Category: Auctions

Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's

October 10 2017

Image of Leonardo's 'Salvator Mundi' to be sold at Christie's

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art.

Big news (via Eileen Kinsella at ArtNet) - the recently discovered 'Salvator Mundi' by Leonardo da Vinci is to be sold by Christie's in New York. The painting had been acquired by the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev in 2013 for a reported $127.5m. The painting became a matter of some controversy, however, when the Russian discovered that the price he paid included a mark up of between $40m and $50m. Rybolovlev is currently suing his former art adviser, Yves Bouvier.

Rybolovlev appears to have fallen out of love with much of his art collection. He has begun to sell a number of 20th Century works through Christie's, some of which have earned him hefty losses. Earlier this year I had speculated on whether he would also soon sell his Leonardo.

Christie's are evidently pushing the boat out for the Leonardo sale - they're including it not in an Old Master sale, but a modern and contemporary sale. The painting will carry an estimate of $100m. Evidently, buy eschewing the Old Master auction, Christie's are signalling that it's not likely to be bought by any of the usual Old Master collectors, or even museums. The money is in the contemporary end of the market, so that's where they'll pitch the picture. If they sell the painting for something close to that amount, it will be a tremendous coup - one of the auctioneering feats of the century so far. This is, after all, a recent discovery, which has been the subject of some unjustly deserved but unwelcome publicity, and was last on the market only five years ago. In usual Old Master terms, that's not a good start. 

For more on the picture's history, put 'Salvator Mundi' into AHN's search box. I first saw it in 2011, and was impressed. It's now going on a worldwide tour.

$78m Bacon fails to sell

October 9 2017

Video: Christie's

Does this mean anything? A Francis Bacon 'Pope' painting failed to sell at Christie's contemporary and modern evening sale in London last week. The picture had been hailed as a discovery when unveiled to the press last month, having not been exhibited for 45 years. The catalogue carried the mystical 'estimate on request', but in The Guardian, Christie's boss Jussi Pylkkänen said:

“We’re talking about £60m,” says Pylkkänen. That’s actually quite a bit less than Bacon’s record of £89.3m for Three Studies of Lucian Freud, so the estimate may be exceeded if bidders get excited enough by the painting’s intense combination of aesthetic and human drama.

“It’s got all the elements that collectors are looking for,” says Pylkkänen.

Still, as Artnet News says, the sale was 'Christie’s second highest total for a contemporary art sale in Europe, and the highest ever for Frieze Week.' A Hirst at £1.2m - £1.8m failed to sell. A Basquiat 'Red Skull' made £16.5m. A Doig made £15m. An excellent Auerbach painting after Rubens' 'Samson & Delilah' made £3.7m against an estimate of £1.8m-£2.5m. 

Incidentally, here's a piece in the FT on whether you should buy art as an investment, quoting yours truly saying 'nope'.

Dreweatts and Bloomsbury auctions sold

October 3 2017

Image of Dreweatts and Bloomsbury auctions sold

Picture: DNFA

Laura Chesters in The Antiques Trade Gazette reports that the on-off sale of Dreweatts & Bloomsbury auctioneers has gone ahead. This time the valuation firm Gurr Johns has acquired the company for £1.25m cash, with an additional fee of up to £.4m payable within the next two years. The existing chairman, George Bailey, will stay in post with his part of the current management team. Earlier this year another sale to another bidder (to include the antisues firm Mallett) was announced at £2.4m, but this fell through.

The vendor is the stamp firm, Stanley Gibbons. They went on an antique markt buying spree in 2013, and lost tens of millions of pounds. The sale of Dreweatts now gains them only a fraction of their initial outlay. For more on the history, see the ATG here

Like almost every regional auctioneer in the UK, the new Dreweatts will hope to capitalise on the closure of Christie's South Kensington saleroom. 

That 'Bronte discovery' (ctd.)

July 25 2017

Image of That 'Bronte discovery' (ctd.)

