Earlier this month, Christie’s held a special auction of works by Marc Chagall ahead of its 20th and 21st Century evening sales in London and Paris. Treasure of freshly marketed works shipped direct from the artist’s estate exceeded expectations, fetching £9.7million ($11.9 million) and exceeding its high estimate before sale of £6.5 million ($7.9 million). There was competition for all 20 lots, with many expectations doubled.
Some have attributed the heightened interest to the looming recession: in times of uncertainty, when art is seen as a hedge against inflation, buyers seek to put their money in established names. Although Chagall rarely generates headline-worthy fireworks at auction, the prolific Franco-Russian painter is among the most frequently traded and is commonly cited as a safe investment alongside Picasso, Monet, Basquiat and Warhol.
BBut how insensitive is Chagall to broader market volatility? We consulted artnet’s price database to investigate.
Auction record: $28.5 million, realized at Sotheby’s New York in November 2017
Chagall’s performance in 2021
Lots sold: 887
Purchased in: 260
Sell rate: 77.3%
Average selling price: $88,803
Average estimate: $62,119
Total sales: $78.8 million
Best paint price: $6.2 million
Lowest paint price: $111,633
Lowest Overall Price: $88 for a lithograph of an image from Chagall’s “Bible Series”
- Size Matters. The most sought after Chagalls are, unsurprisingly, the larger and more colorful oil paintings. A blue Chagall canvas featuring romantic subjects, such as a bride and groom or bouquets of flowers, is on the wish list of many buyers looking to build a top-notch collection of 20th-century art. Later works also contain recognizable motifs from Chagall’s lexicon, including goats and musical instruments.
- Lost paintings. Chagall’s richest chapter in history is widely considered to be his early Parisian period, when he worked alongside early avant-garde artists in the years before 1922. But these are few and far between – many were lost during the two world wars, and most surviving examples are locked away in museum collections. While Chagall began repainting some of his lost masterpieces after 1922, including the 1928 painting that set the artist’s record at auction, the originals would likely have fetched considerably higher prices, perhaps be on a par with those of the main Picassos.
- Paper opportunity. A strategic purchasing opportunity is works on paper, which remain little known. You could buy a small oil painting for less than $500,000, but it wouldn’t be as finished and would likely be smaller than the colored works on paper you can get for the same amount.
- Geographical distribution. Today Chagall buyers are broadly divided into two geographical camps. Those in the Far East and Mainland China focus on the high end: oil paintings priced above $500,000. They have largely replaced Russian buyers after such collectors faltered amid the credit crunch and sanctions imposed following the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Below the $500,000 threshold, interest swells. focuses on Europe and North America. These are buyers who have been in the market longer and are looking to collect in depth, including works on paper and smaller oil sketches. They also hold top prize for his rare-to-market pre-war works, done in his more naive, folkloric Russian style.
- Hurdle time. Chagall has weathered broader market recalibrations before, including the Japanese stock market crash of the late 1980s and the financial downtown of 2008. This may partly explain why, against the backdrop of another recession to come , 19,370 users have searched artnet’s price database for Chagall information in the past 12 months.
Although the above-average results of the Christie’s Chagall sale can be explained by the size, color, condition and pristine provenance of the works on offer, it is difficult to ignore the role played by the broader economic climate. .
Chagall’s market is huge, global, and has proven relatively crisis-proof in the past. Even when some regions stepped back, others waited in the wings to replace them. Namely: Japanese buyers were supplanted by Russians in the 1990s, themselves replaced by buyers from the Asia-Pacific region. Meanwhile, when prices fall, they recover quickly, suggesting that those looking to the art market to diversify their assets can still rely on Chagall as a safe bet.
That said, a slowdown in purchases from the Asia-Pacific zone, which has fueled the broader growth of the art market since the dawn of the pandemic and is currently elevating the high end of the Chagall market, is beginning to take its toll. What this will mean for Chagall, and for insider efforts to encourage this group of buyers to collect the artist in depth, remains to be seen.
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