Category: Auctions

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 The above picture has been withdrawn.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. 

London Old Master sales (part 1)

July 2 2016

Image of London Old Master sales (part 1)

Picture: Ishbel Grosvenor

Greetings from London, where I've come down for Old Master week, and also for two days filming for my forthcoming BBC4 series. Today I went to see Sotheby's and Bonhams' offerings - Christie's was shut, and I'll go there tomorrow. In between auction viewings the Deputy Editor and I joined the 'March for Europe' from Park Lane to Parliament Square.

Anyway, before I give my pick of the Sotheby's and Bonhams sales, I must note the success of Christie's 'Defining British Art' sale, which was held last week. Christie's has decided that strictly period-defined sales are a thing of the past, and so we can expect to see more sales fashioned out of themes that cross the centuries. I think it's a good idea. So last week we saw works by Joshua Reynolds and John Constable sold alongside works by Henry Moore and Francis Bacon. There's a loan exhibition on at Christie's King Street of great treasures of British art, till 15th July (more here). 

The bidding was strong, and it seems overseas buyers were keen to take advantage of the post-Brexit cheap pound, and buy works with an in-built discount of at least 10%. The Bacon painting made £20.2m, while the Moore, a reclining bronze, made a record £24.7m against an estimate of £15m-£20m. On the older side of things, a John Constable study 'View on the Stour near Dedham' made £14m, the second highest auction price for Constable. A fine 50x40 inch portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) soared above its already punchy estimate of £2m-£3m to make £3.7m.

At Sotheby's today I enjoyed seeing an exquisite oil painting by Liotard - A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (above) - which was recently in the Liotard exhibition at the Royal Academy. This is estimated at £4m-£6m. Other highlights included a Rubens oil sketch 'The Chariot of Apollo' at £1m-£1.5m; a trio of fine Joseph Wright of Derby Italian landscapes, all in unusually good condition (here, here and here); and a series of views by Dominic Serres of the British capture of Havana in 1762 (the last four lots here). Sotheby's evening sale catalogue is here, and the day sale here.

In Sotheby's drawing sale there is (as I've already mentioned) the exceptionally rare self-portrait drawing by Sir Peter Lely (above, est. £600k-£800k). I was again struck by how reasonable some Old Master drawings by top names are - worth having a flick through the Sotheby's drawing catalogue if you're interested. I particularly liked a study of a pollarded willow by John Constable - large, in good condition, and priced at £2k-£3k. It's the sort of tree Constable adopted enthusiastically from the works of Thomas Gainsborough, who was also a fan of the pollarded willow one often sees in Suffolk. When Constable went on his own travels on Suffolk he said, 'I fancy I see Gainsborough in every tree'. At it's still like that today in many parts - every time I go there, I can't help but think the same.

Bonhams have put together a very strong sale. Not only do they have the William Dobson self-portrait already covered on AHN (which seems cheap at £200,000-£300,000), but a large and very fine Claude landscape estimated at £600k-£800k (it should sell for over a £1m). My bargain of the week is also at Bonhams, a Jusepe de Ribera painting of St Sebastian (above) which is estimated at just £20k-£30k. If I thought it had any chance of selling for that I'd be bidding myself, but it will surely fly some way above that level. There is apparently another version in a museum in Seville, but the Bonhams picture is signed, and in excellent condition. 

As ever, if any readers want advice on anything in the sales, just ask.

Update - I noticed at Sotheby's that beneath the usual labels giving title, medium and estimate, they now have a short descriptive label giving basic information about the artist and the picture. I think this is a great initiative - and could help encourage those new to the world of Old Master collecting. I don't think those of us in the art trade realise quite how challenging Old Masters can be for new collectors.  

Derby museum scoops two Wrights

June 20 2016

Image of Derby museum scoops two Wrights

Picture: Guardian/Derby Museum

We often hear about how difficult it is for museums to buy at auction - time is tight, and it's almost impossible to raise large amounts of money on both a speculation and within weeks. But Derby Museum has audaciously secured a pair of Wright of Derby landscapes from a recent sale at Christie's in New York for $293,000. They had just ten days to raise the money.

