Category: Auctions

Reviews of the London Old Master sales

December 13 2017

Image of Reviews of the London Old Master sales

Picture: Christie's

I wrote a short review of the London Old Master sales for The Art Newspaper, which is here. Among the pictures I focused on was a Portrait of Petronella Buys by Rembrandt (above), which sold at Christie's for £3.4m. In his review for The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell managed to track down the name of the buyer; the Leiden Collection of Thomas Kaplan. 

Colin and I are in agreement that the Old Master market now has a decided spring in its step, post the Salvator Mundi sale. I hope finally we can now move on from the 'Old Master market is dead' myth. 

 

Who bought the Salvator Mundi? (ctd.)

December 12 2017

Image of Who bought the Salvator Mundi? (ctd.)

Picture: via Twitter

So this much we know for sure; the picture has 'been acquired' by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as the museum has confirmed, and will go on display there. But who actually bought the picture? Christie's statement says:

Christie’s can confirm that the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi is acquiring ‘Salvator Mundi’ by Leonardo da Vinci.

...'is acquiring' is interesting wording, and implies a break in ownership between the Christie's sale and now. As I mentioned below, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported that the picture was bought by the Saudis. The Times first mentioned the name of Prince Bader bin Abdullah, but the WSJ believes he was acting for the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and also that the picture has been gifted to the Louvre Abu Dhabi by him.

But CNN has reported that the painting was not a gift, and was definitely bought by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and that the Saudis were just intermediaries. CNN published a statement by the Saudi embassy in Washington:

"His Highness Prince Badr, as a friendly supporter of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, attended its opening ceremony on November 8th and was subsequently asked by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism to act as an intermediary purchaser for the piece."

Such mystery is typical of anything related to Leonardo da Vinci, but the pattern of events is unusual in the art world. I'm told that the US government believes that Mohammed bin Salman was indeed the buyer at Christie's. But why would the Saudi Crown Prince, who is busy shaking up Saudi Arabia in the most dramatic way for decades, be used as an intermediary to buy a picture of Christ for a museum in another country? Was he looking for a commission? Of course not. And are we to believe that the Louvre Abu Dhabi didn't have the cash or an account with Christie's? Again, of course not.

So what's going on. I'm speculating, but I wonder if the bidding war for this picture was due to a battle for cultural supremacy between the Emiratis (with their Louvre Abu Dhabi) and the Qataris (with their less glamorous sounding Qatar Museums Authority).

Both countries have been on buying sprees, as they seek to create world class museums from scratch. The Qataris have set many price records on their buying spree, such as the reported $250m for Cezanne's Card Players. But what might have given the battle for Salvator Mundi added zing is the diplomatic falling out between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both are majority Sunni nations, but the Qataris have been accused of being more aligned with (Shia) Iran, and have also irked the Saudis through their media outlets such as Al Jazeera. Amidst all this, the UAE are important allies for Saudi Arabia and their energetic new Crown Prince.

But this is all guesswork, so don't pay it much attention. Maybe the underbidders were connected to an Asian museum, as has been speculated. Either way, we're seeing a return to the sort of national bidding wars for great art that defined collecting in the 17th Century. 

Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's (ctd.)

December 6 2017

Image of Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's set a new auction record for Joseph Wright of Derby, selling his Academy by Lamplight for £7.26m (against an estimate of £2.5m-£3.5m).

A real fake!

November 21 2017

Image of A real fake!

Picture: A P Diemen auctions

A genuine, signed Han Van Meegeren (the forger of all those Vermeers in the 1930s and 40s) is on sale in Amsterdam, with an estimate of just 500-700 Euros. It was the fact that nobody valued his genuine paintings which made Van Meegeren turn to forgery. 

London Old Master sales

November 21 2017

Image of London Old Master sales

Picture: Sotheby's

The December London Old Master sale catalogues are online. Sotheby's Evening sale here, Day sale here. Christie's Evening here, day here. Bonhams here. Sotheby's are offering the above late Titian portrait - who's an old friend from my London dealing days - at £1m-£1.5m. I'm looking forward to seeing him again.

'Salvator Mundi' - the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction

November 16 2017

Image of 'Salvator Mundi' - the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction

Picture: Robert Simon Fine Art

It's 1am here in the UK and I've just witnessed the most extraordinary moment of auction drama at Christie's New York (via Facebook live). Leonardo's Salvator Mundi has sold for £400m hammer, or $450m with fees.

