And when fees are added, it should also exceed the colossal $110.5 million spent by the Japanese collector Yusaku Maezawa for a Jean-Michel Basquiat painting at Sotheby’s contemporary auction in May. The allure of Leonardo has already inspired Paramount to buy the film rights to Walter Isaacson’s newly published biography of the Italian Renaissance artist, with Leonardo DiCaprio as the lead.
“It’s an iconic picture and an iconic name,” Jean-Luc Baroni, a dealer in old masters, based in London, said of the Leonardo. “By putting it in a contemporary sale, they shine a big light on the painting.” And for clients of contemporary art, “the price level might sound less prohibitive,” he added.
Impressionist, modern and contemporary art with an estimated value of least $1.6 billion will be offered at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips. The value of these consignments, which include works by Francis Bacon, Andy Warhol, Fernand Leger and Franz Kline, as well as, incongruously, a Ferrari racecar, represents an increase of more than 46 percent over the equivalent auctions last November.
The $110.5 million bid in May for the 1982 Basquiat was the most dramatic indicator of how the auction market for contemporary art has grown over the last six months. After two years of contraction, global auction sales of contemporary art grew 14 percent in the first half of 2017, “signaling a new period of prosperity,” according to a report published by Artprice.com, which monitors auction results.
David Nisinson, a collector and art adviser based in New York, said that a year ago there was uncertainty about how the United States election would affect the stock market, but “it’s just continued to go up. There’s a lot of unexpected money around, and some of it is very confident,” Mr. Nisinson said.
Confident buyers give confidence to sellers, particularly when their entries are backed by guaranteed prices. About half of the 74 lots at Sotheby’s Tuesday night contemporary auction carry some form of guarantee. (The figure is a bit lower at Christie’s.)
With the Dow Jones industrial average at an all-time high, and President Trump planning tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, the key indicators seem to be positive for the top end of the art market, at least in America.
But there are one or two clouds on the horizon.
President Trump’s proposed tax changes include a measure to restrict 1031 like-kind exchanges to real estate transactions. This provision had allowed high-end art investors to sell works and quickly replace them with pieces of similar value and defer paying federal taxes.
“There are so many active and influential players who use it,” said Mr. Nisinson, the collector. “They’re constantly selling and buying without having to pay capital gains. They will sell less and have less money to buy with. It could put a damper on things.”
But for the moment, those with the wealth to spend millions on art have plenty to choose from. Here are some of next week’s highlights — and one cliffhanger withdrawal.
Leonardo’s ‘Salvator Mundi’
It has been hailed by some experts as the art discovery of the century. Dating from about 1500, this panel painting of Christ as “Savior of the World,” was identified in a 2011 exhibition at the National Gallery in London as the long-lost original of a Leonardo owned in the 17th century by Queen Henrietta Maria, the wife of King Charles I of England.
But it comes to Christie’s with plenty of baggage. In 2005, the “Salvator Mundi,” then unrecognized and in much overpainted condition, was bought at an estate auction in the United States for less than $10,000.
After being cleaned and researched, the painting, now cataloged as a work by Leonardo, was sold in 2013 by three dealers to the Swiss businessman Yves Bouvier for $80 million in a private transaction brokered by Sotheby’s. Soon afterward, Mr. Bouvier sold the painting for $127.5 million to the Russian billionaire collector Dmitry E. Rybolovlev, whose family trust is the seller at Christie’s. The profits made by Mr. Bouvier on this and 37 other artworks bought by Mr. Rybolovlev have become the subject of an ongoing legal dispute between the two men.
The picture is also in abraded condition, giving the image a ghostlike quality. Luke Syson, curator of the National Gallery’s 2011 “Leonardo da Vinci: Painter in the Court of Milan” exhibition, said in its catalog that the “Salvator Mundi” had been “aggressively over-cleaned.”
Given the condition of the “Salvator Mundi,” and the fact that it was undocumented in the artist’s lifetime, some scholars have reservations about the attribution to Leonardo. Carmen C. Bambach, the curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s current Michelangelo show, as well as one in 2003 on Leonardo, said in her 2012 review of the National Gallery exhibition that “much of the original painting surface may be by Boltraffio, but with passages done by Leonardo himself.” (Giovanni Antonio Boltraffio worked in the studio of Leonardo.) Ms. Bambach said in an email Friday that she had not revised her view of the painting.
