Now Sotheby’s decided to sandwich our good old 19th century sale in-between the Impressionist sales that took place during the first week of November. And while the overall results were the best we have seen, I still believe they need to give the 19th century its own week. The great results were completely overshadowed by the big Impressionist sales … and as you will see, that was a shame.
It was nice to see that the auction room decided to scale back the number of offerings and just concentrate on the better works (something I have been screaming about for years). I was sure that this would create a far better return for them – which it did.
The 19th Century European Painting sales hardly ever see any serious fireworks … those are usually left for the big Impressionist, Contemporary and Old Master sales … but this sale provided some of the best displays ever (one the Grucci family would have been proud of); and while there were a number of low points the results for the right works were SMOKING HOT!
The sale started off pretty strong with a very nice work by Louis de Schryver that carried an estimate of $150-$200K (one we were prepared to go to $310,000 for); however it sold for a hammer price of $320K ($386K with commissions) – “missed it by that much”! Lot 11 was Gérôme’s After the Bath, a nice example that last sold in 1999 for $1.04M; this time around it brought $1.48M – not a big increase, but an increase. Lot 20 was Breton’s Summer (a work I was not very impressed with), but it did garner some action and finally sold for $554,500 (est. $300-$400K) – it was also sold in 2002 for $240K and again in 2005 for $352K – so it has seen a steady price increase. Lot 21 was another Breton (a fairly late piece that left me wondering: what would happen if you actually cleaned it? It was a very thin painting) titled Les Sarcleuses de Lin which made $374,500 – a pretty strong price for that work, in my humble opinion!
Lot 23, a large Bouguereau, was the first of two paintings Demi Moore was selling. Ms. Moore acquired the work in 1995 for $178,500 and this time around it made $1.08M (on a $1-$1.5M estimate) … the hammer price was $900,000 so it actually fell a little short of the estimate. The second work was Alfred Stevens’ Mere et ses Enfants – three lovely figures in a rather dark, ominous, landscape – which found a buyer at $182,500; Ms. Moore acquired the work in 1995 for $200,500 – so she took a bit of a loss on this one. But overall her return was pretty good if you figure that she paid $379,000 for the two in 1995 and sold them for $1.262M in 2010.
A very nice Emile Munier, titled Her Best Friend, appeared as lot 26. This painting last sold in 2001 for $159,750 and now carried an estimate of $150-$200K. We thought a bid of $170-$180K would have been enough, but we were a bit short here as well … sold for $220K ($266,500 with the commission).
It was interesting to see the resurfacing of many recently sold works (and I am talking about very recently). Lot 35 was a rather stiff, but colorful, Parisian street scene by Bakalowicz. I saw this painting at a Sotheby’s sale in Paris this June where it made $65K and paid very little attention to it; the work sold for $65K. Well, only a few months later it was here in NY with a $100-$150K and sold for $422,500 – WOW! Lot 40 was another Parisian street scene, this time by Victor Gilbert. This was a nice piece and one that carried and estimate of $50-$70K … and sold for $104,500 – a very strong price; what was really interesting is that this painting was sold in September , 2010 (yes, two months earlier) in a Texas sale for $25,000 — now that is another nice short term gain. I am sure the seller was very happy, but what about the people who sold it at the Texas sale?
As the sale progressed through lot 55 we were on track for a fairly strong, but typical, 19th century sale. Then lot 56 appeared and the fun began. The painting, Alma-Tadema’s The Finding of Moses, had an extensive provenance and exhibition history. The painting was originally sold in 1904 for £5,250 (then making it one of the most expensive British paintings ever sold); when it appeared on the market in the 1960s it was reported to have sold for just £900- the buyer bought it for the frame and left the painting! Then in 1995 it came back on the market and sold for $2.75M (the auction record for a work by the artist). Well, when the bidding war was over – and this was a war since the painting carried a realistic estimate of $3-$5M – the new owner paid $35.9M … and that is not a typo. Now I did hear, from a reliable source, that before the sale the ultimate buyer was asking whether or not he could hang this painting in his yacht … what a “boat” that must be!!
There was one final Big Burst at lot 75 – Boldini’s sexy portrait of 10 year old Giovinetta Errazuriz. This large work carried a $1-$1.5M estimate and finally traded hands at $6.6M … another sky high price for a work which last sold in 2004 for $1.35M (as you will note from the estimate, the owner was prepared to take a loss).
It is important to remember that there has never been a true 19th century painting (one that normally sells in the 19th century European Painting sales) that has gone past the $8M market – the record, until November, was, if memory serves me right, Alfred Munnings’s The Red Prince Mare at $7.8M. And even with Tadema’s off-the-charts price, there was little to no press reaction; almost all the major news organizations covered the highs and lows of the Impressionist and Moderns — nothing, or very little, about the 19th century. What a shame! Come on, this painting sold for more than most of the paintings offered in the other major sales.
Anyway, by the time the sale was over, the presale estimate range of $20-$29.5M was left in the dust. Of the 82 lots offered, 60 found new homes and 22 were unsold, leaving a sell-through rate of 73.2% and a total take of $61.5M!
To put this sale in perspective, the 2009 sale offered 139 works, sold 73 (54% sell-through rate) and grossed $9.83M. I went back to 2008 (when both Sotheby’s and Christie’s had sales, remember in 2009 Christie’s merged the 19th century & Old Master departments) and found that combined the two rooms offered 467 works, sold 215 (a 47% sell-through rate) and totaled $24.48M (remember, this was at the worst point in the market). And why not throw in 2007 results – 555 works offered, 346 sold (63% sell-through rate) and a total take of $39M … even at the market’s height the results didn’t come close.
The graph above illustrates the last 10 years of the sales from the fall 19th Century sales at Sotheby’s New York. The blue line represents the total U.S. Dollar Gross Sales Volume while the grey bars illustrate the Percentage of Lots Sold; the latter of which runs between 50% and 70%; the highest being 2010 when they seriously scaled back the number of lots offered and mainly concentrated on the quality works.
The graph above illustrates the Number of Lots Sold and the Average Price Per Lot. You will note that 2010’s results are not included since it made the 10 year span difficult to read. What this chart beautifully illustrates is that as the market cooled off in 2008 & 2009, and only the better lots were selling, the Average Price Per lot still remained very high (evidence that buying the best is the way to go). In addition, the 9 year trend was a positive one – increasing from about $85,000 to $135,000 per lot sold.
I am sure you are wondering what the previous graph would look like if we added in the 2010 results … so here it is! The scaling makes it very difficult to see the trend for the Average Price Per Sold Lot.
Now here is another interesting fact. If we remove the Alma-Tadema and Boldini from the equation (assuming those were just one-off results) the Price Per Lot Sold drops to $327,586; however this is still an amazing increase for the period, and the resulting chart (below) looks pretty similar to the last one.
So what does all of this say to me — better quality + less product = far better results. It will also be interesting to see how many Alma-Tadema and Boldini paintings show up on the market — but to all you potential sellers please remember …too much of a good thing is BAD!