April 27 2017
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
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
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.
April 11 2017
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
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
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
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
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.
Spanish pictures at Sotheby's
January 23 2017
I particularly like the El Greco, which, though called 'attributed to' looks like the real deal to me. A potential bargain for someone for $400k-$600k?
January 23 2017
Good morning from New York. Here's a photo of a cat asleep in a deli.
I'm afraid blogging will be light to non-existent for the next few days. Too many meetings and trips to squeeze into a short period of time. This morning (Monday) I'm on my way to Minneapolis. Then I'm back to New York on Tuesday, before heading up to New England on Wednesday. I'll be posting various bits of news and pictures I've seen over on Twitter in case you're interested.
Yesterday I was at Sotheby's seeing the Old Master sales. There are no mega lots this year, as with the $30m Gentileschi last year. But still plenty of nice things (a selection of which I've put up on Twitter). I've also posted below some videos from Sotheby's. Christie's has a drawing sale, and the star of the show there is a wonderful drawing by Rubens after (or rather, on top of) a drawing by Giulio Romano.
Yesterday Sotheby's put on the most spectacular breakfast buffet I have ever seen. At first I thought it was a still life.
One that got away (ctd.)
January 13 2017
From La Repubblica newspaper in Italy comes news that the Italian government tried to stop the sale of a 15th Century painting sold last year by Sotheby's in London. The picture was a gabella showing the Flagellation of Christ, and was painted in 1441 by an artist commonly called the Master of the Osservanza, but who has now been suggested to be Sano di Pietro (1405-1481). Gabellas were used as decorative covers for the official account books of the city of Sienna, and were decorated with the coats of arms of the officials who drew them up. Most Siennese gabellas (105 of them) are now housed in the state archives in Sienna, but a number are in private collections and museums. Here's one in the Metropolitan Museum. La Repubblica says there are 136 in total.
The Italian government claimed that this painting must at some point have been 'stolen', was therefore still the property of the state, and should be returned to Italy. They presented no proof it was stolen, or when it left the Sienna archive. They also conceded that it left Italy 'before rules on export licences existed'. The picture had been in the possession of the German artist Franz von Lenbach, who died in 1904. So Sotheby's ignored this rather crude attempt to seize a painting being sold legitimately, in good faith, and it made £1.38m against a reserve of £400,000-£600,000.
I don't think there is any international legal mechanism by which Italy could seize the painting, wherever it ends up, since the claim on it is so weak. But I daresay it might not stop them trying. If I were the new owner, I probably wouldn't want to lend it to an Italian museum any time soon, just in case. The wider point here is that it's time we came to an internationally agreed statute of limitations for these restitution cases.
Old pictures, old clothes
January 13 2017
I'll be going out to the US on a mini auction & museum tour the week after next, so I'm glad I'll be able to catch Sotheby's 'Costumist', Jonquil O'Reily, giving a lefture on 'Precious Textiles and their Painted Forms' at Sotheby's New York. Regular readers may remember that Jonquil recently had a look at codpieces. The lecture is on Sunday 22nd January at 3pm. More here.
And while we're on New York, here's the Antiques Trade Gazette's highlights of the Old Master week. I'll write a more detailed report when I'm there.
Brexit and the Art Market (ctd.)
January 6 2017
As predicted by AHN in the immediate aftermath of the UK's Brexit vote, the London art market has benefited from the sustained fall in the pound. According to this article in Bloomberg, the weak pound helped London buck the trend of contracting overall global auction sales.
Auction estimate changes in UK
January 4 2017
Picture: Art Observed
The Antiques Trade Gazette reports on a new ruling by the UK's Advertising Standards Authority on auction estimates. At the moment, an auction catalogue gives an estimate of just the hammer price. Only at the end of the catalogue (usually) does the small print tell you that there will be a buyer's premium on top (ranging from about 10% to 30%).
