Rich 'put money on their walls' (ctd.)
May 9 2013
Christie's New York Impressionist and Modern sale made $158m last night, a lacklustre figure compared with Sotheby's $230m the previous day. The $158m total was reported as 'surpassing' the lower estimate of $131m, but of course the final figure includes buyer's premium, while the pre-sale estimates do not. The top lot was Chaim Soutine's Le Petit Patissier, which made a record $18m. More here at Bloomberg.
Rich 'put money on their walls'
May 8 2013
Picture: New York Times
Or so Carol Vogel says in her review of Sotheby's Impressionist and Modern sale held last night in New York. It made $230m including premium. Apparently some celebs were in attendance:
The first of the big spring auctions began Tuesday night at Sotheby’s, where paintings and sculptures by Cézanne, Braque and Léger topped expectations as bidders from 35 countries put money on their walls rather than in the shakier financial markets. The crowd — including the rapper L L Cool J and the New York businessman Donald L. Bryant Jr. — watched as bidders competed for Impressionist and modern artworks.
Auctioning in Dubai
April 30 2013
They applaud after every lot!
April 30 2013
Here's an interesting picture that came up for auction last week in Switzerland, catalogued as 'Follower of Titian - Portrait of Gabriel Solitus', with an old inscription 'Titianus' at top right. The estimate was CHF 4-6,000, but it sold for CHF 460,000 hammer - gently helped on its way by us here at Philip Mould & Co. With premium it would have been well over the CHF 500,000 mark, or not far off £400,000, all of which is clearly not a Follower of Titian price. So what was it?
I wouldn't be surprised if we see it surface again one day as a Titian, probably of the late 1540s/early 1550s. Titian portraits don't often come on the market, and Titian 'sleepers' are even rarer, so this picture represented quite an opportunity for picture hunters like us. We went out to see it, buoyed by some pre-sale research which made the attribution to Titian very plausible. In the flesh, however, the picture was so covered in dirt, overpaint and thick varnish that it was very hard to get a grip on the overall quality, while large areas of abrasion made one wonder what original paint was left. There were flashes of brilliance, such as the book. But much of the picture was impenetrable, hence it looking like a copy at first glance, and from the photographs. The picture therefore represented a significant risk, and as a result (and despite our very encouraging research) we didn't feel confident to take the bid any further. I'm sad we missed out on it though. My hunch is it's right.
One that got away?
April 25 2013
Picture: Art Institute of Chicago
A reader alerts me to the Art Institute of Chicago's acquisition of Ludwig Richter's 1832 The Fountain at Grottaferrata, and notes that the National Gallery tried to buy it in 1989. It was eventually sold at Christie's in 2010 for £181,250 with premium, placing it affordably (for the National) at the lower end of the estimate of £150,000-250,000. It's an interesting case of how an institution's taste can evolve over time.
Met buys Ritz Le Brun
April 19 2013
The Metropolitan Museum in New York has emerged as the buyer of Charles Le Brun's Sacrifice of Polyxena, which was sold at Christie's this week for EUR1.4m. It will be the Met's first work by Le Brun. The picture had been discovered in the Coco Chanel suite at the Ritz in Paris.
One might have expected the French authorities to pre-empt the picture, though I suppose there's no shortage of Le Brun's in France.
Update - more details here on Joseph Friedman's website. Joseph first discovered the picture.
Why you don't want to be an auctioneer in France
April 18 2013
The Art@Law website brings us news of an important case in France. The case revolves around the above sculpture, which in 1987 was bought as a 'Rodin' at Tajan auctioneers in Paris. When the owner tried to sell it in 2006, again through Tajan, they told him it wasn't in fact by Rodin, but a later cast. So the owner sued Tajan, and in his favour the Paris Court of Appeal:
[...] held that an auctioneer was strictly liable to the buyer of an artwork if he described it as authentic when it was not. Strict liability means that the auctioneer is liable irrespective of whether he was negligent in cataloguing the artwork. He is liable if he gets it wrong.
If I was a French auction house, I'd be getting very sweaty right now. Imagine the possible liabilities that are on the horizon, given that attributions can change over time, often at the unreasonable whim of a specialist who doesn't know what they're talking about. It's one thing to be sued if you casually decided something was by Rodin, didn't check with the Rodin scholars, and catalogued it as Rodin in full. But as most auction houses are generalists, it's quite possible that they consulted the Rodin scholars of the day, and were assured that the piece was indeed by Rodin. In which case, you might argue that they were perfectly entitled to sell it as a Rodin.