Picture: JP Humbert Auctioneers

Back in 2012 AHN reported on a claimed portrait drawing of the Bronte sisters, which was said to be by Landseer. It was being offered for sale in a regional English auction house, but was then withdrawn, and no more was heard of it. Now it has been offered again at auction, and sold for £50,000. You can see for yourself the evidence that the three sitters are the Bronte sisters here. I can't say I find it immediately convincing. And I think it's tellint that neither 'Landseer' nor 'Bronte' appeared in the artist and title description. It was sold just as a;

Feminist Masterpiece - A delightful and charming watercolour portrait study on 'rag' paper of three young ladies C1838 with superlative facial detail.

Update - a reader writes:

I agree that  the evidence for the picture being by Landseer or of the Bronte sisters is not perhaps  conclusive.

However, it is an example of exemplary marketing by Humberts which other auctioneers might learn from. Auctioneers are the agents of the vendor. It is their duty to do their best by their principal. Auctioneers are not museums (tho viewings are more interesting than some museum visits), nor are they art historians publishing academic works on the lots they try to sell (tho some catalogues are just that).

One can be amused by an estate agent’s description of an average Victorian box as ‘historic’  and by some catalogue descriptions, whist in awe at the effectiveness of the professional service provided.

CSK to shut (ctd.)

July 24 2017

Image of CSK to shut (ctd.)

Picture: via ATG on Twitter

The last auction has been held at Christie's South Kensington saleroom in London (which Christie's suddenly announced would be closing earlier this year). The Antiques Trade Gazette took this screengrab of the online camera for the last lot. I suspect not all the CSK staff were that happy.

Update - Scott Reyburn was there at the sale for the New York Times, and intriguingly reports that Chiswick Auctions will soon open a space just a few minutes walk from the old CSK venue:

“More and more people want funky postwar design, pictures and decorative objects — and maybe one signature antique,” said William Rouse, managing director of Chiswick Auctions, a suburban London salesroom that is aiming to capitalize on Christie’s departure from South Kensington, one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods. “They don’t want big lumps of brown furniture.”

Chiswick Auctions holds live weekly sales covering about 16 collecting areas, with most of the lots estimated at £100 to £1,000. Trying to move more upmarket, the company has leased a space five minutes’ walk from Christie’s former salesroom. The venue, as yet undisclosed, is set to open on Sept. 1 and will be used to display higher-quality items, with 10 former Christie’s employees recruited to run the expanded operation.

Tuscan Renaissance 'Cassoni'

July 6 2017

Video: Christie's

Here's Christie's Eugene Pooley talking about Tuscan wedding chests, or 'cassoni'. Christie's evening Old Master sale is tonight - all eyes on the £25m Guardi!

Identifying Anne of Hungary's Fool

July 5 2017

Video: Sotheby's

When the above portrait was first looked at by specialists it was thought to be of an unknown sitter. But clever decoding of the costume allowed identity of the subject as a court fool to Anne of Hungary, Elizabet.

London Old Master sales

July 5 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Sorry again for the dearth of news - I've been away, mainly filming for series 2 of Britain's Lost Masterpieces in Rome and Florence. The latter meant my first ever visit (I'm ashamed to say) to the Uffizi Gallery and Pitti Palace; wow - what treasures! More on that later.

But first a few thoughts on the London Old Master sales, which I viewed quickly yesterday. Both Christie's and Sotheby's have some seriously impressive pictures on offer. The myth that 'supply' is a problem in the Old Master market has again been disproved, with proper museum quality pictures on offer. The most obvious are of course the £15m-£25m Turner of Ehrenbreitstein at Sotheby's (for which see the amazing animation above) and the mega Guardi at Christie's (no whizzy videos for this though - Christie's marketing department, where are you?). 

Regular readers will know that as a Van Dyck anorak I'm biased, but I was very taken with the newly discovered Van Dyck of St Sebastian at Christies. I've known of this painting for some years, and there can be little doubt that it's 'right' - indeed, I think it's even better than the supposed 'prime' version in the Louvre. The estimate, at £1.2m-£1.8m, strikes me as quite reasonable. This is a picture which could quite easily have existed in a major museum for centuries - imagine what the estimate would be if, say, it was being sold from the Louvre.

