Category: Auctions

Spanish pictures at Sotheby's

January 23 2017

Video: Sotheby's

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

Image of Apologies...

Picture: BG

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

Image of One that got away (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

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

Image of Old pictures, old clothes

Picture: Sotheby's

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

Image of Brexit and the Art Market (ctd.)

Picture: Bloomberg

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

Image of Auction estimate changes in UK

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

Image of Sotheby's NY Old Master sales

Picture: BG

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.

Sleeper Alert!

December 13 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Sotheby's

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. 

The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)

December 13 2016

Image of The Old Master market is not dead (ctd.)

Picture: BG

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.

Sotheby's OMP mannequin challenge

December 12 2016

Video: Sotheby's

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

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.

Sotheby's new science department

December 6 2016

Image of Sotheby's new science department

Picture: Sotheby's

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.

Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's

December 6 2016

Image of Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

There's a wonderful self-portrait by Judith Leyster at Christie's in London, which I hadn't really paid much attention to until I came face to face with it on Sunday. I also hadn't realised that it's a new discovery (Christie's press office, where were you?) which has only been known to art historians through a reference to the painting through the inventory of Leyster's husband, Jan Miense Molenaer. The picture is quite different from Leyster's earlier and more famous self-portrait, which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The estimate is a very enticing £400,000-£600,000. It's from a UK collection - and I hope this picture can be acquired by a UK museum.

Update - some last minute digging in the attic of the vendor has uncovered the below family catalogue from 1957.

Interestingly, the picture was then known as a Leyster, but half a century later the identification had been lost, providing an interesting puzzle for Christie's specialists.

This happens quite a lot - indeed I've seen pictures appear at auction as 'sleepers' which had been sold as the real thing only a decade earlier. It's amazing how much information can be lost when one generation passes on. The analogy I often use is this; how many of us know the names of our great grandparents? Not many, I suspect, without looking it up. And yet we know so much about about our grandparents. 

The moral of the story is - always put a label your paintings!

London Old Master sales (ctd.)

December 6 2016

Image of London Old Master sales (ctd.)

Picture: BG

I'm sorry for the lack of posts lately, I've been hither thither in London during the Old Master sale week; meetings, client lunches, conservation planning, that sort of thing. I also managed to pick up a picture in a regional sale through an online bid which, miraculously, actually worked for once.

I thought I'd quickly mention a few things that have caught my eye in the London sales. 

Here is a piece I've written for The Art Newspaper about some of the highlights on offer in the main evening sales: Goya, Constable, Brueghel.

I didn't mention in TAN a rather interesting picture at Christie's; a previously unknown portrait of Erasmus by Peter Brueghel the Younger (above). It seems to be the only portrait Brueghel ever painted. Does the subject matter, taken after a portrait by Holbein, give us any insight into the artist himself? Or was it just a random commission? Who knows. The estimate is conservative: £40k-£60k.

All eyes at Sotheby's will be on this rare double child portrait (above) by Titian and his workshop. The estimate is £1m-£1.5m. It was last on the market in 1828 in Paris, when it made 200 'Louis'. The two boys are members (it is thought) of the Pesaro family, who commissioned Titian's famous Pesaro Madonna. I like the way the slightly anxious boy on the right is fiddling with his necklace.

A newly discovered Constable oil sketch at Bonhams (above) is real gem - small but sparkling, it will surely exceed it's estimate of £200k-£300k.

I've also been taken with some of the offerings in the cheaper (at least, relatively cheaper) Day Sales. 

This Madonna at Prayer (below) at Christie's is a newly identified Sassoferrato. There are Sassoferratos and there are 'Sassoferratos'. But I thought this one was unusually good, and beautiful. In the main areas it is in excellent condition. The estimate is £30k-£50k.

At Sotheby's this unfinished portrait by Danloux (below) is priced at £12k-£18k. The fact that it is unfinished makes it appear strikingly modern, and I would expect it to sell well. 