The landscapes relate to the famous industrialist, Sir Richard Arkwright; one shows his mill at Cromford (above), and the other his home, Willersley Castle. The pictures were offered at Christie's in New York as part of their Classic Art Week, and were estimated at $300,000-$500,000 (which I thought was cheap). The final price, which includes premium, means they sold for well under the lower estimate, and represents a bargain for two works in good condition. The money was raised through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Fund and the museum's own Friends organisation. A starring role was played by the Duke of Devonshire. More here in The Guardian.

So, many congratulations to Derby Museum and everyone involved for showing such ambition and energy. Other museums, take note - it can be done. 

Sewell's art collection to be sold

June 16 2016

Image of Sewell's art collection to be sold

Picture: Christie's

I've been meaning to note that the late Brian Sewell's art collection will be sold at Christie's later this year, in September. The catalogue is not yet published, but Christie's press release says there'll be some 200 lots, including the above Matthias Stomer, estimated at £400,000-£600,000.

Update - discussing the sale in The Guardian, Jonathan Jones says that art critics shouldn't buy art:

I wouldn’t collect, even if I had the money. I think it is morally dubious for art critics to be collectors. But if I did I would only buy art that dates from before 1800. Make of that what you will.

Update II - a reader writes:

On the matter of ethics and art critics, a couple of things strike me. The first is that I'm immediately reminded of the tale of Henry Geldzahler barging his way into Robert Hughes' New York flat back in the earlier days of Hughes's US tenure and demanding to view Hughes' art collection, before declaring, upon being informed that there wasn't a collection to view, "Well then! Somebody in here is certainly going to die poor!" The second is that I think, and have thought for some while, that there's a book to be written on the ethics of both art critics and public art institutions in the post-war to the contemporary periods - though it will take somebody with nerves of steel to write it. I get the impression that a lot of what goes on makes Sewell's collection look like pretty small beer, if that.

I found Jones' musings on what the 20th century works in Sewell's collection tells us about his critical judgements interesting, though perhaps not particularly enlightening. Fow what it's worth, I think Sewell is fair game on this front - I remember him writing of his enjoyment of the Kenneth Clark exhibition at the Tate owing to the fact that he thought it vindicated his view that Clark was a terrible phony with iffy taste. And it would be foolish to argue that a collection is in no way an expression of the likings and tastes of the collector. But beyond that, I think it's all a bit of a stretch. Apart from the fact - which Jones concedes - that the top rank artists of the 20th Century were almost certainly beyond Sewell's pocket, I don't think it necessarily follows that collectors invariably collect what they consider, in purely analytical terms, to be "great" art. I see no reason why this should not apply to critics as much as the next person. There are surely many reasons why one can be drawn to art and they range far beyond appreciation for technical or innovative aspects. I enjoy the work of Laura Knight (some of it...). I would be very happy to live with her work and to see it every day. I came away from the recent major Laura Knight exhibition absolutely convinced that her reputation was being oversold and that she was by no measure an artist of the first-rank - even by the standards of British art of the first half of the 20th century. But so what? I'm not convinced that these two instincts are mutually exclusive. I very much like the work of Thomas Hart Benton. I'd collect it if I could afford it. I would not, were somebody mad enough to pay me to write on the subject, argue for a moment that Benton was one of the great artists of the 20th Century. I appreciate his work because it evokes, powerfully and quite poignantly, a particular time and place  in history (See also: Grant Wood etc). This appeals to my historical interests. It's a question of art as artefact. I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of Sewell's acquisitions were made with a similar outlook. The irony is that Jones has written himself (with regard to Lowry) that "art is a witness to history... The trouble is, the art world – that silly term says it all, as if art were another world – lacks a vocabulary to praise art for its historical and human significance. Art has to be praised as art, and artists glamorised as geniuses."

Sleeper Alert!

June 16 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Ferri-Drouot

The above painting made €1.56m (hammer) against an estimate of €6k-€8k in Paris last week. The 'Judgement of Paris' was catalogued as 'Workshop of Rubens', but a number of trade buyers thought it was the real deal. It's painted in oil on panel. Having seen some high-res photos (as far as one can judge these things from photos) I agree - it is probably 'right', and must be Rubens' study for the painting in the National Gallery in London. It was underbid by a London dealer. I don't know who bought it. At close to €2m with commissions I suppose the picture more or less made its money. All will depend on condition.