The dispute has a long history in the battle between dealers and auctioneers. The former have felt that auctioneers mis-represent 'the price' of goods - which, to a punter, invariably appear cheaper than a gallery's full retail price - by not including all the extras. It appears that in this case the person who made the official complaint to the ASA was a dealer. Auctioneers have always tended to resist making it easier to see the total price including commissions, even though these days with online bidding platforms and the like it would be the work of a moment. At the main London and New York auction houses, for example, large screens behind the auctioneer convert the hammer price instantly into foreign currencies. But the total price with premium is never shown, until the post-sale press releases want to stress how much everything sold for. But that said, I think really most people bidding at auction are pretty aware of what the total price wil be, even if it sometimes comes as a nasty shock on the invoice (with VAt and everything on top).
The ASA's suggested solution is for auction estimates in catalogues to be presented thus:
Guide price £70,000-80,000 + 10% buyer’s premium and other fees
Guide price £1000–2000 + 20% buyer’s premium and other fees (minimum £150)
Sotheby's NY Old Master sales
December 20 2016
Sotheby's January New York sale catalogues are online; Evening sale here; Day sale here; drawings here. There are many fine things as ever; Turner, Zurburan, an equestrian study by Rubens, and an Orazio Gentileschi that used to belong to Charles I. Shown above is a picture that caught my eye when it was previewed in London, a wonderfully zany El Greco, which is catalogued cautiously as 'attributed to El Greco' with an estimate of $400k-$600k.
I'll be in New York for the sales, part of a US jaunt I'm making to visit a few museums. There's an intriguing picture called 'attributed to Rembrandt' which I'm looking forward to seeing. The estimate is $300k-$500k, which is not much for a Rembrandt - if it is one. It seems from the text and exhibition history that the attribution is or was supported by Seymour Slive, Christopher Brown and Horst Gerson. We can doubtless deduce by the absence of his name from the catalogue that Ernst van de Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project does not endorse the attribution. Looking at the literature, it seems it has been published and exhibited as a work by Rembrandt in full - until now. Such are the vagaries of Rembrandt scholarship.
The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)
December 13 2016
Further to the Old Master sales this week, here's Colin Gleadell's overview of the market in The Telegraph:
[...] the sales revealed real strength in the under £1 million bracket, emphasising a flourishing market for the best work by minor masters.
In the select evening sales, demand was more robust than it has been for years, egged on by tempting estimates that had not been driven up by auction house competition for the properties. [...]
Whereas last year 34 per cent of Sotheby’s Old Masters were unsold, this year the damage was reduced to just 17 per cent, and the total £14.8 million, while not a big one, was above the pre-sale estimates. [...]
A figure Christie’s was particularly proud of was the low 19 per cent of lots unsold; it was one of their best ever, they said.
Still waiting for the New York Times' take on the sales...
In my photo above are a pair of portraits of George III and Queen Charlotte from the studio of Allan Ramsay. They sold at Christie's for what I thought was a bargain £37k inc. premium, having been estimated at £40k-£60k. The overall quality was better than the usual 'studio' fare with these portraits, which were merrily churned out by Ramsay's assistants.
December 13 2016
This 'Roman School, 17th Century' picture soared above its £1k-£15k estimate at Sotheby's last week to make £380,750 (inc. premium). There was even a round of applause in the room when the hammer came down. I've no idea what it was, but the provenance shows that it was once thought to be by Bernini.
Update - Colin Gleadell reports that it was bought by Nando Peretti of the Walpole Gallery.
Sotheby's OMP mannequin challenge
December 12 2016
Only just seen this - terrific. Award for the most athletic pose goes to Andrew Fletcher. The winker at the end is Julian Gascoigne.
London Old Master sales (ctd.)
December 10 2016
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.
Sotheby's new science department
December 6 2016
There was an interesting development in the fake story yesterday, when Sotheby's announced it had bought Orion Analytical, the company which has helped unmask forgeries in both the Old Master and Modern art sectors. Here's a report in the Financial Times (with some comments by me). Here's the Antiques trade Gazette, and here's the New York Times.
I think it's a shrewd move, and will help buyers be confident in attributions. Orion's Jamie Martin (above) will now become head of Sotheby's new head of scientific research. Jamie is perhaps best known for proving some of the Knoedler fakes, such as a Rothko, but has also shown a newly discovered Hals portrait to be fake too.