In sculpture cases like the one above, advances in scientific analysis mean it's easier to tell an original cast from a later one. But the case is even more vague with attributions of period oil paintings. Let's imagine that in the 1980s you were an auctioneer in Paris who sold a picture as by Rembrandt, an artist whose oeuvre famously increases and decreases with each successive generation of scholars. You may have acted with all the diligence in the world, and had the backing of all the Rembrandt scholars of the day. Fast forward to 2013, however, and suddenly the Rembrandt Research Project is not so sure. That's one big bill...
In the UK, however, the situation is very different. Says Art@Law:
The English Courts approach these matters very differently. First, the attribution of an artwork to a particular artist or period is typically held a matter of opinion. Secondly, the English Courts are unlikely to attribute contractual force to an opinion. Thirdly, in order to establish negligence, the claimant must show that the defendant owed him/her a duty of care; that is rarely the case in a relationship between buyer and seller. For these and other reasons, it is generally more difficult to persuade a court to find against an auctioneer or expert in England than it is in France.
Still, the French Court of Appeal decision means (I suppose) that France might suddenly look like a good place to buy art - after all, you have an indefinate guarantee of authenticity enforced by the state. You may struggle to find someone to sell you anything, though...
Picture of the Day
April 10 2013
This little girl looks like something out of The Shining. Poor duck. The picture is coming up for sale in May at Christie's. Zoom in the duck's discomfort here.
That $7 Renoir (ctd.)
April 8 2013
Picture: Associated Press
The one which turned out to be stolen from a museum in Baltimore - well it seems it might not have been bought at a flea market (by a Marcia Fuqua) at all. From the AP:
On Friday, The Washington Post reported that Fuqua’s 84-year-old mother, who operated an art school for decades in Fairfax County under the name Marcia Fouquet, is an artist who specialized in reproducing paintings from Renoir and other masters. The Post said Fouquet had artistic links to Baltimore in the 1950s, when the painting was stolen, and graduated from Goucher College with a fine arts degree in 1952.
A man who identified himself as Fuqua’s brother, Owen M. Fuqua, told the Post that the painting had been in the family for 50 or 60 years and that “all I know is my sister didn’t just go buy it at a flea market.”
The man later retracted his story, and ultimately said it was another person using his name who gave the initial interview.
Efforts by the AP Friday to reach Martha and Owen Fuqua Friday were unsuccessful. Martha Fuqua’s lawyer did not return a call Friday seeking comment.
Even more curiously, the picture has been valued for the FBI at just $22,000 because:
[...] Renoir’s paintings have fallen out of favour with some art collectors who consider them old fashioned and because questions about the painting’s ownership and possible theft diminish its value to collectors.
Renoir - he's, like, so last year.
April 4 2013
The government has placed a temporary export ban on the Raphael drawing Head of an Apostle, sold from Chatsworth last year. It has to be done, I suppose, but if a UK museum manages to come up with the necessary £29.7m, I'll eat my trousers. Under our current export system, the more expensive an item is, the more likely it is to leave the country.
The 15th Century manuscript sold by Chatsworth in the same sale, for £3.8m, has also been temporarily blocked.
TEFAF joins Sotheby's in China
March 27 2013
Picture: The Economist/AFP
Like most art dealers and auction houses, TEFAF [The European Fine Art Fair, at Maastricht] has for some time been trying to 'get more Chinese' to come and sample its wares. Now, however, they've decided to have a TEFAF fair in China itself, and in collaboration with Sotheby's. Not so long ago, TEFAF members used to resist vigorously any involvement with the main auction houses. But the new partnership is a sign of how things have changed, and the increasing dominance of auctioneers. More details on TEFAF Beijing in the Antiques Trade Gazette here.
Meanwhile, China Daily has an interesting take on a recent selling exhibition at Sotheby's New York of Chinese art, seeing it as a move by the auction house into dealer territory:
The art work with fixed prices rather than being offered in the traditional auction is an attempt by Sotheby's to gain new business at time its auction revenue has declined. It's also a move into an area traditionally run by private art galleries: sales exhibitions. And it's drawing criticism from some gallery owners who deal primarily in Asian art.
"This will be an uphill battle," said Martha Sutherland, principal of M. Sutherland Fine Arts gallery. "We are in the bespoke business and we offer the personal touch." [...]
