Howard L. Rehs is a dealer in New York. He specializes in 19th Century pictures but he keeps a broader eye out on the art market. Here’s his latest report:
First up was Bonhams’ 19th Century Paintings, Drawing and Watercolours in London; a sale divided into two sections: 19th Century Paintings and Victorian Paintings.
The 19th Century Paintings section offered 71 works and there were just as many hits as misses. This section produced two of the highest prices for the sale: Sorolla’s portrait of Raquel Meller which was estimated at £150-£200K and sold at £180K ($284K) and F.M. Kruseman’s Winter landscape with skaters near a castle … a rather large and fine example (although it was unsigned) that made £156K ($246K) – one of the top prices achieved by the artist at auction. Of the 71 works offered here, 30 failed to find buyers leaving this section with a sell-through rate of just 57.7%.
The Victorian works seemed to do a bit better with 100 works offered and 74 sold for a sell-through rate of 74% and the top lot being Clausen’s The Flower Seller, Trafalgar Square at £78K ($123K). When combined, the entire sale saw 171 works offered with 115 sold for a combined sell-through rate of 67.2% and a total take of £1.78M ($2.8M) – the expected range was £1.71M – £2.46M so they made the range, but only after the buyer’s commission was added in.
That same day Sotheby’s offered its Scottish Sale. Now it is important to remind you that in my last newsletter I mentioned the fact that Bonhams sale of Scottish works was a success and that they were the only major auction house to still hold sales of Scottish art in Scotland. Well, the Sotheby’s sale took place in London and after the hammering they took, they may well be looking for space in Scotland to hold their future sales.
I am sure they were very discouraged by the time they got to lot 20 and only 6 of the works sold; something was amiss, but there was no turning back. Top lot for this auction was a Samuel J. Peploe Still Life that carried a £250K-£350K estimate and sold (with the commission) for £265,250 ($420K) and other than a few other high spots, the sale was very disappointing. In the end, of the 153 works offered only 65 sold for a sell-through rate of 42.5% and a total take of £1.48M ($2.34M) – the expected presale range was £2.44M-£3.57M. Here is my suggestion … be a little more selective with the works offered, watch your estimates and move back to Scotland.
The final sale on the 29th took place in New York – Sotheby’s lower to mid level American Paintings, Drawings & Sculpture. I am sure that by the time this sale got through the first 20 lots, and 12 had not sold, they figured they were on track to match the Scottish sale results. Lucky for them, things picked-up a bit … but only a bit. The top two lots in this sale were sleepers. The first were a pair of small paintings by Thomas H. Hotchkiss which carried an estimate of $8-$12K and sold for $158K; the other being Roger Medearis’s Breaking Ground at Bethel at $122,500 ($12-$18K est.).
In the end, this sale squeaked out a return of $2.86M (presale range was $2.75M-$4.04M) with 143 of the 245 works selling for a sell-through rate of 58.4%.
What all these results show us is that everything about a work needs to be right in order for it to sell; so it is vital that the quality, condition and estimates are all in line. And, make sure the number of works offered is appropriate for the current economic climate.