The National Gallery picture follows the sketch very clossely, but Rubens has altered the angle of Paris' leg. Look closely at the NG painting, however, and you can see that underneath the green background paint, the original position of Paris' leg is still visible - which matches the newly discovered sketch. Until now, the only evidence of Rubens' sketch for the NG painting has been a copy in the Gemaldegalerie in Dresden. You can read more about the genesis of the NG painting here in the 'National Gallery Technical Bulletin' (although I don't personally agree with all their conclusions).

I missed the auction in Paris entirely. My eye has been completely off the ball of late - too tied up with telly, which can be all consuming.

In fact, I haven't done very well with my Judgements of Paris this year. Some months ago I underbid a good, previously unknown studio version of the NG painting, which came up for sale in Antwerp. I thought that probably there were a number of areas that Rubens might have touched up himself. The painting was later flipped into a sale in Dorotheum in Vienna, and made a smooth profit of about €700k. That picture must have been made working from the newly discovered study, for it follows the original position of Paris' leg.

Anyway, thanks to these new discoveries we have a much more complete view of how Rubens tackled this subject. It's an example of how the marketplace can help advance art historical understanding.

Update - the Antiques Trade Gazette reports that the French auction house sent a photo of the painting to the Rubenianum in Antwerp before the sale. Their response was apparently that it was neither an autograph nor a studio work:

Cabinet Turquin’s Eric Turquin told ATG that they had studied and researched the work for three months before the auction and felt it was “a real workshop painting,  that is of the period and something done under the direction of the master with or without his participation”.

The expert also said they made an enquiry and sent a photograph of the painting to the research centre in Antwerp, The Rubenianum, but the centre did not think it was either by Rubens or from his studio.

Sleeper alert?

June 16 2016

Image of Sleeper alert?

Picture: Christie's

The above painting described as 'After George Stubbs' was offered in a minor Christie's New York 'Living with Art' sale earlier this week, with an estimate of $3,000-$5,000. It sold for $215,000.

The picture was deaccessioned by the Huntington Art Collection in California.

But its status as 'not Stubbs' is new. The picture is listed in the recent Yale catalogue raisonné as a genuine work by Stubbs. It was acquired by the Huntington as a Stubbs. It is signed (lower right) and is on panel, as is often the case with Stubbs. From the (not especially good) online photo I can see why the picture might have struck some as being 'right'. According to the catalogue note, the painting is now 'understood' to be a copy of another work, even though the whereabouts of that work is not currently known, and could only be judged on the basis (it seems) of a photo from 1958.

Hmmm. Has a bish been made here? If so, it's one of the biggest deaccessioning blunders of modern times. The Huntington is not awash with Stubbs, and has only one other painting by him. Or is it the most expensive Stubbs copy in history?

Either way, here's what I don't really understand about these deaccessioning cases. The picture was offered 'without reserve', which means that the Huntington were happy to literally give it away. If only one person had bid $50, then that's what they would have been obliged to sell it for. But that being so, then why bother selling it in the first place? The picture had evidently been recognised as a genuine Stubbs for many years. It was dirty and apparently overpainted in parts - and thus impossible to judge with certainty whether it was by Stubbs or not. So why take the risk of getting it wrong? And why have such little institutional curiosity as to not investigate the possibility of Stubbs' authorship more fully, if only as an interesting academic exercise?

Lost Gauguin found

June 16 2016

Image of Lost Gauguin found

Picture: TAN

The Art Newspaper reports on the discovery of a long lost Gauguin still life in the US. It was identified by Litchfield County Auctions after the work was consigned to them. The owner had no idea it was a lost Gauguin, but the painting matches a black and white illustration in the Wildenstein catalogue raisonneé of Gauguin's work. The picture will be sold on June 29th, and the estimate is $800,000-$1,200,000. The catalogue entry is here.

Beit collection picture back at auction

June 9 2016

Image of Beit collection picture back at auction

Picture: Christie's

Christie's July Old Master auction catalogues have gone online. I'll look at these in more detail soon, but I noticed that one of the Beit Collection pictures has been re-offered for sale. Last year, a number of Beit pictures, once owned by the late Sir Alfred Beit, and house in Russborough Hall in Ireland, were withdrawn at the last minute after an outcry in Ireland. Now, a Rubens sketch, Venus Supplicating Jupiter, is to be sold at £1.2m-£1.8m.

