Gallerist Howard Rehs did a lot of travelling this Spring. Here’s what he saw chasing 19th Century paintings across the Atlantic:
The action started in London with Sotheby’s sale of 19th century paintings and the results were rather pleasant. Taking top honors in this session was a wonderful Jean B.C. Corot titled Jeune femme à la fontaine which sold to the Musée d’Art et d’Histoire in Geneva for £1,609,250 ($2.35M); coming in second was Joaquín Sorolla’s El Bautizo (The Christening) at £825,250 ($1.2M) and in third was Jean-Léon Gérôme’s small (16 x 13 inch) Femmes au bain at £668,450 ($975K). Rounding out the top five were another Gérôme – Le Muezzin – at £421,250 ($614,326) and L. Laserstein’s Evening over Potsdam at £421,250 ($614,326) – an auction record for the artist.
Overall the sale offered a nice cross-section of works and the final results were very respectable, for a 19th century sale. Of the 237 works offered, 169 found buyers and 68 failed to sell … for a sell-through rate of 71.3% and a total take of £10.85M ($15.8M). These numbers are fairly close to last year’s offerings when 178 works were offered, 130 sold (73% sell-through rate) and the total take was £8.38M ($13.9M) – so we seem to be holding steady here. Next stop:
The following day the action started up in New York when Sotheby’s offered a morning Old Master sale … which brought in $4.26M – top lot was a Francesco Albotto of Venice that made $638,500 (est. $200-$300K). In addition, there was an afternoon sale of Old Master and 19th century works that did not even break the $1M mark. In the latter sale, the top lot was a work by Oreste Cortazzo which made $80,500 on a $20-$30K estimate; coming in second was a work by John Wootton ($46,875) and third place saw a Circle of Fragonard ($43,750) – shows you how weak the offerings were here.
When all was said and done, of the 141 lots in the afternoon sale, 60 failed to find buyers giving them a sell-through rate of about 57% and a total take of $991,502. I am surprised that they even bother having that kind of sale.
That same day Sotheby’s had a sale in Paris featuring Impressionist and Modern art and there were some pretty hot results. Taking the top three slots here were: a 9 x 11 inch Picasso ink and wash on paper that sold for €3.76M ($4.6M) – est. € 400-€600,000, a Chaim Soutine that made €1.96M ($2.4M) and a Jean Metzinger at €912,750 ($1.1M).
Of the 113 works offered, 91 sold, 20 were bought-in and 2 were withdrawn … giving a sell-through rate 82% and a total take of €17.5M ($21.5M) – very strong numbers. It is also interesting to note that the top 5 lots brought in almost 50% (€8M) of the total sale.
The following week we were back in NY for Christie’s Old Master/19th century sale … their big sale of the season – I am still NOT a fan. Now this was a two part sale and the morning session included the better works. The first 103 were almost all Old Master pieces and for the most part they left me unimpressed. Of those, 58 sold and 45 were returned to their owners for a sell-through rate of 56%. The top lot was a Pieter Brueghel the Younger at $866,500.
By the time we hit lot 104, we had emerged into the 19th century (though there were certain lots that years ago would have been sold in the Old Master sales). Of the 76 lots offered in this part, 50 sold and 29 failed … creating a sell-through rate of 61.8% and the top lot here was William Bouguereau’s Pieta that brought $2.77M.
When combining the morning and afternoon sales, the latter featuring a lot of material from the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, the total take was $11.7M from the 184 sold lots (309 offered) with a sell-through rate of 59.5%. Overall, this sale was disappointing in terms of the quality and breadth one would expect for ‘THE’ sale of the season. It is very obvious that this saleroom is having a very difficult time sourcing material for a good 19th century sale … just look at the numbers – by my calculations about $4.6M of the total was made up by the 19th C. paintings and of those, the Bouguereau accounted for more than half the total. I will continue to say that merging the Old Masters and 19th Century departments was, and is, a mistake … go back to the way it was. We want our 19th century BACK!