While I tend to agree with Economist.com’s final paragraph:
Their success on a flat July afternoon offers two crucial lessons for vendors in recessionary market: don’t sell unless you have to, and don’t be greedy in setting estimates. If the low estimate is pitched at a high level, buyers sense greed in the air and tend to hold off from bidding. In a buyers’ market, purchasers like to feel they have got a bargain, especially if they are spending a lot of money.
I also think it is vitally important to remember that this sale was another prime example of a saleroom not taking the hint … there are many areas of the art market that need a rest, and the Orientalist market is one of them.
During their Old Master/19th Century week, Christie’s produced this anemic stand-alone sale and like the other recent Orientalist sales the results were less than stellar: of the 59 works offered 32 found buyers (a sell through rate of just 54%) with a total take of £3,364,725. You should also take note that the top 5 works made a combined total of £2.17 million (64.5% of the total sale) and the top 10 lots made £2.65 million (78% of the total take). Did they really need to waste all that paper on a stand-alone catalog? I do not think so.
And with all the hoopla they created over the past few months concerning the merging of their Old Master & 19th Century departments, why weren’t the better works in this sale incorporated in the evening sale of Old Master & 19th Century paintings? They would have added some weight to the 19th century offerings and beefed up that sale’s total. All the mid-level works could have then been added to their various day sales – which did include Orientalist art.
What these results point to is an over-saturation of the market … too much product at a time when there are too few buyers.