Since last year, a number of Beit pictures have been secured for continued public display in Ireland.

Update - there are two other Beit pictures in the sale, two Guardis, lots 38 and 39.

Update II - the National Trust for Ireland, An Taisce, has loudly condemned the sale, and called for the three pictures to be withdrawn (again). They say that the export licence might not be valid. More here

National Trust acquires Gainsborough portrait

May 11 2016

Image of National Trust acquires Gainsborough portrait

Picture: Sotheby's

The National Trust has acquired a fine portrait by Thomas Gainsborough for Knole house in Kent. Says the Trust (on its 'Recent Acquisitions' website):

Thomas Gainsborough’s elegant portrait of Louis-Pierre Quentin de Richebourg, marquis de Champcenetz (1754-1822), has returned to Knole after an absence of more than eight decades. This reacquisition for Knole marks the important return of a significant work by one of Britain’s most treasured artists.

Champcenetz was a French courtier and soldier who fought in the American War of Independence. He later served as Governor of the Tuileries Palace where he survived an assault by revolutionary forces on 10 August 1792. His portrait  formed part of the collection at Knole since at least 1793 when it was in the possession of John Frederick Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset. In 1930 it was sold to a collector in the United States where it remained, in several different hands, until its reappearance for sale this year.

The portrait was purchased at auction at Sotheby's, New York with contributions from a fund set up by the late Hon. Simon Sainsbury, from the Winchelsea National Trust Centre and Association and from other gifts and bequests.

It will go on public display in 2017 upon the completion of Knole's conservation project.

The picture was at Sotheby's in New York in January, and sold for $334,000 (inc. premium) against an estimate of $250,000-$350,000.

Boom (ctd.)

May 11 2016

Picture: Twitter

Things seem to have been a little bumpy at the top end of the modern and contemporary market this week in New York. Things still sold well, but one wonders if cracks are beginning to appear. I was particularly struck by a tweet (above) from Marion Maneker, whose blog Art Market Monitor is the leading source of information and opinion on the health of the modern market. 'Liz' was a Warhol on offer at Christie's for $10m-$15m. The Mugrabis are mega Warhol collectors.

I think it's fair to say that Marion has been, if not a cheerleader, at least a believer in the strength and resilience of the booming modern and contemporary art market. So if people like him really are beginning to wonder about the health of Warhol prices, then I think that's significant. Warhol prices seem to have been teetering for a while now. Tonight Sotheby's will offer a 'fright wig' self-portrait by Warhol at $7m-$10m, so we'll see how that does.

Still, Christie's post-war and contemporary sale yesterday made an impressive enough $318m, so we're a long way away from disaster territory. The 'hammer' total excluding premium was $277m, just nudging the lower pre-sale estimate of $280m-$391m. A truly monstrous Basquiat sold for a record $57.3m - more here from The Art Newspaper.

In other market news, Sotheby's announced a slightly larger than expected loss for the most recent quarter, but their share price went up amid reports of an investor seeking to increase their shareholding in the company. The share price closed yesterday at $28.72, which is still some way off its more recent highs (in summer 2015) of about $46, and follows an extended 'buy-back' of shares by the company itself.  

Update - Sotheby's contemporary evening sale did ok last night, realising $242m with premium, or $209m hammer, which apparently was just above the lower estimate. Reuters tells us there were 'cheers of relief' in the room at the end of the sale. The Warhol 'Fright Wig' self-portrait sold too, for $7.6m inc. premium, or $6.65m hammer (est. $7m-$10m).

London mid-season OMP sales

May 5 2016

Image of London mid-season OMP sales

Picture: Christie's

I've been meaning to mention the mid-season Old Master sales in London - they did really quite well, with some strong prices and good selling rates. So bah to all those writing off the 'middle market'. 

I noticed that portraiture did quite well. For example, the above Cornelius Johnson, which was in fine condition and extravagantly signed, soared to £158,500 against an estimate of just £15,000-£25,000.