I love the story of Henry Cope, the 'Green Man', whose portrait by Francis Cotes is at Sotheby's (below, £15k-£20k). He was apparently obsessed with all things green, and according to one contemporary account; "He ate nothing but greens, fruit and vegetables; had his rooms painted green, furnished with green sofa, chairs, tables, bed and curtains. His gig, livery, portmanteau, gloves and whip were all green." He looks remarkably healthy, considering. Cotes painted in both oil and pastel. This portrait is in oil; the pastel expert Neil Jeffares tells me that Cotes didn't have a green pastel colour that was stable.

There were also some good pictures at Sotheby's from their New york preview, for the January sale, which looks to be very strong. I'll post more on these tomorrow.

Sleeper Alert!

November 30 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Lempertz

The above drawing made €80,600 in Germany recently and Lempertz auction house. The estimate had been just €800-€900. I thought it was rather interesting from the catalogue and scratched my head for a while; the characterisation reminded me of someone like Del Sarto or Pontormo. But I know little about drawings so soon gave up . What makes this case interesting is that the drawing had previously been offered in a London auction (so the Lempertz press release says) and had failed to sell. It's a good example of just how much a lottery selling at auction can sometimes be.

Edinburgh's Smoking Maori Chieftainess

November 23 2016

Image of Edinburgh's Smoking Maori Chieftainess

Picture: Lyon & Turnbull

Another picture that caught my eye in tomorrow's Lyon & Turnbull sale was the above picture by J F Goldie, of a Maori chietaness called Te Hei smoking a pipe. The estimate is £50k-£80k. Yesterday in New Zealand another Goldie sold for NZ$265k, about £150k.

Update - it made £203k!

Sotheby's latest guarantee gamble

November 21 2016

Image of Sotheby's latest guarantee gamble

Picture: Art Market Monitor

Marion Maneker has a good overview of Sotheby's handling of the $100m Ames collection of modern art, which was the auction houses's first big guarantee deal in the sector since their £50m acquisition of Art Agency Partners. Maneker reports that the Ames deal paid off, but it's risky stuff of course, and he was puzzled by an increasing use of razzmatazz for these major auctions:

Sotheby’s continues to inexplicably try to enhance the drama of its evening sale of Contemporary art by bathing the room in ballroom blue lights and running a video introduction to the event. The effort is inexplicable because last night’s saleroom was remarkably sparse with several empty sections of seats and a number of bidders seated in farther back than one might like to get the “excitement” going.

London Old Master catalogues online

November 21 2016

Image of London Old Master catalogues online

Picture: Bonhams

The December Old Master auction catalogues are online: Sotheby's evening sale here, day sale here; Christie's evening here, day here; and Bonhams here. There are many fine pictures, including a handsome newly re-discovered oil sketch by Constable at Bonhams (above, £200k-£300k). I've written a short preview of the sales for The Art Newspaper, and will post more thoughts on the offerings soon.

Of course my usual service for AHN readers applies - if want me to look at anything just ask.

"Sold!" Christie's on the BBC

November 21 2016

Image of "Sold!" Christie's on the BBC

Picture: BBC

There's a new two-part series about Christie's on BBC2 (and iPlayer here). It's not the programme I'd have made, and has more than an air of informercial about it. Christie's will be pleased with the publicity. But it rolls along well enough, and there's some good characters (collector Adam Lindemann is always good value). I was glad to see fellow blogger Marion Maneker, of Art Market Monitor, equipping himself well - bravo!

Sleeper Alert!

November 14 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Karl und Faber

The above small 'Florentine School' painting at Karl und Faber auction house in Germany, estimated at €3k-€4k, made €375k last week. The name Filippino Lippi has been suggested, and indeed the cataloguing of the picture on the auction house website has subsequently been amended to say that. Here's a comparable picture in the North Carolina Museum of Art.

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