The Christie’s vs Sotheby’s Race to the Emily Fisher Landau Collection: Should You invest in Art?

Globally, the weather may be cooling, following a particularly hot, record-breaking July, but in the art world, temperatures are rising. According to rumours, Christie’s and Sotheby’s, the two most popular auction houses, are in a race to take up the estate of Emily Fisher Landau, art collector, connoisseur and patron, who died in March this year at the age of 102.

Christie's and Sotheby's are fighting for the Emily Fisher Landau collection
Auction giants, Christie’s and Sotheby’s have been in competition for years. But their current race for the Emily Fisher Landau collection is more than mere rivalry.

For now, it is just that – rumours, since neither house has confirmed its authenticity. While no one expects them to, it makes sense that both auction giants are desperate to get their hands on the collection. For starters, history has it that during her lifetime, Ms Landau was able to amass at least 1,500 works of art, of which she donated 367 to the Whitney Museum in 2010 where she had been a trustee for years. Therefore, there would be at least more than 500 pieces of artwork to auction, assuming her family does not wish to part with all of them at this time.

But even more important is the fact that the Emily Fisher Landau collection boasts of rare and highly sought-after works from some of the industry greats, including Andy Warhol (who did a silk screen portrait of her), Georgia O’Keeffe, Cy Twombly and Mark Rothko. Experts estimate the collection could sell for $375 million to $500 million, especially if it includes Picasso’s Femme à la Montre (Woman with a Watch), a painting nearly five feet tall from 1932, considered to be his breakout year.

And herein lies the crux of the matter.

Picasso femme a la montre from the collection of Emily fisher landau
Part of the artwork in the collection includes this highly collectable Picasso painting, Femme a la Montre. Painting from the collection of Emily Fisher Landau

Since 2020, art has enjoyed big sales and renewed interest. Of course, as with other discretionary goods, sales have cooled alongside global economies. Per Artnet, the big three auction houses – Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and Phillips – have seen a 51 per cent dip in total sales year-over-year. Not even Christie’s sale of the Gerald Fineberg collection in May could save it: the anticipated auction sold for a total of $153 million, not quite hitting its $163 million to $235 million estimate.

This is not the first time Christie’s and Sotheby’s would face off against each other — rivalry between both houses is as old as their histories. And while it appears that most of it is anchored in their desire to be the auction house that can provide collectors with what they want when they want it, this current rivalry seems to have its roots in the unimpressive performance of the art market, which is usually more fickle than others in the discretionary product niche.

if Christie's or Sotheby's win, they may have access to this Andy Warhol portrait of Ms Emily Landau
Christie’s or Sotheby’s could be auctioning this Andy Warhol portrait of Emily Fisher Landau before the end of the year. Image courtesy of Artnet

While we await the winner in this round of competition, it is safe to ask: is buying art a good investment? As with art itself, this question is subjective, with no straightforward answers. However, one indisputable fact stands out from the unfolding drama: investing in art can be rewarding, but only if it is done right. And part of doing it right is understanding what makes a work of art valuable and collectable; buying original, rare pieces at the right time, and, letting go of them when the time is right.

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