When we last left off, Christie’s was about to present their 19th century European Painting sale in New York on the 29th. I will begin by saying that they did do their best to slim down the offerings … just 95 lots in the sale and as with all of these sales, the catalogs always look great, but the real test was going to come during the viewing — did the works look good in person? In addition, the “Frankenstorm” (Sandy) was scheduled to hit the New York area on the Sunday before the sale and run through Wednesday – uh oh!
We decided not to take any chances so we viewed the sale first thing Friday morning and as expected there were some very nice works and some that were going to be difficult to find new homes … and most of those were due to condition issues.
Among the paintings we really liked were a couple of Corots, a nice Lhermitte, a couple of Bouguereaus, a Stevens, Boldini, Barber, Grimshaw, Sorbi and a Dawson. The works that fell into the nice category were Monsted, Schuller, Godward, Tadema, Santoro, Kuhnert and Herring. And those I could do without included works by Corot (seriously overcleaned), Bridgman (not one of his best days), Bonheur (price seemed way off the mark), Dagnan-Bouveret (which had extensive pigment separation), a Bouguereau that had definitely lost some of its luster, some Vastagh’s which looked far better in the catalog than they did in person and a few others that had seen better days.
Well, the storm hit New York and it was a whopper … causing the Christie’s sale to be postponed for a few days … not a good thing. In addition, the stock market was not having a good run that week and then there was the presidential election – all forces beyond Christie’s control.
The sale took place on November 1 (three days late) and NYC was still a mess – most people could not get in or out. We relied on iffy phone service to bid; however, the better works seemed to pull through while those that were less than stellar had a really tough go. I have said this before, the main issue with auction sales is that they take place on a specific day, at a specific time, and if things go wrong with the weather, stock market, etc. the sale can be impacted – not a good thing for the sellers, but for the buyers it can be a bonanza if they step up to the plate!!!!
Taking the top slot in this sale was Alma-Tadema’s Ask Me No More which brought $2.2M (est. $2-$3M), in second was Bouguereau’s Pandora, a painting that I was not impressed with, that brought $602K (est. $600-$800K) and in third was Bridgman’s Interieur d’un palais Arabe at $291K (est. $200-$300K) … another work that left me wondering. Rounding out the top 5 were Godward’s A Pompeian Lady at $291K ($300-$500K) and Alfred Stevens’ Melancolie that made $219K (est. $200-$300K) – it was worth more.
There were a number of other works that sold ‘cheaply’; these included paintings by Corot, Dupré, Dawson, Herring, Lhermitte and Sorbi. And there were a number of big lots that did not sell … these included paintings by Bouguereau, Grimshaw, Barber (nice painting but the estimate was just too high), Tissot, Corot and Boldini. In fact, of the 5 works with the highest estimates, only 1 sold — combined they expected at least $7.5M for them and only generated $2.2M … not good.
When the day ended, of the 95 works offered 59 sold (62%) and the total take was $6.65M (lower end of the estimate range was $13.1M – so they were WAY SHORT). Now, some of the works offered had issues and probably would not have found buyers anyway since buyers are very choosy; however, there were others that did not sell that probably should have and prices for some of the better works were not as strong as they would have been. It is my feeling that the weather, election and stock market took a heavy toll on the results.
The following week the competition had their 19th century sale … which also took a little hit from the Nor’easter that decided to pay a visit to NY … Mother Nature gave us the one two punch!
As we have seen over the past few years they tried their best to make this sale slim and trim and while there were no double digit million dollar works offered, the results, given the circumstances, were ok. Taking the top slot here was Bouguereau’s The Cherry Branch which sold for $1.54M (est. $1.5-$2M) … had the work been in better condition, I am sure it would have made much more. In second was Lavery’s The Green Sofa which sold for $1.3M (est. $700-$1M) and in third was an extremely nice Ludwig Deutsch titled The Scholars which brought $1.1M (est. $400-$600K). Rounding out the top 5 were another Bouguereau, La Tasse de Lait, at $927K (est. $750-$950K) – to me, the figure looked like a bobble-head – and a nice Stevens’, La Villa des Falaises a Sainte-Adresse, at $627K (est. $500-$700K – it last sold in 1996 for $443K).
Overall, the sale was better than the competitions and in the end, of the 105 works offered, 68 sold (64.8%) and the total take was $12.9M (the low end of their estimate range was $14.9M … so they fell a little short, but far superior to the competition); given the circumstances the results were better than I would have expected.
When it comes to the 19th century market what we are seeing is that there is strong support for the bigger names and those paintings that have ‘wall-power’. The more general works are selling when there is ‘individual’ interest … meaning that there is one potential buyer who is willing to pay the reserve price. After that, if the condition is troubling, the estimate is just too high or the work is just not a very good one … there is no support. At the Sotheby’s sale only 26 of the paintings offered appeared to have competitive bidding while Christies only had 19 (meaning those works that sold for more than the lower end of the estimate range – normally where sellers set their reserve).