It has been a blockbuster few weeks in the heart of London where records have been made and many works of art have sold in the millions at the great and good auction houses. For many years February and October have been key dates in the auction calendar where the world turns its heads towards London as the barometer of the art market. The good news is that when the piece is of sufficient quality and rarity investing in art still seems to be a relatively good bet and the added asset is that you can take pleasure in your investment.
Sotheby's were out of the starting block first and held a solid, but not spectacular sale realizing a total of £74.4m with 82% of lots selling (anything over 75% is a healthy sales record), but many pieces sold around the lower estimate. Francis Bacon's "Three Studies for a Self Portrait" was one of the highlights of the night and sold for £13.8m. However, it was the following night when the sparks flew and some fascinating results were achieved. Christie's auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen perhaps totted up his best performance on a rostrum when the 72 lots sold for £81.7m against a pre-sale estimate of £77.2m and over 90% of the lots found homes. Records were smashed - it was the highest total for an auction held in February and buyers from across the world fought over several of the pieces.
Of particular interest was Peter Doig's "The Architect's Home in the Ravine". In 2002 the picture sold for £314,650. In 2013 three bidders fought over the work with the buyer finally securing it for £7.7m illustrating how the right picture really can produce an excellent return. Other prices of note at Christie's included Basquiat's "Museum Security (Broadway Meltdown)" which made £9.3m and Yayoi Kusama's striking pointillist "Pumpkin", painted in 1980 had 14 telephone bidders battling over it to finally sell for £505,250.
The art market really can be an interesting place to invest, but it is important to proceed with caution. Many financial advisers apply warnings to alternative investments, but some recommend it as a way to diversify large portfolios. The important thing is to buy what you like, not try to re-sell it too quickly and always try and buy the best examples in terms of quality that you can afford.