Riding the Brexit Storm: London’s Art Market Experiences Volatility

In the two weeks of auctions surrounding Brexit, London's art market was whipsawed like the financial world.

The financial markets were not alone in dealing with the pre- and post effects of Brexit. During the two weeks of auctions surrounding Britain’s historic vote to leave the European Union, London’s art market experienced its fair share of volatility.

Uncertainty leading up to the referendum left some sellers hesitating to part with holdings. The political and economic volatility that followed voters’ shock decision, with the pound plunging the next day and the British prime minister resigning, disrupted some sales but triggered others, according to Bloomberg.

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Although a £14 million Gerhard Richter painting was withdrawn at the last minute from Christie’s and the world’s largest rough diamond failed to sell at Sotheby’s this week, buyers from Asia and the U.S. are reported to have engaged in frantic bidding, taking advantage of the currency discount to set records for many artists.

The two weeks of auctions began at Sotheby’s on 21 June which saw Pablo Picasso’s 1909 Cubist painting “Femme Assise” sold for £43.3 million while Amedeo Modigliani’s “Jeanne Hebuterne (au Foulard)” took £38.5 million, both works exceeding the targeted estimates.

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The final event of the auction cycle was Christie’s 250th anniversary sale on Thursday, spanning three centuries and tallying £99.5 million, within the estimated range. It was led by Henry Moore’s curvaceous, monumental bronze that fetched £24.7 million, exceeding the high pre-sale estimate of £20 million and setting an auction record for the British sculptor.

Sotheby’s also saw its share of Asian buying. On June 28, Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian’s Long Museum fought to win a monumental Jenny Saville painting, outbidding four competitors in a sale that tallied £52.2 million, a record for the artist.

While the volumes of sales diminished dramatically compared with a year ago, dealers and auction house executives highlighted the high percentage of sold lots at most auctions during the past two weeks at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, suggesting that there is a substantial demand for art consumption. The weaker pound didn’t hurt either.


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