Category: Auctions

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. 

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 Their two stellar lots, a £4m-£6m Goya and the £10m Monarch of the Glen by Landseer were withdrawn.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.

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.

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.

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.

David Bowie's Tintoretto

November 11 2016

Image of David Bowie's Tintoretto

Picture: Sotheby's

As the Art Market Monitor reports, the Bowie Collection evening sale at Sotheby's did well, with all of the 47 lots sold and bringing in a total of £24.3m. I was glad to see that his Tintoretto, above, sold for £191,000 against an estimate of £100,000-£150,000.

£45m Rubens heads to Met

November 7 2016

Image of £45m Rubens heads to Met

Picture: Met

Excellent news - the recently sold Rubens of Lot and his Daughters has gone on display at the Met in New York. I guess that means the buyer is American, or at least US based?

Update - It's the first time the picture has ever been seen in a museum. Quite a coup for the Met.

A Chardin bargain?

October 31 2016

Image of A Chardin bargain?

Picture: Christie's

Here's a puzzle; two pictures by Chardin which sold for $533,000 in New York in 2010 at Christie's were re-offered last week, also at Christie's, and made just $38,750. The difference? The all-important 'attributed to' in the cataloguing, suggesting uncertainty over the attribution. 

In 2010 the pictures were sold as by Chardin in full. But this time around there seems to have been doubts, though these are not explained in any satisfactory way in the catalogue entry. The estimate was $80k-$120k, but a note in the catalogue said they would be sold 'without reserve', so evidently there were no bidders at the suggested estimate. The catalogue also stated that they belonged to Christie's itself. So perhaps something happened between the 2010 sale and now to make the previous buyer unhappy.

I'm no Chardin expert and couldn't begin to say if they look 'right' or not. But 'attributed to Chardin' is still better than, say, 'after' or 'studio of', and at a 92.7% discount on the former price, they begin to look like a rather attractive bet. I did ask for photos before the sale, but was never sent any.

Sleeper alert?!

October 13 2016

Image of Sleeper alert?!

Picture: Christie's

Well, nearly. The above picture has been withdrawn. But zoom in on the picture here, and to the right of the ruff you can just make out a signature. It begins with 'R...'

Too early to say much from the photos. But possibly quite exciting.

Sleeper Alert!

July 13 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Tajan

This fine picture by Frans Pourbus the Younger came up in Paris recently, here, described as a work by a follower, and with some confusion over the identity of the sitter. The estimate was €2k-€3k, but it made €195k hammer.

I would have bid, but it seemed so obvious the picture would make a decent price I didn't bother. Sometimes it seems the days of the cheap sleeper are over...

The Chinese are coming

July 13 2016

Image of The Chinese are coming

Picture: Christie's

There were three Chinese bidders on the £45m Rubens at Christie's last week. And I'm told that the number of Chinese bidders in Old Masters is sharply up across the board. Are the rules of the market about to change? Are the OMP optimists closer to being proved right?

London Old Master sales (post-sale)

July 10 2016

Video: Bonhams

I think there were two main stories from last week's London Old Master sales: first, Brexit didn't have as much of an impact on the overall market as some might have feared (as ever, the OMP market just plods along, whatever the economic weather); and second, Christie's are back in play in the Old Master field. Christie's evening sale total was £65.3m (pre-sale estimate £36.4m-£54.9m), compared to Sotheby's £16.4m (est. £20.m-£31.2m). (All sale prices quoted here include premium).

Of course, the greater part of Christie's total was made up of the £44m Rubens, but then we should also consider the major Old Master works that Christie's sold in the previous week as part of their British Art sale, including a £14m Constable and a £3.7m Reynolds. Christie's success marks something of a turnaround in their OMP fortunes - for the last few years they have lagged behind Sotheby's. 

The impact of Brexit will inevitably take some time to be felt in the UK domestic market. As I wrote here for The Art Newspaper, I'm not optimistic. But in the short term it seems the suddenly weaker pound encouraged overseas bidders to keep taking an interest in what London had to offer. For dollar buyers, the exchange rate meant effectively a 15% discount. On major lots that's equivalent to waiving the buyer's premium. I heard one report of a vendor ringing the auction house to demand that their estimate be increased, in light of the weak pound. A sign perhaps of the inflation to come...

One can perhaps also begin to discern the effect of Brexit in the middle market. Some obviously British pictures in the day sales, such as this perfectly nice Lely portrait estimated at £15k-£20k (which one would have expected to sell to domestic buyers) did not attract any bidders. But it's probably too early to tell here.

