There’s been a lot coming out about the Duke of Rutland’s Poussin, Ordination, and why it failed to sell. All of which is worth seeing side-by-side because the conflicting opinions reveal a bit about how the art market works:
The Wall Street Journal spoke to Christie’s expert who thought the work was an opportunity to own a pivotal work of art history:
“It should have pushed all the right buttons,” said Paul Raison, head of Old Master paintings and 19th-century art with Christie’s London. Poussin came to influence such artists as Cezanne and Picasso, and the Louvre has four rooms dedicated to his works.
New York fine-arts consultant Beverly Schreiber Jacoby noted that “for someone chasing status and razzle-dazzle,” the Poussin, though “exceptionally handsome,” was a tough sell. On the other hand, New York Old Masters dealer Gui Rochat thought quality might have had something to do with the Poussin result, calling the picture “not terribly appealing.”
Souren Melikian thought the work clumsy and over-rated:
But, with an estimate set at £15 million to £20 million, the star lot, Nicolas Poussin’s “Ordination,” never stood a chance even in a very bullish market. Its melodramatic characters striking theatrical postures are uninspiring, to put it mildly.
Colin Gleadell found out that a lot of the work’s value comes from it being part of a group of seven paintings depicting the seven sacraments. Although the grouping gives it value, separating the work from its companions also detracts from the value, according to one dealer:
“It has acquired taste,” said the dealer, Jean-Luc Baroni, meaning limited appeal. “It would also have been like buying a bit of something,” he added, “and embarrassing to have further split the series up, which is why I wasn’t interested.”
Bloomberg’s Scott Reyburn has a few comments from dealers that put the blame on aggressive estimates that start above the artist’s record price:
“Really good material is scarce and the market is getting more critical,” Johan Bosch van Rosenthal, an Amsterdam-based art consultant, said. “The fight among the auction houses for the best paintings is also pushing up estimates.” […] “You need a tempting estimate to encourage bidders to go higher,” Hugo Nathan, a director at the London-based dealers Dickinson, said in an interview. “Poussin is not an easy seller, particularly when the economy is a little edgy.”
Art Sales: Records Fall in Quests for the Best (Telegraph)
When the Star of the Show Doesn’t Sell (Wall Street Journal)
Vanishing Old Masters Save Another Day (IHT/New York Times)