Highlighting the vagaries of the auction world was this portrait by Gainsborough, which made £60,000 from an estimate of £15,000-£25,000, even though it had failed to sell earlier at a higher estimate.

Old Master fans are fortunate that the major auction houses are sticking with the OMP middle market, and not only that but still trying hard with it.

Guffwatch (ctd.)

May 4 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's new video series, 'Imagine the Conversation', is the guff gift that keeps on giving. Yesterday we had a 'curated dinner', today we have:

[...] eight decadent truffles inspired by art from our May Impressionist & Modern and Contemporary Art sales.

The chocolatier given the mission by Sotheby's, Katrina Markoff, talks of how she made a truffle Cy Twombly:

With the Cy Twombly piece, obviously very intense red drippy strokes, and we used beet red died chocolate to do strokes that were similar to that on the painting, those strokes give energy and movement, and fluidity to something that's quite static, like chocolate.

My favourite, though, is the Warhol truffle, 'inspired' by Sotheby's forthcoming $7m-$10m Warhol 'Fright Wig' self-portrait:

I imagine if you bite into it, it's empty.

Sotheby's aim with these videos is to draw in new buyers. But does associating a painting with a powdered truffle, an amuse bouche, make anyone want to fork out $10m for it? Isn't the whole point of marketing the more ephemeral end of the contemporary art market instead about creating an environment of nodding, po-faced seriousness, and engendering the sort of earnest conversation that helps elevate the status of one of thousands of prints into an apparently unique masterpiece. Who drops $10m on a joke? Or is the joke on us?

Update - you can buy the truffles here. $45 per box.

Update II - Marion Maneker kindly picked up on my post, and writes on Art Market Monitor:

Actually, the joke is on Sotheby’s who have violated one of the basic taboos of advertising and marketing by resorting to borrowed interest. That’s where you try to create excitement around a brand or product by associating it with something wholly unconnected.

In this case, Sotheby’s has gone a step further. The videos end up promoting the food products far more than they do the art.

Marion also writes that I'm 'no friend of Contemporary art', and I can well understand why my AHN rantings would give that impression. But I love art from all periods, and (secret!) actually have more contemporary art on my walls at home than Old Masters. It's the upper reaches of contemporary art market that I'm no friend of.

Update III - another reader writes:

I can only assume your culinary criticism is due to a surfeit of boarding school food!

Some transitory fun with food delights the senses: forget the bullshit.

To a foodie presentation is everything: inspiration from art and nature: soon recycled.

Unlike Hirst and Emin that stick around like bad smells!

So stick to your day-job and keep your anorak on!


May 3 2016

Video: Sotheby's

Regular readers will have seen some truly magnificent art guff over the past five years of Guffwatch. But I think in the video above we have finally reached a new nadir. Yes, Sotheby's has held a 'curated dinner':

Blurring the lines between art and cuisine, chef and performer Michael Cirino of A Razor, A Shiny Knife curated a dinner at Sotheby’s on 29 April like no other. Interpreting the dialogue between the Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary artists in our two-week Imagine the Conversation exhibition, Cirino prepared an haute cuisine meal with no shortage of surprises. Watch the video to delight in the art-inspired evening and visit our New York headquarters to see the exhibition for yourself.  

I have watched it three times, desperately hoping it was all a joke. It's not. People actually went to Sotheby's and took this stuff seriously, as they 'seguewayed' from an 'Impressionist starter' (a salad, because, like, the Impressionists worked outside) to their Warhol-inspired soup (it came out of a Campbells can, but held with white gloves, so that made it important). Christ.

That's it, game over. The modern art market has finally jumped the shark.

Update - Marion Maneker of The Art Market Monitor, tell us that Sotheby's also:

[...] tore up all the carpeting on the floors so the galleries would have bare concrete to make them hipper.

Update II - a reader writes:

How about an old master portraits dinner, with, say, a  Mytens starter, segwaying (if that is what one does) through a Rubens main course, and a Van Dyck pudding. Er bring it on.

The perils of online bidding

April 29 2016

Image of The perils of online bidding

Picture: Christie's

Tens of millions of pounds have been spent on online bidding platforms, but it seems to me to be an extremely unreliable way of buying at auction. I certainly won't be risking it again after two recent misses. 