Another new Van Dyck is at Christie's; an oil on paper head study (from Van Dyck's first Antwerp period) of an old man. This is lot 1 of the evening sale, and seems again to be reasonably priced at £60k-£80k. Like many of these pictures, it has at some point been extended and turned into a more 'finished' picture. But the condition is good overall, and it's a strong image.

Van Dyck also appears at Sotheby's, with a rare grisaille, of the engraver Jean-Baptiste Barbé, estimated at £200k-£300k. Genuine Van Dyck grisailles are rare things, and lots of studio copies and later imitations turn up for sale. This one is certainly autograph, and in good state too. 

Sotheby's has a portrait I've been hoping to see for many years; Thomas Lawrence's portrait of the great radical politician Charles James Fox. Years ago I used to work for the Labour MP Tony Banks, who ran the works of art committee in the House of Commons, and was passionate about all things Fox. A Lawrence portrait of Fox was always on his wish-list, and would have been snapped up by him for the Commons collection. When it was painted, the consensus of the day was that Lawrence's portrait was not a success - but I think it's excellent, and this example, in excellent condition, is as fine a demonstration of Lawrence's early technique as you'll find. The estimate is £150k-£200k.

A pricier and more flamboyant British 18thC portrait is Joseph Wright of Derby's Three Eldest Children of Richard Arkwright with a Kite. This (at Sotheby's) is priced at £2m-£3m, and could quite easily have come from Tate Britain. The most intriguing portrait of the week is also at Sotheby's; a depiction of Elisabet, Court Fool of Anne of Hungary, painted by Jan Sanders Van Hemessen (£400k-£600k). There's also a Jan Lievens portrait of a man in profile in fantastically good condition, cheap at £300k-£500k. I must congratulate Sotheby's for putting up good explanatory labels for each lot - not just the artist, title and estimate. It all helps break down the barriers for new collectors I think.

The drawings sales are full of enticing bargains by the big names. I loved the Guercino head study at Sotheby's (£12k-£15k). It's heretical to say it, but I think Guercino was a better draughtsman than a painter. Also interesting is the Liotard portrait of a Lady; this had some condition issues in the borders of the paper, but still seems good value at £10k-£15k. There are also a number of early Turner drawings and watercolours in the low thousands - it seems amazing to me that there is still this price disparity for works by artists like Turner. The centrepiece of Sotheby's drawing sale is a £2.5m-£3.5m view of the Coronation of a Venetian Doge by Canaletto

Christie's drawing sale has a self-portrait drawing by Sir Joshua Reynolds, priced this time at £100k-£150k. It was up for sale a few years ago at (I recall) £200k-£300k, but didn't sell. It is slightly 'rubbed', but otherwise still does the business. Reynolds did it when he was just seventeen. Turner features in the Christie's sale with this £500k-£700k view of Norham Castle.

There's plenty more to write about, but my train is just pulling into London. As a mark of my dedication to you, AHNers, I've been writing this a la Jeremy Corbyn, sitting on the floor, resting against a bin. That's British trains for you, and I'm afraid it must explain the lack of photos in this post. There's no wifi either. I'm  hoping to catch Bonhams sale this morning (their view ended at 4.30pm yesterday!). Also, I wrote a piece for The Art Newspaper on the sales, but for some reason this is not yet online, and only in the printed version. There are some other videos about the sales, which I'll post shortly.

Christie's London Old Master sale

June 14 2017

Image of Christie's London Old Master sale

Picture: Christie's

The Christie's London Old Master sales are now online; Evening sale (print edition only, but with two previously unknown Van Dycks) here, Day Sale here, and drawings here.

Sotheby's July Old Master catalogue

June 12 2017

Image of Sotheby's July Old Master catalogue

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's London July Old Master catalogues have begun to online, and what treats they contains; Turner, Murillo, Cranach, Bellotto, and many more. It's one of the strongest sales I've seen for a while, and from the print catalogue is beautifully presented. The sale is on 5th July, and viewing starts the weekend before. I'll post more on these sales soon.

