Comments on the Art Market for August 2016

By: Howard Rehs

Another month and more sales.  I have been saying this for many years: the market needs a break.  There is far too much material being offered and unless they are top notch, the works are going to struggle … as you will shortly see, this is exactly what happened.

I have beat this topic to death and still nothing has changed.  So once more, here it is: STOP offering so much material, especially in the summer.  Curate the sales.  Make them slimmer and trimmer.  300 plus lot sales in the summer is a disaster waiting to happen. Stop offering mediocre works with estimates that should be reserved for better examples.  STOP offering large numbers of paintings by a single artist.  If you plan on selling 12 or 15 paintings by an artist, spread them out over a series of sales.

All the salerooms seem to be doing is throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks … and the owners of the unsold works are taking it on the chin.

Anyway, on to the action … and there was a lot (far too much)!

Post-War & Contemporary

By: Lance Rehs

Let’s start off this report by bringing you back to the 28th – 30th of June with a couple of additional post-Brexit auctions in London. As you may recall, it seemed like the sky was falling in the U.K. just a few weeks ago… the Pound bottomed out, Cameron resigned, their sovereign debt rating was cut, and Brits were still trying to figure out what the EU was… In a week filled with a bit of madness and a lot of confusion, Sotheby’s and Christie’s offered up their Post-War & Contemporary selection in London and the results showed some shocking resilience to the then current market conditions.

testSotheby’s had the stage first offering 46 works; none of which were expected to exceed £5 (that should keep our expectations in check). As expected, much of the buying came from outside of the UK with 4 of the top 10 works headed to Asia, 2 going to U.S. collectors and just one within Europe. Though Sigmar Polke’s Roter Fisch (Red Fish) was projected to be the top lot of the evening with a £3.5-4.5M estimate, Jenny Saville’s Shift shocked the room as it tripled the £1.5-2M estimate, selling for £6.8M ($9M) and setting a new auction record for the artist. The ultimate buyer, The Long Museum in Shanghai, and Larry Gagosian battled it out for the large multi-figure nude; the work will likely be included in the Long Museum’s upcoming exhibition devoted to female artists of the West. Taking second was The Last Rainforest by Keith Haring at £4.1M ($5.5M – Est. £2-3M), which was good for a new auction record for the artist, followed by Dubuffet’s Barbe de Lumiere des Aveugles at £3.1M ($4.2M – Est. £1.2-1.8M). Other notable lots included Warhol’s Four Marilyns (Reversal Series) which found a buyer at £2.8M – the work last sold in 1999 for just $299K, and Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets which sold for £677K after being acquired for just £63K back in 2010. The major difference between this year’s sale and last (aside from the roughly £80M) was the level of work offered; last year, Warhol, Bacon, Richter, Basquiat and many others had top level works featured in the sale with the top lot by Warhol breaking the £20M mark! Of the 46 works offered, just 6 failed to sell (87% sold), 60% of the sold works surpassed the high end of their estimate, while the sale as a whole topped its £35.5-50.2M estimate at £52.1M ($69.3M).

adewdeChristie’s had a good showing as well with just 39 lots being offered in their evening sale. Two of the top three lots were by Basquiat and came from Johnny Depp’s private collection; he was unloading a total of 8 Basquiat paintings between the evening and day sales. The top piece, Pork, an acrylic and oilstick on glass and wood with fabric and metal attachments… a.k.a. painted on a door… easily topped its £2.5-3.5M estimate as it found a buyer at £5.1M ($6.8M). Warhol’s Two Dollar Bills (Fronts) [40 two dollar bills in red], executed in 1962, was good for second at £4.4M ($5.9M – Est. £4-6M), followed by another of Depp’s Basquiats, Self Portrait, at £3.5M ($4.7M – Est. £1-1.5M). In the end, just three lots failed to sell yielding a 92% sell-through rate with a total of £39.5M ($52.8M).


Impressively, the Post-War & Contemporary sales showed strength in a time of uncertainty. Jenny Saville stood out from the crowd with an average price of over £2.5M while Warhol had over £12M worth of art sold, the most by any artist in this week’s Post-War & Contemporary sales. Sotheby’s and Christie’s Day Sales combined to add a few hundred more works to the mix and an additional £28.6M to the pot. With solid prices throughout, it is no surprise many found relief in the numbers though the totals were down significantly from last year; a factor which can easily be attributed to the stellar works offered in 2015 (Sotheby’s 2015 Evening sale – £130M/Christie’s 2015 Evening sale – £95.6M).