Anyway, it was overall a heartening series of sales, from which those of us in the Old Master game could take much comfort. Yours truly even managed to sell four pictures - nothing stellar, but enough to keep the show on the road for a wee while longer.

So let's look at some of the indivudal lots. The main story of the week was obviously the Rubens of Lot and his Daughters, which made an impressive £44.8m against an estimate of £20m-£30m. Although I thought the picture would sell, I didn't expect it to do that well. It just goes to show how difficult it is to value Old Masters. Many thought that the subject matter was, in terms of desirability, some way off that of the last major Rubens to break into the £40m category, the Massacre of the Innocents which made £49.5m in 2002. But 14 minutes of bidding demonstrated that people and insitutions are still prepared to pay significant sums for undoubted masterpieces. Another Rubens from the Beit collection, a sketch for Venus Supplicating Jupiter, sold for £1.3m.

Another impressive price at Christie's was the rare complete set of all Four Seasons by Breughel the Younger, which made £6.4m (est. £3m-£5m). This and the £506k (est. £300k-£500k) for yet another version of The Payment of the Tithes showed that the Breughel the Younger market seems to be as strong as ever. I speculated a while ago that a decline of Russian bidders might affect this market, but it seems I am wrong, and someone in the know about these things assures me I am. The only Van Dyck to sell last week did well enough, the previously unknown Portrait of a Lady making £170k, over its estimate of £100k-£150k. A pair of Bellottos in good state made £3.5m (est.£2m-£3m). A William Larkin portrait of lady (below) made an encouraging (for British art lovers) £266k against an estimate of £40k-£60k. This is the sort of Old Master picture which increasingly fits contemporary taste, with its naivety and colouring, and the fact that it's on panel. Some years ago it would most likely have been a Day Sale kind of picture.

One major Old Master name that didn't fare so well at Christie's was Titian, whose full-length portrait of Guidobaldo II delle Rovere failed to sell at £2m-£3m, probably due to its condition. An intriguing 'Dutch School' portrait of a man in a hat painted in c.1655 made £385k - I wonder if we'll soon see it again cleaned, and with an artist's name attached.

I was surprised to see a copy of Caravaggio's Boy Peeling Fruit (above) sell so well at £218,500. I happened to see the original recently (in the Royal Collection) and the picture at Christie's was some way off even being called 'Studio' of Caravaggio, if indeed he had a studio. But marketing a copy, which would normally be catalogued as 'circle of' or 'after', as 'Associate of Caravaggio' perhaps gave the picture an air of being closer to Caravaggio than it really is. The original has a pentiment of a leaf behind the peeled fruit - which presumably would only have emerged through the white drapery after a period of time. In the copy at Christie's that pentiment has itself been copied, but as a kind of smudge or shadow in the drapery, which suggests the copyist didn't really understand what was going on in the original. So one wonders quite how close to Caravaggio the copyist was, even in date. 

Sotheby's established a handsome new record for the work of the French pastellist Liotard, this time for an oil of A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (above), which made £4.4m (est. £4m-£6m). The previous Liotard record was €1.4m in 2012, for a pastel. A Rubens sketch of The Chariot of Apollo showed the market for Rubens' studies is still as strong as ever. Indeed, a pair of putti in Sotheby's day sale selling for £245k (est. £80k-£120k) showed that Rubens seems to be especially favoured at the moment - the two pictures were perfectly nice, but were in fact fragments from a larger picture which had been cut up by a dealer in the mid-18th Century (shame on you, M. Wachters), and much repainted in parts by restorers over the years. Another strong Ribera price (£293k, est. £100k-£150k) at Sotheby's showed that even the most 'boring' religious subject, of a bearded saint looking up and wearing brown (below), can sell well if it's painted by someone as dazzling as Ribera. A recently restituted Jan Brueghel the Elder still life of flowers (seized in by the Nazis in 1939 from Baron Alphonse von Rothschild sold for £3.84m (est. £3m-£5m). A still-life of glasses and fruit by Pieter Claesz was unsold at £1.8m-£2.5m. It does seem that the Dutch 17th C market is softer than it once was. A rather rubbed late-English period Van Dyck portrait of a lady in red didn't sell at £400k-£600k - this picture had been up before in 2012 at Christie's and also failed to sell. Sotheby's sold three out of the four Dominic Serres views of Havana.