In 2012, Sotheby's reported total revenue of $768.5 million, which included auction and private sales. That was a decline of $63.3 million, or 8 percent, from 2011. The decrease was mainly caused by a $79.4 million, or 11 percent, drop in auction-commission revenue. Private sales were a record $906.5 million, an 11 percent increase from $814.6 million in 2011.
Henry Howard-Sneyd, Sotheby's vice-chairman of, Asian art, said the auction house doesn't see its move into sales exhibitions as a threat to galleries.
"There are new galleries being formed and galleries closing down all the time," he said. "It's a constant cycle. I think Sotheby's is being one of those new faces in that market place. It's just part of the ongoing innovation and creativity of the contemporary art market. "
Finally, in the Old Master world, dealer Johnny Van Haeften (in an interview with Art History Abroad) also sees increasing auction house dominance, and says the future is bleak for Old Master dealers:
Auction houses are doing so many private treaty sales now; what sort of impact do you think that has on dealers?
I think it’s one of the greatest threats to the dealing world. Christie’s and Sotheby’s have both announced that 20% of their turnover comes from private sales, which is quite scary.
Do you think it’s affected the quality of their auctions?
Certainly the quality of the sales has reduced considerably, as has the quantity. The availability of pictures is diminishing, and it’s difficult for us to compete with them. There is an attraction that Christie’s and Sotheby’s offer – they say, ‘if you sell with us, it will be totally discreet and private and it won’t go to auction’, but if you go through a gallery, that would happen anyway. I suppose their main argument is that they have access to more clients.
What about the future of Old Master dealers?
I think it’s fairly bleak. As the availability declines, the cost price gets higher. But I think there will always be Old Master dealers and there will always be people who prefer to buy from dealers – as soon as they realise that at auction the price can only go up and at galleries it can only go down. We’ve noticed already this year, that buyers are starting to come back to galleries, because the intensity of the pressure to make up your mind by a certain time is not present in a gallery – you have a little bit longer, you can try it out in your home and you don’t have to take a risk, like a dealer buying a very dirty picture that doesn’t clean well and then being stuck with it. There always has been huge competition between the dealers and the auction houses, and there always will be.
As I've said before, there is only one way dealers can continue to compete with auction houses, given that we cannot out spend them or out market them, and that is to out think them. That's what makes it such fun.
Newly found Reni makes CHF 1.2m
March 27 2013
Picture: Gallerie Koller
A re-discovered Assumption by Guido Reni has been sold in Switzerland for CHF1.22m, against a CHF 120,000 reserve. More details here.
Steen mania continues
March 22 2013
Picture: Arts Council/Christie's
Last December Sotheby's sold a Jan Steen, The Prayer Before the Meal, for a record £5.6m (incl. premium). This summer, however, Christie's will offer Steen's 1660 Interior with the Artist Eating Oysters for up to £10m.
That at least is the 'Guide Price' being quoted on the Arts Council's 'Notice of Intention of Sale' page, where works being sold which have previously been exempted from capital taxation have to be placed, in case a museum wants to make a pre-emptive bid. We don't yet know what the auction estimate will be, for, as the Arts Council says:
Please note that the price given is intended as a rough guide only, and does not constitute an offer to sell at this price. The practice of the auction houses is usually to pitch this at their high auction estimate or, sometimes, even higher.
Changing values and taste in art history
March 13 2013
Picture: Metropolitan Museum
Professor David Ekserdjian has written an interesting article for The Art Newspaper on how artists' reputations, and values, can rise and fall. He cites the classic example of Van Gogh, who despite only selling one picture during his lifetime is now one of the most sought after in the world, but says such cases are rare:
Maybe we should blame the film “Lust for Life”, 1956, in which Kirk Douglas strutted his stuff as Vincent Van Gogh. What is certain is the fact that the conventional idea of the artist as an unappreciated genius starving in a garret, whose merits will only be recognised when it is far too late for him to reap any earthly benefit, is ominously well entrenched. What is more, this heart-warming scenario of posthumous glory also has a flip side. It requires that any artists who have the misfortune to be admired in their own day had better make the most of it, since they will inevitably fall from favour in the fullness of time. According to the 2012 Sunday Times Rich List, whose accuracy it would be foolhardy to question, Damien Hirst (number 360, £215m) and Anish Kapoor (number 908, £80m) are doing quite nicely, thank you. So, does this mean that we should be musing on the posthumous obloquy they are bound to suffer?
The simple answer is no. The long view suggests that while some artists inevitably go up and down in the rankings, especially when it comes to the second best, there are exceptionally few genuine rediscoveries of slumbering giants. It is true that whole historical periods and regional schools can suffer blanket dismissal, but the pecking order within them tends to stay the same.