The lot was first announced as 'selling' at $80m, which I presume represents the level of the guarantee. Bidding was then brisk to the high $100ms, before, to audible gasps in the room, the picture broke through the $200m mark. Thereafter it was a battle between two phone bidders. The winning bidder kept making unilateral bids way above the usual bidding increments. Their final gambit was to announce, with the bidding at $370m, that their next bid was $400m. This finally knocked the competition out, and - after 19 minutes - the hammer came down. Whoever it was evidently has some serious cash to burn.

And so an Old Master painting has become the most expensive artwork ever sold. It will have completely overshadowed everything else in the sale. The next lot, a Basquiat (usually a high point for contemporary sales) bought in as the room buzzed with Leonardo chatter. Will the sale prompt people to now look anew at Old Masters? Maybe. It will surely end for good now the tired clicheé that the Old Master market is dead. 

Some immediate thoughts. First, the guarantor has made a few quid, and deserves it - guaranteeing that picture at this stage in its history (post rediscovery, and in the midst of an ugly legal battle between the vendor and his agent) was quite a risk. Second, the vendor - Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev - has made about $180m. He's in the midst of a legal battle with the person he bought the picture from, an art agent called Yves Bouvier, alleging that he was over-charged (it has been reported that Bouvier bought it from Sotheby's for about $80m, and sold it to Rybolovlev for about $125m - allegedly). I'm not sure how that over-charging allegation plays out now.

Third, Christie's just did something that re-writes the history of auctioneering. They took a big gamble with their brand, their strategy to sell the picture, and not to mention the reputations of their leadership team, and they pulled it off. They marketed the picture brilliantly - the best piece of art marketing I've ever seen. Above all, they had absolute faith in the picture. AHN congratulates them all. 

Finally, despite the fact that this picture enjoyed near universal endorsement from Leonardo scholars, and had a weight of other technical and historical evidence behind it, there was a tendency in many quarters to be sniffy about it. I found this puzzling - not just because (for what it's worth) I believed in the picture myself - since the determination amongst some to criticise the picture was in inverse proportion to their art historical expertise. It sometimes seems that the more famous the artist, the more people assume they are an expert in them. And with Leonardo being the most famous of them all, the armchair connoisseurs have been having a field day these last few weeks.

Anyway, I'm going to bed. What a ride. I was sure the picture would sell, but never imagined it would make this much. We must all now wonder where the picture is going to end up next. 

Re-discovered Lawrence portrait in Edinburgh

November 15 2017

Video: Lyon & Turnbull

The Edinburgh auctioneers Lyon & Turnbull have an unfinished portrait of a young girl by Sir Thomas Lawrence in their next sale. It's an early work, and can be dated to c.1790. The estimate is £30k-£50k, and the catalogue entry is here. [Disclaimer, I'm on the board of L&T!]

Christie's New York Old Master sale

November 1 2017

Image of Christie's New York Old Master sale

Picture: Christie's

The top lot of Christie's fall Old Master sale in New York was a self-portrait by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (above), which made $1.5m against an estimate of $600k-$800k. A head of St John the Baptist by Albrecht Bouts made $516k, while a $12k-$18k Studio of Van Dyck portrait raced away to $125k. There were some reasonably strong prices for British 18thC portraiture, including $75k for this Hudson, and $137k for this Reynolds, estimated at $20k-$30k. The rest of the sold lots are here

Monet landscapes at Sotheby's

October 30 2017

Video: Sotheby's

Another good auction house short video - this time on Monet, featuring Sotheby's Simon Stock 

Newly discovered £2m-£3m Constable at Sotheby's

October 29 2017

Image of Newly discovered £2m-£3m Constable at Sotheby's

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's will sell in their London Old Master sale this December a newly discovered painting by John Constable, with an estimate of £2m-£3m. The picture, Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood, was painting between 1814-17. Says Sotheby's specialist Julian Gascoigne:

Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood was long mistakenly thought to be by Ramsay Richard Reinagle (1775–1862), a friend and contemporary of Constable’s, but recent scientific analysis and up-to-date connoisseurship has unanimously returned the work to its rightful place among the canon of the great master’s work and established beyond doubt its true authorship. It is without question one of the most exciting and important additions to Constable’s oeuvre to have emerged in the last 50 years.”

More here

Queueing for Leonardo (Ctd.)

October 26 2017

Image of Queueing for Leonardo (Ctd.)

Picture: TAN 

Back in 2011 I often reported on the queues to get into the National Gallery's Leonardo da Vinci exhibition. Now there are Leonardo queues in London again (reports The Art Newspaper) to see Salvator Mundi at Christie's. 

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!

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.

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.

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.

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