Bonhams had one of their best Old Master sales for many years. They sold a good Claude for £722k, and the star of the show, a self-portrait by William Dobson, soared above its £200k-£300k estimate to make £1.1m. In the back of the room I saw the great Waldemar (perhaps the world's biggest Dobson fan) directing a film of the bidding (above). The curiously cheap Ribera I mentioned in an earlier post made £218k (est. £20k-£30k). It would have made more, I am told, but for hesitancy over its mid-WW2 sale history. A London dealer won some strong bidding for an attractive Romney portrait of Elizabeth Burgoyne (below), which made £314k (est. £70k-£100k), and proved that the market for later 18thC 'peaches and cream' English portraiture can still be strong. That said, a portrait of her husband Mr Burgoyne (in just as good condition, and attractive enough in a red jacket) failed to sell at £30k-£50k. The portrait market is very subjective, and value is often all in whether the sitter is good looking or not. Sad, I know - but at least it means that great examples of portrait painting can be had cheaply - a perfectly decent Gainsborough can be yours for £10k if you don't mind it showing an aged old lady.

Some of my Old Master colleagues wondered if the strength of the London sales was due to a transfer of affections by some collectors from the contemporary and modern market - post-Brexit and ahead of the expected economic uncertainty. I doubt it, but here's hoping. And a glimmer of hope might be that, as Ermanno Rivetti reports in The Art Newspaper, the Rubens of Lot and His Daughters was bought by a client dealing with Christie's head of post-war and contemporary art, Frances Outred. If the Rubens was indeed bought by a 'contemporary collector', then that will energise the market somewhat. 

Oh - I must also mention that Sotheby's sold their Lely self-portrait drawing for £869,000, which was a great result.

London Old Master sales (part 2)

July 3 2016

Image of London Old Master sales (part 2)

Picture: BG

Today I went to view Christie's Old Master sales at King St. And what an impressive sight it was - this year Christie's has put together an extremely strong sale. The weight of great art on show at King St. is also added to by a loan exhibition of works from private collections, which is displayed in some newly refurbished rooms on the ground floor. The exhibition includes works by Bacon, Freud, Gainsborough, Canaletto, Lawrence, and Turner. I also enjoyed seeing Landseer's famous Monarch of the Glen (above), which I don't recall seeing before. The exhibition is on until July 15th, and is well worth a visit.

As expected the most important painting of Christie's Evening Sale is the early Rubens of Lot and his Daughters. This is officially described as 'estimate on request' in the catalogue, but an estimate of £20m-£30m has been widely discussed. It's a great picture (and I know that's an over-used phrase in the art trade), in excellent condition, and I expect it to sell well. As mentioned earlier on AHN, Rubens is also included in the sale with a sketch of Venus Supplicating Jupiter from the Beit Collection (£1.2m-£1.8m).

There is a rather lovely, and entirely 'right', previously unknown portrait of a lady by Van Dyck. It is in perfect 'dealer bait' condition, cheaply estimated at £100k-£150k, and the temptation to take off the old varnish will be great. It should blossom into an engaging and important late English period Van Dyck - and will surely sell above the estimate. A full-length Titian is on offer at £2m-£3m, which price probably reflects the condition of the picture - it's a little thin in parts, which is alas so often the case with Titian. It seems that pictures by the most famous artists have, over time, been cleaned far more regularly than those by minor ones - and have consequently suffered from the attentions of over-enthusiastic 'restorers'.

A rarity on offer at Christie's is a complete set of Peter Breughel the Younger's 'Four Seasons' estimated at £3m-£5m. Individual 'seasons' have made strong prices in the past, and I'd expect the set at Christie's to make more than the lower estimate. That said, the Breughel market has been affected by a recent decline in Russian buying. For some reason Russian buyers were particularly keen on Breughel the Younger, and for a while in the last decade his pictures became something of an art historical currency. A 'Payment of Tithes' by Brueghel the Younger is also in the sale £300k-£400k. Other pictures I liked included a Paulus Potter 'Milkmaid' at £250k-£350k, and a small Canaletto 'View on a River' at £700k-£1m.

The Christie's Day Sale catalogue is here, and includes a fine picture of giraffes by Jacques-Laurent Agasse (£40k-£60k). If I had the space, I'd buy this massive landscape by Jan Looten and Jan Wyck, a bargan at £15k-£25k.

Christie's drawing sale catalogue is here, with a nice 'colour beginning' by Turner at £150k-£200k. 

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