But Christie’s said in its catalog that there is currently a “broad consensus” among academics that this is a work by the artist himself.
Credit via Sotheby’s
Christie’s has a Leonardo, Sotheby’s has a Ferrari.
Sotheby’s has, for the first time, turned to a Formula One racecar to diversify the appeal of its contemporary art sale. On Tuesday, it will be offering a 900 horsepower Ferrari F2001, with the chassis that Michael Schumacher drove to victory in 2001 in both the Monaco and Hungarian Grand Prix. It is guaranteed to sell for at least $4 million and is touted by Sotheby’s as “the most important modern Formula One racecar in existence.”
“This is a bold move,” said Simon Kidston, founder of the Geneva-based car dealership Kidston. “It’s a Ferrari, so by extension it’s collectible. But is it one of the greatest Ferraris? No,” he added, pointing out that in 2004 Bonhams sold a Ferrari F1/2000 in which Schumacher won four Grands Prix.
Credit via Christie’s
Basketball Drawing by David Hammons
The latest round of auctions has been boosted by prestigious estates coming to market. Christie’s has four works in its evening sale from the estate of the philanthropist Melva Bucksbaum, a former vice-chairwoman of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. They include “Untitled (Basketball Drawing)” by David Hammons, from 2003, made by repeatedly bouncing a graphite-encrusted NBA ball against a sheet of paper.
The recent “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power” exhibition at the Tate Modern in London enhanced Mr. Hammons’s reputation as being among the most influential African-American contemporary artists. Ms. Bucksbaum’s 10-foot-high example is relatively early and is estimated to sell for between $1 million and $1.5 million. The current auction high for a Hammons drawing is $1.6 million, according to Artnet.
Credit 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, via Phillips
Picasso Crayon Drawing
Previously best known for selling works by younger artists, Phillips is now developing a reputation for auctioning valuable pieces of 20th-century art. Its Thursday evening sale includes the 1946 Picasso colored crayon drawing, “Portrait de Femme Endormie III,” from the estate of Anne Marie Aberbach and Julian J. Aberbach. This serene study of the artist’s muse, Françoise Gilot, sleeping, is estimated at $1 million to $1.5 million but is likely to go higher. “The design is so considered and the color so rich,” said David Norman, an art adviser in New York. “It possesses that transported, sensual quality of the Marie-Thérèse,” he added, referring to earlier works inspired by Picasso’s relationship with Marie-Thérèse Walter.
Norman Rockwell Paintings
The most talked-about exclusion of the week was undoubtedly the seven artworks from the Berkshire Museum in Pittsfield, Mass., due to be sold in Sotheby’s Monday sale of American art.
The Massachusetts Appeals Court on Friday blocked the sale of the group, which included two paintings by Norman Rockwell. His 1950 oil on canvas, “Shuffleton’s Barbershop,” showing silver-haired men making music in a lamplit interior, has been described by a biographer of the artist, Deborah Solomon, as “one of his five or six best works” and given an estimated price of $20 million to $30 million by Sotheby’s. The artist donated this painting to the museum in 1959.
The Rockwells were among 40 artworks being deaccessioned by the financially-strapped Berkshire Museum to fund a redevelopment program. Though opposed by two groups of plaintiffs, including Rockwell’s sons, as well as the office of the Massachusetts attorney general, Maura Healey, their sale had been approved on Tuesday by a Berkshire Superior Court judge. Ms. Healey’s request for an injunction halting the sale has now been granted on appeal. The injunction will expire on Dec. 11, but may be extended.
This abortive sale represents a cautionary moment for auction houses that contract with museums who have not cleared such a sale with local communities and regulators.
Sotheby’s, in a statement, said: “We have never doubted that the board of trustees acted in good faith and was well within their legal rights, and we remain confident that they will prevail in their plans to ensure a bright future for the Berkshire Museum.”