I'm not so sure, especially when it comes to artists travelling in the opposite direction to Van Gogh. It's a sure bet that many of today's star artists will be worth relatively little in, say, 50 years. Art appreciation and art valuing today is largely about fashion, but art history is more discerning. Prof. Ekserdjian's article reminded me of a story on BlouinArtinfo the other day, entitled '10 Former Art Sensations the Art Market Left Behind'. My favourite examples were the final two in their list:
Anselm Reyle (1970-present)
Even with the might of Gagosian Gallery behind him, Reyle’s 10-year-old flame appears to be dimming. The German artist’s big signature foil paintings used to bring in a half-million dollars in the boom years, and became ubiquitous at art fairs — and somewhat symbolic of the “bling art” favored by contemporary collectors. Now you can find them for less than $100,000. What’s worse, nearly half of the paintings that came to auction in 2012 failed to find buyers at all.
Damien Hirst (1965-present)
Okay, this one is speculative. It’s too early to say what’s going to happen to the onetime YBA’s career now that he has left Gagosian amid what some analysts have called a “crash” in his market. Recent works by the artist seem to have dropped by a third when they have come up at auction recently. Does the drop in his secondary-market prices signal the end to his reign as the wealthiest artist in the world? Or is his primary market still holding strong? We’ll have to wait for time to tell on this one.
A reader got in touch with me about the Blouin piece, to say that it:
[...] misses out probably the most expensive contemporary artist ever – at least in modern times. Let me introduce you, if you don’t know it already to Friedland [above, a battle scene by Ernest Meissonier, painted c1861-75, which was bought for the whopping sum of $60,000 in 1878].
To put the Friedland sale in context, the most expensive paintings in the world at that time were Murillo’s Immaculate Conception – which the Louvre bought at the Soult sale in 1852 for nearly £25,000 and Raphael’s altarpiece, the Ansidei Madonna, bought for the National Gallery from Blenheim Palace in 1885 for £70,000. As a Van Dyck nut, you’ll be astonished to learn that Friedland was almost as expensive as the Equestrian Portrait of Charles I, which was bought by the National Gallery as part of the same deal for £17,000.
The auction record for Meissonier today is $490,000, for a painting called Guide, sold in 2002.
The Met buys a sleeper
March 5 2013
Paul Jeromack in The Art Newspaper reports that the Metropolitan Museum has pulled off a bit of a coup, with the purchase of the above drawing by Jacques Louis David for just $840. It came up for sale in a minor auction in New York, called 'French School, early 19th Century'. It relates to David's painting The Death of Scorates, which belongs to the Met.
The auction, at Swann Galleries, took place on 29th January during New York's Old Master week. In other words, the Met bought a sleeper in the same week that they might well have sold one.
Turner discovered in India
March 2 2013
Picture: Bid & Hammer Auction
A missing Turner watercolour showing part of the fortifications at Seringapatam has been found in India. It is to be sold at auction soon, with an estimate of 2-3 million Rupees (approx. $370,000-$555,000). More details here.
February 25 2013
Tomorrow Christies will open bidding for the second batch of works from the Warhol Foundation after their decision to sell the lot last year. Intriguingly Christies have decided to offer them in an online auction over the course of one week;
"The timed online format allows clients to browse, bid, receive instant updates by email or phone if another bid exceeds theirs, organize shipping, and pay from anywhere in the world."
This eBay style of auctioneering seems to be all the rage at the moment and a few regional auction houses have also opted for this method of sale, normally for their lesser valued items such as wine as well as unsold lots. With the ever increasing overheads of large commercial spaces, this quicker method of public offering will no doubt become common ground in the years to come.
Sotheby's sued over Caravaggio attribution
February 15 2013
The Art Newspaper reports that Sotheby's is being sued over a work it sold as a copy of a Caravaggio in 2006, but which might in fact be the real thing. The vendor is apparently claiming up to £10m. The word 'might', of course, is the crucial bit here, for although the late Sir Denis Mahon said the picture was by Caravaggio, other Caravaggio scholars have said it isn't. And Sir Denis might have had a conflict of interest - he bought the picture at Sotheby's, for £50,400.