Newly found Parmigianino at Bonhams

June 6 2017

Image of Newly found Parmigianino at Bonhams

Picture: via ATG

Laura Chesters in the ATG reports that a newly discovered drawing by Parmigianino will be sold at Bonhams in London on 5th July, estimate £15k-£20k. More here

Christie's New York Old Master sale (ctd.)

May 1 2017

Video: Christie's

Christie's Old Master sale in New York seems to have performed well. The pre-sale estimate was $18m-$28m, and the final total was $32.76m. Granted, the latter figure includes buyer's premium, and the extraordinary $10m result for the Govaert Flinck sale I mentioned last week. But it's still a respectable figure for Christie's new April sale (they used to be in January, alongside Sotheby's), and the total also reflects well on Christie's new team in the New York Old Master department, which is led by Francois de Poortere (seen in the video above). In recent years Christie's New York sales have not fared well

Aside from the Flinck, the top-selling picture was an altarpiece by Hugo van der Goes, which until recently has been on loan to the Met in New York. There, it's distinctive appearance (as the video above explains, in the 18th Century part of the painting was scraped down) made it a popular exhibit. Some might say that a period of loan to an institution like the Met made the picture valuable, and helped it sell for nearly $9m. But I'm not sure museum exposure always works like that. After all, does a painting become a great painting because a museum exhibits it - or does a museum exhibit it because it's a great painting? (Incidentally, isn't that a good video; clearly explaine, brief, good close-ups. That's all you need.)

Other lots to note; the newly discovered Titian I mentioned earlier didn't quite beat expectations, selling at $547k against an estimate of $600k-$800k. Happily, the sleuthing buyer who spotted it in a sale in Switzerland still came out ahead. A painting by Lancret, Autumn, only made $1.2m, which represented a full 50% below the lower estimate of $2m - though it still set a new auction record for Lancret apparently. Another auction record ($511k) was set for a picture by Michaelina Woutiers for this rather unconventional Portrait of a Lady. A St Barbara by Francesco Francia made $1.44m (est $500k-$600k). You can see the full results here

Flinck Mania!

April 27 2017

Image of Flinck Mania!

Picture: Christie's

Amazing news from today's Old Master sale at Christie's in New York; a 1646 painting by Govaert Flinck of an old man (above) raced to over $10m from its estimate of $2m-$3m. This is by some margin a new record for Flinck, but the astonishing thing is that last appeared at auction in 2011 in London it made £2.3m (the estimate then was £700k-£1m). This tells us a number of things: the Old Master market is still full of surprises; Flinck is on the up (and quite right too); and that valuing art is always really, really difficult. 

Dorotheum Old Master sale

April 26 2017

Image of Dorotheum Old Master sale

Picture: Dorotheum

We're always being told the 'middle market' for Old Masters is suffering, but it's always worth keeping an eye on Dorotheum's auctions to see how prices in Europe are holding up. Their Old Master sale today posted consistently strong prices (browse here) for works from all periods. It doubtless helps that they always present their sales so well, with handsome printed catalogues, with explanatory text, high-resolution photos on the website, and (in Vienna) one of the world's best auction rooms. 

One of the top lots was a pair of 'Antwerp School' portraits (the gent, above) which made €466k (inc. premium).

A new Velasquez for sale in Spain?

April 23 2017

Image of A new Velasquez for sale in Spain?

Picture: Abalarte

Belen Palanco in The Art Newspaper reports that a portrait of a young 'immaculate' up for auction this week in Spain may be a previously unknown work by Velasquez. The picture has been adjudged by the auction house to be an early work, but no Velasquez scholars have been cited in the catalogue. An x-ray of the painting has revealed the subject originally had a halo of stars, and this has been compared to another early Velasquez in the National Gallery in London. From the photos, well, I can see where they're coming from. But Velasquez scholarship is not straightforward. It's a gamble for someone. You can zoom in on the picture here.