The most recent was at Sotheby's in their Old Master mid-season sale. The sale started off ok, and I was cheerfully logged in watching auctioneer Andrew Fletcher, who always conducts his sales in an entertaining and friendly manner. But then just before my lot came up, disaster. As the bidding screen froze, the clerks on the desk beside Andrew started poking around at the back of their laptop. The sale carried on, despite me shouting uselessly at my computer, and by the time the bidding icon reappeared the hammer had fallen. The bids office were very apologetic, but explained that once the hammer had fallen there was nothing they could do.

More frustrating was a recent bid on, the leading platform for regional auctions in the UK. A few months ago a wee sleeper-ette appeared in the shires, the above sketch by George Romney of Lady Hamilton. I believe it was called Portrait of a Lady or some such, and the estimate wasn't much more than £200. There I was again logged in, and clicked away until the hammer went down, and the website told me that I had the winning bid. But when I called the auction house to pay the bill they said it had sold to someone in the room, even though I distinctly heard the auctioneer say it had sold to an online bidder (which I assumed at the time was me). I recall it sold for about £800.

I wasn't too distressed when I saw the picture reappear this week in Christie's Old Master sale in South Kensington as a Romney (officially blessed by Romney scholar Alex Kidson). It had an estimate of £4k-£6k, which I thought was about right for a picture in somewhat compromised condition. But to my surprise it made £30,000.

Some you win, some you lose.

Dobson self-portrait for sale

April 27 2016

Video: Bonhams

Bonhams are offering William Dobson's earliest known self-portrait in their forthcoming July Old Master sale in London. The estimate is £200,000-£300,000, which strikes me as quite reasonable. A very similar painting of the artist's wife is in the Tate gallery. Tate should be really buy this one too.

Bonhams kindly showed me the picture the other day; it is compelling, and in good condition. Although painted around 1635-40, the most noticeable thing about it to me was how un Van Dyck-ian the technique is. Instead it seems more Dutch if anything. Although Dobson's tecnnique does become a little more Van Dyck-ian later on, in its smoother application of paint, early works such as the self-portrait at Bonhams only raise further questions about where Dobson emerges from, in an artistic sense. Was Dobson really a pupil of Van Dyck, as some sources suggest? Not on this evidence, at least. Sadly, we know few certain details about his life. 

The above film was made by ZCZ Films, the Great Waldemar's production company. Waldemar is probably the world's no.1 Dobson fan, and made an excellent film on the artist some years ago.

Christie's 'Classic Art Week' (ctd.)

April 16 2016

Image of Christie's 'Classic Art Week' (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

There has been much chatter in the Old Master world about the wisdom or otherwise of Christie's moving their main New York Old Master sales from January to April. The move also saw a re-branding to 'Classic Art Week'.

The Old Master sales were yesterday, and it looks to me as if the results were very strong indeed. The gamble has paid off, and we must congratulate Christie's for doing something bold and different - and also, more significantly, for halting what appeared to be a slide in their New York Old Master fortunes. There have been some key new appointments in the New York office in the last year or so, most notably Francois de Poortere, the new head of Old Masters. 

The 'Part 1' sale total was $30.4m. Last year's major January Old Master sales at Christie's (their 'Part 1' and 'Renaissance' sales combined) made just under $25m. This year's 'Part II' sale did better than last year's too. Here's Christie's press release heralding the news.

Christie's top lot was a small El Greco (above, 11 x 7.5 inches) of The Entombment, which made $6.1m (inc. premium) against an estimate of $4m-$6m. El Greco is one of the Old Master artists of the moment - his quirkiness and bright colouring appeals to today's artistic taste. Next up was an early 15th C gold-ground painting by Bernardo Daddi, which made $3.8m (inc. premium). There were very few buy-ins in the Part 1 sale. See the full results here. The newly discovered almost-sleeper Rubens I mentioned earlier, sold well at $269k (est. $120-$180k).

So, although I am of course a perennial Old Master optimist, I think this is all a good sign for the market. There were no real mega-star pictures in Christie's sale, but they still got a good total with decent selling rates. Should Sotheby's move their sale too? I hope not - I think it's a good thing the major Old Master offerings are spread more evenly throughout the year. Dumping so many pictures on a small market all at once always struck me as an odd strategy.

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