There seems to be some confusion in how to view this week’s sales of Old Master works. Some see continuing strength where others see weakness. George Gordon told The Art Newspaper, “Estimates are no lower than two years ago–the market has been maintained,” he said. But Bloomberg‘s Scott Reyburn did a year-over-year comparison:
Immediately after last night’s Johnson sale, the auction house offered a further 48 lots of Old Master paintings from other sellers which raised a total of 26 million pounds with fees, against a lower valuation of 24 million pounds.
Here, the success rate dropped to 69 percent, with just 10 works selling for hammer prices that were above the upper estimate. At the equivalent mixed-owner sale last year, Sotheby’s raised 51.5 million pounds from a 90-lot auction, with 77 percent of the material finding owners.
Excluding the Johnson property from the totals may not be a fair comparison. Auction houses bring work to market whenever and however they can. Sotheby’s total for the whole evening was £36m, only a 30% decline in sales volume. That compares favorably with the 70% decline in Contemporary art seen the week before.
Nonetheless, Reyburn offers this additional caveat not to draw too much meaning from the Old Master sales:
“A lot of people are chasing the same pictures,” Jack Kilgore, a New York-based dealer, said in an interview. “Good things are selling well. This is a small and selective market.”