Update - it made €8m. I'm told this was the reserve too. 

Sleeper Alert!

April 11 2017

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Adam's Auctioneers

The above copper panel of Christ made €120,000 at Adam's auctioneers yesterday in Dublin, against an estimate of €800. Such is the fascination with all things sleeper-y these days that the auction house were keenly spreading the news themselves (here on Twitter, and here in the Irish Times). 

Major Turner at Sotheby's

April 4 2017

Image of Major Turner at Sotheby's

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's have secured for their next London Old Master sale in July in London. Ehrenbreitstein was exhibited at the RA in 1835, and was considered one of Turner's finest works. The estimate is £15m-£25, which I think is cautiously conservative; the last major Turners on the auction market have performed strongly, with Rome from Mount Aventine making £30.3m in 2014. More here.

A day of disappointment!

March 30 2017

Image of A day of disappointment!

Picture: Sotheby's

I think there should be a medical term to describe the frustration of underbidding something at auction. Has anyone got any ideas? 'I'm suffering from gavel grief'? 

I suppose feelings of excitement and hope are a key part of the auction process - from the time you see something in the catalogue, determine that you want it, think about whether you can afford it, dare to dream you might get it - but still the sense of disappointment when someone beats you to it can be more than annoying. I'm aware there are more important things to worry about in the world...

On Tuesday Sotheby's held that rare thing these days; a proper, quality house sale, packed full of items that had never before been on the market. One of them wasa small inch-high gold jewel of the Order of the Thistle (above), the pre-eminent Scottish chivalric order. It showed St Andrew on his cross. The family legend (from the Forbes's of Pitsligo) was that this had belonged to Bonnie Prince Charlie, and had been given to the 4th Baron Forbes after the Battle of Culloden. The estimate was £400-£600! 

So you can imagine the excitement this caused a Jacobite anorak like me, not least because Bonnie Prince Charlie has actually (though of course indirectly) changed my life*. I also thought the family legend behind the jewel was quite convincing; the story had been first recorded in 1804, and the figure of St Andrew was evidently made in a southern European fashion. James III & VIII also created very few 'Jacobite' knights of the Thistle, so there few other contenders to have owned such a thing. And we know also that Charles owned a gold jewel like this, for we see it in his portrait by Antonio David (below, and zoom in here).

Alas, it was not to be. The jewel made £6,875. In the same sale was a portrait by Ramsay of Clementina Walkinshaw, Charles' mistress and the mother of his daughter, the Duchess of Albany. That made £37,500. 

And talking of mistresses, my hopes were also dashed on a portrait of Van Dyck's mistress, Margaret Lemon (above). Regular readers will know that Van Dyck is another of my slight obsessions. Lemon was supposedly so jealous of his female sitters that she once tried to bite his thumb off, so he could no longer paint. The portrait was a good early copy of Van Dyck's original in the Royal Collection, and made £11,875.

* I live in Edinburgh, after finding this.

New Van Dyck oil sketch discovered

March 6 2017

Image of New Van Dyck oil sketch discovered

Picture: Artcurial

A newly discovered study by Van Dyck of the infant Christ will soon come up for auction in Paris on 23rd March. It's an early work, and wonderfully painted. The estimate is €50k-€70k, which strikes me as quite reasonable. Until recently, it had been added to on all four sides in an attempt to make the picture seem more 'finished'. This is a common fate of studies by the likes of Van Dyck. Now the additions have been removed, to good effect I think. I had the chance to see some high-resolution photos from before and after conservation, and had no doubt that it's by Van Dyck. Congratulations to the finder (whom I do not know) - I hope it does well. You can zoom in on the image here

Update - it made EUR100k hammer.

Virtual Reality Surrealism

February 23 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Well how about this - Sotheby's have created virtual reality headsets for people to explore surrealist paintings by the likes of Dali. The video above (obviously only in 2D) allows you to move around the landscape. More here in The Telegraph.

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