The claimant is Lancelot William Thwaytes, who consigned the work to auction in 2006; it was catalogued as The Cardsharps, “a 17th-century copy after Caravaggio’s original now in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth”. The painting had been in the Thwaytes family since 1962. According to the claim that was filed at the end of January, Thwaytes seeks unspecified damages, interest and costs relating to the price difference between the £42,000 the painting sold for in 2006 and “what its true open market value was in 2006”, had it been attributed to Caravaggio and to be determined by expert evidence. The filing includes the claim that Sotheby’s did not undertake the necessary research and analysis prior to the work’s sale.
In a statement, Sotheby’s says that its “view that the painting is a copy and not an autograph work by Caravaggio is supported by the eminent Caravaggio scholar Professor Richard Spear, as well as by several other leading experts in the field”. Other experts who have gone on the record in support of Sotheby’s view include Helen Langdon, the Italian Baroque scholar and the writer of Caravaggio’s 1998 biography, and Sebastian Schütze, a professor of art history at the University of Vienna. In reference to Mahon’s The Cardsharps, Schütze writes in his 2009 catalogue of Caravaggio’s paintings that “the quality of the execution… rather suggests the painting to be a copy”.
So far, Sotheby's case would seem pretty strong, not least because it's very hard to sue an auction house if they make a mistake over attributions. The Terms and Conditions you sign when consigning a painting for sale effectively give them carte blanche to call a picture what they like. The only thing you can sue auction houses for is negligence - that is, say they didn't bother to do even the most basic research on a painting - and that is very hard to proove. In my experience, at least, the major auction houses usually are professional and diligent in how they catalogue pictures.
However, then Sotheby's go and spoil their case by saying:
Sotheby’s adds: “Our view is also supported by the market, which gave its verdict on this painting when it set the price at £50,400 [the hammer price plus the buyer’s premium] at Sotheby’s sale in December of 2006. The catalogue in which the painting was included was distributed among the world’s leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers—had they deemed the attribution different to that given in the catalogue, the price realised would doubtless have reflected that.”
This is a spurious argument, and I can't believe that anybody senior at Sotheby's has signed off on it. Such logic would rule out any cheaply bought 'sleeper' ever being right. And, if the inverse is true, it must mean that when 'the market' bids way over estimate for a picture called, say, 'follower of Rubens', then not only is the market right that it is by Rubens, but the auction house must wrong in stating that it is by a follower.
The 'Caravaggio' in question here was offered at Sotheby's minor saleroom in Olympia, which is now closed. It was a pain in the bum to get to, and only the hardy and determined tended to go and view paintings there. So it would have been quite easy for the 'the world's leading curators, art historians, collectors and dealers' to miss the painting. It used to happen a lot, but sadly, for bottom-feeding dealers like me, doesn't so much these days; high-resolution online images mean most people can inspect pretty much everything on offer at auction, no matter where it is. But in the distant days of 2006 online images weren't as good as they are now, and the Sotheby's Olympia catalogues generally only had very small printed images. You can see the original catalogue entry here. So it's just not possible to use an auction sale price as proof of a painting's attribution. For what it's worth, I remember looking at the picture - and not having a clue that it might be by Caravaggio. The attribution is now also supported by, according to TAN:
[...] Caravaggio scholars Mina Gregori and Maurizio Marini; Antonio Paolucci, the director of the Vatican Museums; the curator and Bolognese art expert Daniele Benati; Thomas Scheider, a writer and restorer; and Ulrich Birkmaier, the chief conservator of the Wadsworth Atheneum.
Update - a reader asks:
A very interesting article on the Mahon 'Caravaggio' - do we know where it currently is, does it form part of the Mahon estate, which I understood was willed to the Art Fund, and on a slightly different matter, what is the news on Mahon's will, which I believe still hasn't been published?
Another reader also wonders:
Interestingly the article actually says Mahon “obtained an export licence for it that gave an estimated selling price of £10m”.
I assume this was a temporary one for the exhibition in Trapani as I don’t recollect any case before the Reviewing Committee on the Export of Works of Art. Unless of course there was no objection to a permanent export licence by the Committee’s expert adviser, the National Gallery, which, given the rarity of authentic Caravaggios in the UK, one would expect there to be.
And what has happened to it since? I notice that the Mahon pictures in the National Gallery have not yet been accessioned, they remain “On loan from the Personal Representatives of Sir Denis Mahon”.
Update II - I am reliably informed by someone whose opinion on attributions I trust entirely, that the picture is certainly not by Caravaggio.
February 7 2013
More high prices at this week's Impressionist and Modern sales in London, including £26.9m for the above Modigliani. Details at Bloomberg here.