Category: Auctions

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. 

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.

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."

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.

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?

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!

Guffwatch

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-saleroom.com, 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.

New Rubens discovery in New York

April 1 2016

Image of New Rubens discovery in New York

Picture: Christie's

I was glad to see the above picture in Christie's forthcoming New York catalogue, correctly described as by Rubens. It had previously been in a Christie's South Kensington sale as 'Flemish School', and though I was disappointed to see it withdrawn shortly before the sale, the sleuther's loss is the consignor's gain. 

The estimate of $120,000-$180,000 seems quite reasonable. The sale is on 14th April. Other highlights include a fine, small El Greco of The Entombment at $4m-$6m, and an important newly discovered Virgin and Child by Joos van Cleve $600k-$800k. 

Breughel's 'Birdtrap' at Dorotheum in April

March 7 2016

Video: Dorotheum

I like to keep an eye on auction house's social media efforts, so it's good to see that Dorotheum (Austria's pre-eminent auctioneers) are making videos now. The above looks at a Pieter Brueghel the Younger 'Birdtrap' on offer in their April Old Master sale. We learn the astonishing fact that there are apparently 46 versoins of this scene by the artist. 

No estimate is given in the video, alas. (Dorotheum folks, estimates are essential in videos like this!).

Update - a reader writes:

Brueghel estimate in the video on the label on the wall, bottom right €700-900k estimate.  Not clear I grant you!

Henry Wyndham to leave Sotheby's

February 29 2016

Video: Creative Choices

I learn from Georgina Adam on Twitter that Henry Wyndham is to leave Sotheby's. For auction lovers this is sad news indeed, for he was the best auctioneer in the business. Although any succesful auction is usually thought to be down to whether things like the estimates or attributions were right, the actual performance of the auctioneer on the night is a large, and underrated, aspect of the whole operation. Wyndham's sales were always conducted with the perfect blend of humour (with Sotheby's George Wachter often playing Ernie Wise to Wyndham's Eric Morecambe), deadly earnestness in focussing on bidders (with a sharp 'are you bidding?' directed at anyone wavering), and just the right amount of bluff (auctions are all about bluff, especially when the bidders are thin). Despite his many skills, however, there was never a sense of 'look at me' with Wyndham on the rostrum, as there can be with other auctioneers.

Though I've only met him once or twice, I must have been to dozens of his sales, often just to see how he did it. A key technique was to focus on the pace of a sale. In a Wyndham auction there was rarely a moment's silence, for he would rattle off bids like a racing commentator with Tourette's. Other auctioneers sometimes let the room go too quiet when they're looking for bids, which immediately signals that something's about to 'buy-in' - in which case people sit on their hands. In a Wyndham auction one always had the sense that someone else was about to bid, so you felt you'd better get your hand up quickly.

In the video above, he talks about his career at Sotheby's, and how he got started. I wonder who'll replace him?

Update - and of course the more significant questions are; why is he going, and is he going anywhere else?

Update II - Melanie Girlis in The Art Newspaper reports that Wyndham, who was of course Chairman of Sotheby's Europe, will take a break for 'six months before deciding what to do next'. 

$24m Taubman Old Master sale

January 28 2016

Image of $24m Taubman Old Master sale

Picture: Sotheby's

The Old Masters from Alfred Taubman's collection were sold at Sotheby's last night for a total of $24.1m (inc. premium). The pre-sale estimate was $21m-$30m (excluding premium) - but the estimates were already high, given the need to recoup Sotheby's guarantee of $515m from the Taubman sale. Indeed, it seems the sale went better than Sotheby's expected, and last night they were able to cut their expected loss on the Sotheby's guarantee from $6m to $3m. Possibly, given some minor remaining lots in future auctions, and judicious private selling of those works that did not sell last night, the auction house might in time even come out just ahead on the deal.

Overall, though, the sale last night was seen as good news by those in the 'trade'. When the small Raphael portrait, the first major lot of the Old Master week, sold for $2.7m against an estimate of $2m-$3m you could almost feel the whole room relax. Sotheby's specialists must have been under a heap of pressure going into the sale, and I think they did well, aided of course by the incomparable auctioneering of Henry Wyndham. Sotheby's also sensibly cut the reserves on some of their more over-estimated lots, such as a Beccafumi tondo which hammered at $1m against an estimate of $2m-$3m.

The best pictures went way above estimate, such as the above Valentin de Boulogne, which sold for $5.1m (inc. premium) against an estimate of $1.5m-$2m. As ever, Venetian vedute paintings sold well (you could even say there's something of a boom in this market), with a Bellotto making $3m against an estimate of $1.5m-$2m, and fierce competition on a Bellotti selling for $490k against an estimate of $150k-$200k. Taubman's British art did quite well too, with his full-length Gainsborough selling for $3.2m (inc. premium) against an already ambitious estimate of $3m-$4m. The bargain of the night for me was a 50x40 Gainsborough portrait in excellent condition, which sold to the UK trade for $187k (inc. premium, est. $100k-$150k). A Guercino Magdalene bought in against an estimate of $500k-$700k, and could presumably be bought cheaply after the sale if anyone's interested.

Sleeper Alert!

January 21 2016

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Interencheres

A reader alerts us to the above 'Ecole Hollandaise', which soared to a strong six figure hammer price yesterday in France, against an estimate of a €6k-€8k. It is believed to be by Gerrit van Honthorst.

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