During the month of December attentions turned to the London & Paris sales … and boy were there a lot of them – Swiss Art, Impressionist, Modern, Contemporary, Old Masters, 19th century European, Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist. Hundreds upon hundreds of works. Some of the sales did very well (especially when they included that 1 hit wonder) and other sales had a rough go. This month I have decided to concentrate on the sales that relate most closely to the periods we specialize in (19th century and Victorian); but before I do, here are a few highlights from the other sales:
van der Ast
In the Old Master realm, the sales seemed to have been fairly strong. According to reports, there was steady competition and the estimates were not always on-the-mark – here are a few examples: David Tenier’s Boys Blowing Bubbles in an Interior (12 ¼ x 10 inches) was estimated at £80-120K and sold for £681K ($860K), a Van Ruisdael landscape (7 1/8 x 11 3/8 inches) carried a £30-40K estimate and sold for £513K ($648K), van der Ast’s The Zomerschoon Tulip (10 ½ x 8 inches) brought £809K ($1.02M – est.£300-500K) and Savery’s Temptation of St. Anthony (7 x 10 ½ inches) brought £441K ($573K) on a £60-80K estimate.
The top lots in the Old Master sales were a Brueghel at £2.58M ($3.26M – est. £2-3M), a Titian at £2.1M ($2.66M – est. £1-1.5M) and a Jordaens of the Holy Family at £1.8M ($2.3M – est. £5-800K). Sell-through rates were running as high as 81% and the total take was over £36M ($46M).
In the Impressionist / Modern / Contemporary areas there were also some impressive prices. At one Paris sale, James Ensor’s small (12 x 20 inches) Squelette arrêtant masques was offered with a €1-1.5M estimate and sold for an astounding €7.4M ($7.9M) …as you might guess, that sale’s total crushed its presale estimate – low end was €7.27M. In fact, it really did not matter if any of the other works sold since they made their number with just one painting … but other works sold and the sale brought in over €13.3M ($14.3M) with a 71% sell-through rate.
In another sale, a Pierre Soulages brought €5.2M ($5.6M – est. €1.5-2M) while a Simon Hantai made €4.4M ($4.77M – est. €1.5-2M). When that action was over, about €29M ($31.4M) worth of art changed hands. The presale estimate was €16-23M and they achieved a 84.5% sell-through rate.
Up first was the Christie’s sale and the top seller was an Overbeck at £581K ($730K – est. £150-250K), in second was Morbelli’sVecchie Calzette at £341K ($429K – est. £200-300K) and in third we had a tie: Ziem’s Le Palais des Doges… and Girardet’s A Passing Caravan, both of which carried £120-180K estimates and sold for £149K ($187K).
Along with the higher fliers, there were a number which just could not get off the ground and they included works by Courbet, Caffi, Trinxet and Monturiol. By the time the sale was over, of the 71 works offered only 37 found buyers (52%) and the total take was a lackluster £2.27M ($2.87M) – low end of the estimate range was £3.09M … so they fell way short.
The following afternoon Sotheby’s presented their offerings and again the results were hit or miss. The top seller here was Sohlberg’s FromVærvågen, The Fisherman’s Cottage at £1.21M ($1.53M – est. £6-800K), in second was Kroyer’s Wine Harvest in the Tyrol at £237K ($300K – est. £80-120K) and in third was Koester’s Five Ducks at £150K ($190K – est. £30-50K).
Those strong results were not good enough to overcome the bigger lots that did not sell: Sorolla (est. £800-1.2M), Anglada-Camarasa (est. £150-250K), Hammershoi (£150-250K), Mir (est £120-180K), de Regoyos (£120-180K), Liebermann (£400-600K), Putz (£100-150K), von Stuck (£100-150K). In the end, of the 87 works offered, 51 (62.9%) found homes for a total take of £3.6M ($4.5M) … low end of the estimate range was about £4.9M – so here too, they were short.
Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist
While the Sotheby’s 19th century was taking place, Christie’s offered their British works of art (I am telling you there is just too much material being offered and the fact that two 19th century sales had to take place at the same time drives this point home). Taking the pole position here was Grimshaw’s Glasgow, Twilight at £185K ($234K – est. £100-150K), in second we had a tie at £173K ($219K): Frampton’s (Edward, not Peter) Our Lady of Promise (est. £150-200K) and Draper’s The Spirit of the Fountain (est. £150-250K). Rounding out the top five were John Ritchie’s High-Victorian work titled Winter, St. James’s Park, London. This large canvas was originally exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1858 and was action packed … it sold for £137K ($173K – est. £100-150K) … and a small, 12 x 10 inch, head study by John Waterhouse that carried a £50-80K estimate and sold for £125K ($158K).
While there were a few rough patches (among them, works by Millais, Tissot and Lear), overall this sale held its own and of the 109 offered, 73 found buyers (67%) and the total take was a respectable £2.6M ($3.27M).
And finally, we have Sotheby’s contribution to this part of the market and as we have seen before, the good always rises to the top – and Mr. Clausen’s The Bird’s Nest was one of them when it sold for £453K ($568K – est. £150-200K). Two other good examples were La Thangue’s The Farm Pond at £285K ($357K – est. £150-200K) and Grimshaw’s rather unique Sand, Sea and Sky, A Summer Phantasy at £279K ($350K – est. £100-150K). Rounding out the top five here was John Anderson’s The Palace of Westminster from the Thames at £231K ($289K- est. £70-90K) and Grimshaw’s A November Morning at £200K ($251K – est. 150-200K).
Here too, there were a few rough spots (Landseer, Spencelayh, Forbes and Lavery); however, they did not spoil the day and in the end, of the 65 works offered, 47 sold (72.3% sell-through rate) and the total take was £3.18M ($3.97M) which easily surpassed the low end (£2.45M) of the presale estimate.
I still believe that there needs to be some sort of consolidation of the UK’s 19th century sales. In the US there has been an attempt to properly curate the offerings and the sales have become much slimmer and trimmer. During the last round, between Sotheby’s and Christie’s, we saw 128 works and of those 79 (61.7%) sold for $11.84M (about $150K per works sold). In the UK we had 332 works offered and 208 (62.6%) sold for approximately $14.61M (or $70K per work sold). While the percentages are fairly close, the average amount paid is very different. I know, it does have a lot to do with what is being offered; however, I also know that when there is less supply there is more competition and stronger results.