Top art sales on November 10 reached an unprecedented $958 million

Good news first: People still buy art.

The less good news emerging from massive New York auctions this week: Fewer people seem to want this art than in years past.

“I think the bidding has been very spotty,” says technical consultant Jacob King, speaking after Sotheby’s back-to-back Contemporary Evening sales on November 16. means the person who agreed before the sale to purchase a work of art for the lowest amount.

With little interest or not, this art has been selling, and that was enough to drive New York’s November sales—usually, some of the world’s largest auction market—to record quantities. This week, Christie’s, Phillips and Sotheby’s sold more than $1.4 billion in art, which, combined with last week’s auctions of the collection owned by late Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, brings the current total to just over $3 billion. The few remaining Friday and weekend auctions will push it even higher.

These are undeniably huge numbers, but they don’t seem to reflect any kind of uptick in enthusiasm from last week’s Allen sale, which auction houses were hoping would inject confidence into the market. Instead, broader macroeconomic concerns, including persistent fears of a global recession, appear to have prompted some collectors to sit on the sidelines.

On Tuesday night, art consultant Judd Hess bid on the star lot at Phillips’ evening auction, and Cy Twombly estimates the 16-foot-wide for sale at $35 million to $45 million. She was competing with what appeared to be one other collector—a person bidding over the phone—and eventually lost out to them, with the work selling, with auction house fees, for $41.6 million.

“It’s such a beautiful, massive work of great quality that it’s so rare to bring it to market,” Hess says. But under better economic conditions there would have been three or four bidders for it.

The lower end, which in the context of evening sales means $500k to $2m businesses (peanuts!), seems to have lost quite a bit of foam as well. Although a few of the paintings had more than a dozen bidders, King, who noted that at the time he had not seen Sotheby’s Daily Sales on November 17 or Christie’s double head that night, said his initial impression was that Ratings have also been generally up, and enthusiasm has waned significantly. “The bids for younger material are starting to drop in a big way,” he says. “The mood at tonight’s Now Sale is the opposite of last May, when there was frantic bidding on everything.”

Part of that can be exhaustion from the sheer number of pieces. On Thursday night, Christie’s held back-to-back evening sales on the 20th and 21st in which some 100 artworks hit the block in the course of a nearly four-hour sale marathon. “There are a lot of lots that came up in one evening,” said consultant Heather Flew, leaving the sales room after the auction. “People are really keen on what they want, and there’s no buying spree where people go for anything and everything.”

Instead, she continued, it’s best to think about this week’s sales as the market drags lofty messenger expectations down to earth. “Three million dollars were asked, but the real price may have been $2.2 million,” she says. “As one merchant said to me, everyone is desperate and greedy at the same time.”

You can find a list of the highest sales for the month of November below. These ten works alone, nine of which are from the Paul Allen Collection, totaled $958 million. The only previous season to come close to that number are November 2017 sales, which included $450 million for Leonardo.

10. Édouard Manet’s $52 million Le Grand Canal in Venise from 1874

9. $55 million for Jasper John’s false start from the 1960’s

8. $65 Million Waterloo Bridge by Claude Monet, Soleil Feuillet from 1899-1903

7. $85 million for Andy Warhol’s White Disaster [White Car Crash 19 Times] From 1963

6. $86 million for Lucian Freud’s Large Interior, W11 (after Watteau) from 1981 to 1983

5. $105 million Gustav Klimt Birch Forest from 1903

4. $106 million for Paul Gauguin’s Maternité II from 1899

3. $117 Million Verger Avec Cypress Vincent Van Gogh from 1888

2. $138 million for Paul Cézanne’s La Montagne Sainte-Victoire from 1888 to 1890

1. $149 million for Les Poseuses by Georges Seurat (small version) from 1888

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