids at auction because there is so much demand.”

Many of the season’s biggest items are coming from estates, including those of billionaire Edgar Bronfman and heiress Huguette Clark at Christie’s.

Sotheby’s won the contemporary collection of hedge-fund manager Adam Sender, who shuttered his Exis Capital Management earlier this year.

Mainland Chinese buyers are expected to play a major part in the Impressionist and modern art sales, according to auction house specialists. The region’s wealthy collectors are expanding their international holdings.

Christie’s sale of Impressionist and modern art on Tuesday is expected to raise $245m to $360m.

The auction house estimates the Clark collection’s 1907 Monet painting of water lilies at $25m to $35m. Painted at the artist’s home in Giverny, France, it has been off the market since 1930.

Picasso’s 1942 portrait of his lover Dora Maar in a purple dress, from the estate of German collectors Viktor and Marianne Langen, is expected to bring as much as $35m.

A 1965 Picasso from Bronfman’s estate, Mangeuse de Pasteque et Homme Ecrivant, depicting a nude woman biting into a watermelon slice, may fetch $10-million. Sotheby’s sale on Wednesday could generate $322m. The top lot is Matisse’s light-saturated La Seance du Matin (Morning Session), a 1924 canvas depicting the artist’s assistant, Henriette Darricarrere. It is expected to fetch $20m to $30m.

Giacometti’s sculpture, La Place (City Square), cast in 1948, is expected to sell for $12m to $18m. Picasso’s 1932-34 portrait of his young lover, Marie-Therese Walter, is expected to fetch $15m to $20m.

Most of the biggest results will come at the postwar and contemporary sales. Christie’s 72-lot evening sale on May 13 is expected to raise $500m. Top lot by estimate is Bacon’s 1984 triptych, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards, which may fetch up to $95m.

Sotheby’s is targeting a tally of $350m to $450m at its May 14 auction of postwar art.


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