Old Masters

 By: Howard Rehs

afeafwerqrrrAt the beginning of July, the salerooms presented their Old Master works and I am only going to give a real brief summary of the events.  Sotheby’s evening sale offered up 43 works, of which 28 sold (65.1%), top lot was Jean Liotard’s A Dutch Girl at Breakfast that sold for £4.4M ($5.7M – est. £4-6M) and the total take was £16.5M ($21.3M).

Christie’s also offered up their Old Masters and the overall result was much stronger.  Of the 43 works offered here, 33 sold (77%), top lot was a Rubens at £44.9M ($58.2M – est. on request) and the total take was £65.4M ($84.7M).  Like I always say, what a difference a painting can make!

With the addition of the day sales, there were hundreds of works offered and about £90M worth of art sold.  It is interesting to note that the Rubens accounted for close to 50% of the week’s total.

19th Century European

adfadfOn the 12th of July Christie’s presented their sale of European art and to be completely honest, when the catalog arrived I knew this was going to be a rough one.  Of course, there are always those works that will do well; but, as you will soon see, they just were not enough to make up the difference.

Taking the top slot was Courbet’s Le Parc de Rochemont which carried a £250-350K estimate and sold for £230K hammer (£279K/$364K with the buyer’s premium).  In second was Corot’s Étretat – un moulin à vent that sold for £200K on a £200-300K estimate (£243K/$317K with the premium) and in third was de Nittis’s The Victoria Embankment at £180K – est. £180-220 (£219/$286K with the premium).

When the sale was over, the results were even less than lackluster … 78 works were offered, 40 sold (51.3%) and 38 were returned to their owners.  The low end of the presale estimate was £3.02M and the sale only generated £2.46M … so even with the buyer’s premium, they fell way short.  Even more telling about the quality of this sale is that the top 5 lots totaled £1.15M or 46% of the sale’s total and the top 10 lots generated £1.78M (72%) of the sale’s total.

19th Century Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist

rubenOn the 13th the same saleroom offered more works and the results were a little better.  Top lot here was Rossetti’s A Woman Combing Her Hair at £450K (£543K/$720K with premium – est. £500-800K); second was nabbed by Harold Knight’s Portrait of Florence which crushed its £100-150K estimate when it sold for £380K (459K/$609K with premium) and in third was Draper’s A Deep Sea Idyll at 200K (£243K/$322K with premium – est. £250-350K).  Rounding out the top fine as a Godward at 231K ($306K – est. £250-350K) and a Grimshaw at £219K ($290K – est. £180-220K).

Of the 120 works offered, 77 sold (64.2%) and 43 (35.8%) were returned to their owners.  The sale totaled £4.5M ($5.98M) and the low end of the estimate range was £5.37M – so again, they fell short.  The top 5 lots here made £1.69M (37.6%) and the top ten brought in £2.5M (55.5%) … so this was a slightly stronger sale; but the unsold rates are still pretty high.

The next day, Sotheby’s offered up their selection of works from these periods and their smaller/tighter sale produced much stronger results.

aaThe top lot in this sale was Burne-Jones’s If Hope Were Not… that made £329K ($435K), premium included, on a £100-150K estimate.  In second was Rossetti’s Study of Marie Stillman… at £185K ($245K) – est. £80-120K and in third was a study by Munning’s titled After the Steeplechase at Newbury that brought £233K ($308K) – est. £200-300K.

This sale featured just 53 lots, 42 (79.3%) of which found buyers, 11 were returned to their owners and the total take was £2.77M ($3.6M) — beating the £2.66M low end of their presale estimate.  The top 5 works generated 1.21M (43.8%).

Now you might be saying: between those 3 sales only 252 works were offered and that does not seem like a lot.  Well, there was another sale the week before that included works for these periods and that one offered 333 works … of which 212 (63.6%) sold – so in all, close to 600 19th century works hit the market.  And then there were all the Old Master works. There was just too much art to be absorbed during this time of the year.  And keep in mind, we only cover some of the sales that take place … it is a big world out there.

Lance Rehs

Lance Rehs

Lance Rehs is a 4th generation Art Dealer, the Vice-President of Rehs Galleries, Inc. and the Director of Rehs Contemporary Galleries, Inc. With a background in Finance, his earliest ventures in the art world included reviewing and analyzing various auctions from around the world in order to gauge the health of the art market, in addition to educating others about the art world from behind the scenes. Today, Lance continues to help shed light on the opaque dealings of the art world while giving an honest and unbiased opinion of the auction arena through Rehs Galleries’ monthly Comments On The Art Market. Rehs Galleries specializes in 19th and 20th Century European paintings, including but not limited to Barbizon, Realist, Academic and Impressionist art. Rehs Contemporary focuses on Contemporary Academic Realism; showing works that demonstrate superior technical skills and classical training.

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