Souren Melikian says the art market is sound in his International Herald Tribune story covering Christie’s Old Master Painting and Sculpture sale. Despite several significant works failing to find buyers (the sell-through rate for the sale was 65%,) Melikian sees great wisdom in the prices paid for Barocci, Constable and Ghirlandaio:
“Head of Saint John the Evangelist,” a study done for an altarpiece depicting the entombment of Christ, was hitherto unrecorded and was estimated by Christie’s to be worth $400,000 to $600,000, plus the complex sale charge in excess of 12 percent. At the end of a bidding contest that lasted nearly five tense minutes, the sketch cost its winner, the international connoisseur dealer Luca Baroni, $1,762,500. [ . . . ]
There was another extraordinary price, also paid for an image illustrating the first spontaneous artistic vision that precedes the painting of a picture. The small “View of Salisbury,” likewise sketched in oil on paper laid down on canvas, was done by Constable in Salisbury in 1829. The boldness of the work, which goes far beyond anything the French Impressionists would attempt in the 19th century, heralds the evolution toward Abstractionism that would take place in the early 1900s. Christie’s estimate was $500,000 to $800,000. The connoisseurs’ verdict on this work, which had been on loan to the Art Institute of Chicago, was $1,082,500.
The vigor of a market is not just established by the competition that out-of-this-world gems will trigger.
Paintings that were good or simply very interesting thanks to some unusual feature elicited strong prices within their category. An unsigned “Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist,” which was assigned to the “Master of the Fiesole Epiphany,” opened Christie’s session with a $40,000 to $60,000 estimate. The 15th-century Florentine panel gracefully ascended to $128,500.
The next painting, “Saint Jerome and Saint Joseph with a donor,” was also an anonymous panel given to another reconstructed artist. Having discovered the name of Michelangelo di Pietro Mencherini in period archives, where it appears as that of a painter active in Lucca between 1489 and 1521, art historians set about attributing works to him.
When last seen at Christie’s on May 14, 1965, “Saint Jerome and Saint Joseph” had made 2,200 guineas, or £2,310. This week, Christie’s experts reckoned that the quirky picture in which the saints are portrayed by a painter who had a quizzical perception of his fellow humans might sell for $60,000 to $80,000 plus the sale charge. In the event, the panel made $230,500.
Old Master Paintings Soar at Christie’s Sale (International Herald Tribune)