London Old Master sales (ctd.)

December 10 2016

Image of London Old Master sales (ctd.)

Picture: Bonhams

The sales in London appear to have been a success. Sotheby's combined sales for the week made £19.8m. The evening sale pulled in £14.8m, which even without the buyer's premium exceeded the high estimate of £11.85m for the sale. By Sotheby's own admission there were no really stellar lots in the sale, so the strong performances, with many lots going substantially over-estimate, was a sign of the health of the Old Master market. Sotheby's day sale was also solid, making £4.4m in total. Their press release is here.

Christie's evening sale made £12.24m. Their two stellar lots, a £4m-£6m Goya and the £10m Monarch of the Glen by Landseer were withdrawn. For the whole week, Christie's sold £17.2m. Christie's press release is here. Evening sale totals are here. The day sale (here) was a little patchy. (But I think Christie's suffers here by having it on a Friday, when Old Master fatique has set in and most people have started to leave London. Their day sale used to be on Wednesday, but then they moved the evening sale to Thursday (from Tuesday). Perhaps they should be brave and have the day sale befor the evening sale, on Thursday afternoon. Why not?

I'll go through some of the individual prices achieved in a later post. But I think (even though as an Old Master dealer I am of course open to accusations of bias) that this is the year we can put 'the Old Master market is dying' story to bed. Last year's sale totals, gleefully seized on by those who wanted to herald the demise of Old Masters, were indeed down on previous years. But as I and many others explained this was due to vagaries of supply, and the unusual absence last year of a single mega picture selling for big money. This year we've had two; the Rubens of Lot and his Daughters at Christie's, and the Orazia Gentileschi at Sotheby's. This year, Christie's have sold £152m of Old Master pictures. That's about £100m more than last year.

Of course, we mustn't expect the New York Times to run an 'Old Masters are back' story. But an acknowledgement that Old Masters never really went away might be nice.

Finally, points for effort go to Bonhams press office, who heralded Bonhams' sale of a newly discovered sketch by Constable (top) for £869,000 as "setting a new world record at auction for a small-scale sketch (under 10 inches) by the artist". It's a very fine picture, and I'm glad it sold well.

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