Spring art auction season has arrived in New York this month.  Earlier this week a Vincent van Gogh painting from 1888 entitled “L’Allée des Alyscamps” was sold to a private collector from Asia for $66.3 million as reported by the Los Angeles Times.  While the sale of van Gogh’s painting depicting an outdoor scene with people and trees surpassed Sotheby’s estimate of more than $40 million, it did not break the auction record for a van Gogh painting, which was set back in 1990 when the Dutch artist’s “Portrait of Dr. Gachet” fetched $82.5 million.

Sotheby’s auction of Impressionist and Modern Art earlier this week generated a total of $368.3 million in successful bids.

This spring’s art auction season in New York will highlight some other highly coveted works, such as Alberto Giacometti’s sculpture entitled “L’Homme au doigt” (Pointing Man), which will be up for auction at Christie’s on Monday.  The iconic sculpture is estimated to sell for around $130 million.

Not to be outdone by its rival, Sotheby’s, as reported here, last week Christie’s in New York surpassed its prior record of $745 million set back in May at Christie’s contemporary art auction and brought in the “highest-ever for an auction” at its recent contemporary art auction “grossing $852.9 million across 75 lots.”  Nearly all of the total 80 lots offered for sale had buyers for a sell-through rate by lot of 94 percent.

The two top lots of the evening were Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis [Ferus Type] (1960) and Four Marlons (1966) fetching $81.9 million and $69.6 million, respectively.  The third highest lot of the evening, Cy Twombly’s Untitled (1970), sold to a phone bidder for $69.6 million.

Also notable at last week’s contemporary art auction, new artist records were set for 11 artists, including Cy Twombly, Ed Ruscha, Peter Doig, Martin Keppenberger, Sturtevant, and Seth Price.

Christie’s Chairman and International Head of Postwar and Contemporary Art, Brett Gorvy, noted at the press conference following the auction that there were some 500 bidders from 43 different countries and that this was a “collecting-buying pool tonight, rather than dealers.”

For a further recap of last Wednesday evening’s contemporary art auction at Christie’s, click here.

Earlier this week Sotheby’s opened the fall auction season with an impressive record high of $422 million in sales in a single auction for the world’s fourth oldest auction house in continuous operation.

As reported here, of the 73 lots up for auction, 15 lots did not sell, hence the average sell-through rate of 79 percent.

The fall Impressionist and modern auction’s top lot during the evening was Alberto Giacometti’s Chariot (1951-52), which sold after just one $90 million bid (final price with premium was $100.97 million) from a phone bidder who surfaced at the end.  Notably, the final price with premium is just under the artist’s $104.3 million record for the work L’homme qui marche I, auctioned by Sotheby’s London in 2010.

The evening’s second highest lot included the record-setting Modigliani sculpture Tête (1911-12) that ultimately sold for $70.73 million surpassing the artist’s previous record set in 2010 at $68.96 million with a painting.  A private Chinese collector represented on the phone by Sotheby’s Beijing was the successful bidder in the sale of the evening’s third highest lot, Vincent van Gogh’s Still Life, Vase with Daisies and Poppies (1890), at $61.8 million.

For a thorough recap of Sotheby’s fall Impressionist and modern auction sale earlier this week, click here.

In a recent announcement by Sotheby’s earlier this week, a significant collection of modern and contemporary art compiled by two of the 20th century’s most renowned collectors is expected to generate in excess of $85 million in sales during Sotheby’s upcoming contemporary and modern art auctions next month.

As recently reported here, some of the prized items in the collection leading next month’s series of contemporary and modern art auctions include Mark Rothko’s 1951 canvas entitled “No. 21 (Red, Brown, Black and Orange),” which is expected to fetch more than $50 million, and works by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Andy Warhol, along with other prominent artists from the private art collection of Pierre and Sao Schlumberger.  According to Oliver Barker, deputy chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, the couple’s collection is highly regarded as “one of the most important private collections of our time.”

For those not familiar with the Schlumberger name, Pierre Schlumberger was a French oil industry tycoon whose father and uncle in the 1920s founded Schlumberger Limited, which is the world’s largest oil field services company.

The Schlumberger collection is comprised of some 90 works and is among the many highly anticipated works of the fall auction season.

Sotheby’s further announced last week that it is selling the iconic sculpture “Chariot” by Alberto Giacometti – it has been reported that such work could sell for more than $100 million. 

The highlights of the collection will be on view in Hong Kong and London prior to a special exhibition of the entire collection in New York later this month.  The first offerings of the Schlumberger collection will be featured at Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art auction on November 4, and the other works will be offered at the auction house’s contemporary art auctions through November 12.

For a glimpse into the exquisite Schlumberger collection, view here.

The art market not only seems to have found its former self but may be in for a total makeover.

Last Wednesday night, Sotheby’s fetched approximately $190 million for 50 pictures. More about the Sotheby’s auction can be found here:

www.nytimes.com/2010/05/14/arts/14iht-melik14.html

The previous night Christie’s sold a Jasper John’s “Flag” for $28.6 million which was in the ballpark for the highest amount ever paid for a work by a living artist (a record held by the sale of Lucian Freud’s “Benefit Supervisor” two years ago for $33.6 million).

More about the Christie’s auction can be found here:

www.nytimes.com/2010/05/12/arts/design/12auction.html

As Judd Tully states in the recent issue of Art and Auction (and the issue was published before the aforementioned auctions), this “appears to be one of the fastest recoveries in art market history.”

But since markets generally rise over time, the question may be where does the auction market go from here.  No one can say with certainty.

Although it appeared last year that the market reflected deep and uncertain economic gloom it is too early to sat that the market reflects a return to optimism particularly while many economists rightfully continue to be pessimistic about the so-called recovery. See this article for information about recent leading economic indicators:

www.portfolio.com/views/blogs/daily-brief/2010/05/20/economic-recovery-may-be-losing-steam-as-leading-indicators-point-lower

Although the market appears to rise and fall with the overall economy, the fact remains that art, like real estate, can fluctuate in value but can be a solid long-term investment particularly for blue-chip pieces.  This is good news for those in the art finance industry and for those fortunate enough to compete for artworks at auction.