From Sleeper to Museum Wall
January 24 2011
I was interested to see this fine portrait of a gentleman by Quentin Metsys in the Metropolitan Museum in New York on Sunday. Not so long ago it had appeared in an auction in Switzerland with a very low estimate and called something like 'Flemish School' (I can't remember exactly).
I had it eagerly flagged up, but the picture was withdrawn from the sale. It then reappeared at Christie's in London correctly described and with an estimate of £700,000 - £1m. Now, it hangs happily reunited (on loan) with its pendant, which has belonged to the Met since 1931.
The New York viewings
January 23 2011
Here are some of the pictures I liked and didn’t like in the Christie’s and Sotheby’s sales. Generally a good offering, with Sotheby’s having the better pick of the two. If you have queries about anything else, please get in touch.
In catalogue order, pictures I liked were;
Off to New York...
January 22 2011
6.30 am. BA aren't on strike. My excellent colleague Sara has swung me an upgrade. All is well.
I'll post some thoughts on the sales tomorrow.
'Lost Rubens' faces Export Ban
January 18 2011
A portrait believed to be by Rubens has been stopped for export by the government's Reviewing Committee. The picture was offered at Sotheby's in December 2009 with an estimate of £4-6m, but failed to sell and is now priced at £1m.
The 'striking portrait of a very real, although unidentified, woman', according to the Committee's Chairman Lord Inglewood, must have presented the panel with a tricky dilemma. The so-called Waverley Criteria, by which a picture is judged to be of national importance, are;
This is not just a photo of some shoes...
January 15 2011
I'm fascinated by the language used by dealers and auctioneers to describe contemporary art, particularly when it's on sale with a hefty price tag.
Here's a good example from Christie's Spring 2011 'Highlights' magazine, describing a photograph by Andreas Gursky, 'Untitled V' (colour-print, no.2 of 6, estimate £800,000-£1,200,000):
Gleaming with spiritual beauty, the monumental scale and pure aesthetics of Andres Gursky's Untitled V makes this work one of the most powerful and arresting images. Based on the interioir of a luxury goods store, the work is a triumphal examination of consumer culture and the nature of global trade. Its strong architectural lines, muted, meditative lighting and row of sports shoes displayed like sparkling religious icons produces an almost sacred experience... The cool, crisp lines punctuated only by the brightly coloured footwear, are testimony to the enduring influence and Minimalism and to the work of Donald Judd in particular, whose transformation of what Peter Galassi has called 'the solemn majesty of infinite progression (...) into the aesthetic repetitions of the assembly line and the display case' has a particular significance here.
Much more in the catalogue here.
The Holy Grail of Modern British?
January 13 2011
A Francis Bacon triptych of Lucien Freud will be offered by Sotheby’s in London on 10th February. Painted in 1964, it should eclipse the £5.4m realised by Freud’s reciprocal portrait of Bacon, sold in October 2008 at Christie’s London. The Freud of Bacon had an estimate of £4m-7m. The Bacon of Freud has an estimate of £7m-9m.
Not William Gladstone...
January 12 2011
...as catalogued, but John Bright. Still worth buying though.
Bright wasn't Prime Minister, but he was one of the most important statesman of the Victorian age. He said the famous phrase during the Crimean War; "The Angel of Death has been abroad throughout the land. You may almost hear the beating of his wings."
Update 19.1.11; it made £1,440.
How much will it make?
January 11 2011
A previously unknown self-portrait by Andy Warhol will be auctioned by Christie's London on 16th February with an estimate of £3-5m. It is the eleventh version on a 6ft large canvas, and newly authenticated. Previously there were thought to be only ten.
There are more than forty on the smaller 22 inch scale.
Update 20.1.11; full Christie's catalogue entry here.
74 Times the Estimate
December 8 2010
An interior of a church catalogued as 'Studio of Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (1597-1665)' has sold for £1,476,000 at Bonhams today. The estimate was £20,000 to £30,000.
It might appear at first as if a 'sleeper' has slipped through the net. But reading the text of the catalogue, it seems the auctioneers knew exactly what they were doing - it effectively says, 'we think this is really by Saenredam'. And by leaving open the element of discovery, the (rather dirty) 'studio' picture was the perfect cheese in the trap for the world's Old Master dealers.
The price beat the existing auction record for a Saenredam by some margin.
Poussin fails to fly
December 7 2010
Christie’s star lot at the Old Master sales this week, one of Nicolas Poussin’s Sacrament series – Ordination - has failed to sell. The estimate was £15-20 million. I hear that at least one US museum was interested, but in the end could not commit.
The picture was being offered from the collection of the Duke of Rutland, who has five Sacrament scenes in all. One of the seven, Penance, was destroyed by fire in 1816, and number six, Baptism, was sold by the 9th Duke in 1939. It is now in The National Gallery, Washington.
Ordination is a an exquisite work, but I feared before the sale that the estimate was a touch high. Realistically, any serious collector or museum who has that kind of money to spend is going to want to try and collect the series, or at least as much of it as they can. That means earmarking perhaps £100 million to get all five from the Rutland collection, with no guarantee that you ever could get all five, and knowing for certain that the one in Washington will always elude you. Meanwhile, a second (more dramatic) series sits enticingly in National Gallery of Scotland, on loan from the Duke of Sutherland, who has been known to sell the odd picture recently...
The Rutland trustees might perhaps have tried to put together a long term deal for all five, with say the Getty or Washington. I'd have taken anything over £50 million, and run...