Art prices continued to climb in the first quarter of 2006.
In the middle of the spring/summer auction season and a few days ahead of the prestigious "Impressionist & Modern Art Evening Sale" in New York, the Artprice Global Index shows that prices rose a further 16% over just four months! Since the beginning of the year, 117 lots have already exceeded the million dollar mark, compared with only 66 over the same period in 2005.
In New York, where prices have risen 20% in the first four months of the year, we could even use the word 'speculation'. They are now 42% higher than at the height of the speculative bubble in 1990. Already this year, a major painting by William Turner has fetched USD 32 million at auction. However, in London, prices have stabilised since the beginning of the year. Already in 2005, the rise in transaction prices in the UK was only +4.7% compared with +27% in 2004.
And in France, the upward trend seen at the end of 2005 was confirmed at the beginning of this season. The Artprice Global Index for Paris transactions rose 7.4% in the first quarter of 2006, thus approaching the level reached at the end of 1991.
Against this backdrop, estimates in New York are soaring. For example, a painting by Pablo PICASSO entitled Sylvette that last sold in June 1995 for GBP 480,000 (USD 760,000) will be auctioned by Sotheby's on 3 May with an estimate of USD 4.5 million – USD 6 million. At the same auction, La Femme en Rouge Appuyée à un Fauteuil by Chaïm SOUTINE will be offered at USD 2.75 million – USD 3.5 million, representing almost 10x its previous hammer price (USD 370,000 on 10 May 1989). Christie's estimates also reflect the sharp inflation in the art market. The auctioneer will offer Claude MONET's Effet de neige à Limetz for USD 3.5 million – USD 4.5 million, compared with an estimate range of only USD 1 million – USD 1.5 million at Sotheby's six years earlier. A painting by Alberto GIACOMETTI of a workshop scene will be put up for auction for USD 1.2 million – USD 1.6 million compared with its hammer price of USD 170,000 in 1993.
But will buyers be tempted to buy at these extremely optimistic estimates? Not at all sure…