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Infographic: The anatomy of an auction

25 June, 2011

A few days ago I went with a friend of mine to an exhibition of paintings by Impressionists and Modern painters. The collection of the works of art exhibited was mainly property from the Estate of Ernst Beyeler.

Actually the ‘exhibition’ was an opportunity for buyers/bidders to view the works that were finally auctioned on Tuesday, 21 June 2011 at Christie’s, London. As my friend said, it was a great opportunity for anyone interested to see some great works of art before they would ‘disappear’ in some private collections.

Indeed, we had the opportunity to view works by the likes of Picasso, Léger, Monet, Kandinsky and many others.

Although I would not like to consider and approach the arts as a bunch of numbers, there were so many (numbers) around (e.g. estimated prices, sold prices, number of works of art per artist etc.) that I could not resist, so I designed an infographic that takes all those numbers and tries to reveal a new approach to the auction.

Here is the result:

An infographic presenting facts from an auction

Click on the image to enlarge it

There were 92 works of art to be auctioned. More than half of them (54) were paintings (oils on canvas); 15 were works of various pigments (e.g. pastel, charcoal, watercolour, ink ) on paper and there also were 9 sculptures, 4 ceramics, 4 prints, 2 drawings, 2 furniture (tables) and 2 other works of art.

Artists wise Picasso had the most dominant presence with 14 works (5 oils, 4 ceramics and a couple of prints and drawings) followed by Léger and Monet (4 works each). There were also works by Klee, Kandinsky, Magrite, Renoir, Sisley, Jawlensky, Pissarro and many other Impressionists and Modern painters.

Although, the highlight of the auction, Monet’s Nymphéas (estimated between 17 – 24 million pounds) did not find a buyer, 80 works out of 92 were finally sold (87%) for £140 millions (the estimated highest price for them was £115.6 millions).

The most expensive work sold was Picasso’s painting Seated Woman, Blue Robe. It cost £17,961,250 to its new owner; a threefold raise from its average estimated price (4 – 8 million pounds estimated by Christie’s).

In terms of how many times more than the average estimated price a work was finally sold, the highlight of the evening was a table that was neither a work of an Impressionist/Modern artist nor was it a work of art as such! The Ernst Beyeler’s desk, made in the 17th century was sold for £289,250 when its estimated price was 10K pounds (£8K – 12K); that’s 29 times more than the estimated average! Speaking personally and having seen it in front of my eyes, it was a fine table indeed!

It seems that the buyers had a soft spot for tables as the other table of the auction did particularly well too. Diego Giacometti’s Guéridon au bourgeons was sold for £646,050; about 11 times higher than it was estimated (£50K – 70K).

Here are some of the data that we have used in order to design the infographic:

Christie’s Impressionist/Modern Evening Sale (Sale 7974)
BBC World’s most expensive painting goes on show in UK

Many thanks to Klairi Angelou for her invaluable advice and for contributing to the research on which the infographic and the post were based.

If you found this post interesting, why not have a look at other related posts:
The Courtauld Gallery, London, Room 3: infographics
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