[intro]Howard Rehs is Back from Sotheby’s 19th Century Sale[/intro]
Sotheby’s offered their main 19th Century European Art sale in New York on the 22nd and I have to say that when I initially received the catalog I was not blown away, at least from the photos. As always there were some interesting pieces, but this ‘important’ sale had only 139 lots and there was a fair amount of filler (works that should have been offered in a ‘Fine’ sale); the sale’s breakdown was as follows: 33 Sporting & Marine; 24 Orientalist and 82 General 19th century. In addition, only one painting carried an estimate in excess of $1 million – Frederic, Lord Leighton’s Venus Disrobing for the Bath ($1.2 – $1.5 million).
While perusing the catalog I was taken by a few of the lots, among them were: Leopold Müller’s A Street Scene Cairo (est. $600-$800,00); Jean Discart’s The Pottery Studio, Tangiers ($100-$150,000); Edward R. Hughes’ Dream Idyll ($100-$150,000); Arthur J. Elsley’s Weatherbound ($150-$200,000); William Bouguereau’s Le Bruit de la Mer ($300-$500,000) & Jeune Fille a la Cruche ($750,000 – $1M); Paul Fischer’s An Evening at the Royal Theatre, Copenhagen ($300-$400,000); Isidor Kaufmann’s Portrait of a man with Streimel ($150-$200,000); Leon Lhermitte’s Les Glaneuses ($200-$250,000); Gustave Courbet’s La Trombe ($400-$600,000); and Montague Dawson’s The Rising Moon – The Golden Fleece ($150-$250,000). However, after viewing the sale I had a feeling that quality and condition issues were going to take their toll on the overall results.
The Müller & Elsley paintings looked much tighter in the photos and the Elsley had some obvious condition problems – but both sold … the Müller made $720,000 and the Elsley brought $182,500. The Paul Fischer really fell apart in person and it failed to find a buyer. Bouguereau’s Le Bruit de la Mer, which had extensive areas of pigment separation, also failed to sell, but his Jeune fille a la Cruche (in far better condition) made $842,500. The large Leighton, a work I was not personally impressed with, made $1,874,500, the sales most expensive lot (the last time it appeared at auction was in March of 1976 when it made a whopping $6,140 – nice return on that investment). A fantastic Edward R. Hughes painting titled Dream Idyll, which was estimated at $100-$150,000 made a more appropriate $866,500 and Courbet’s dramatic La Trombe brought $566,500. The Kaufmann I mentioned earlier brought $182,500; the Lhermitte made $302,500; the Discart sold for $224,500 and the Dawson sailed away at $182,500.
Now for the overall numbers: Of the 139 works offered, 73 sold, 64 were bought-in and 1 was withdrawn for a sell-through rate of 54% (not very impressive) and a total take of $9.83 million. In addition, the top 5 works made a combined total of $4.02 million, accounting for about 40% of the total dollar value … and if you add up the top ten you hit $5.48 million, or 55.7% of the sale’s total.
I will continue to stress this point. The market is not healthy enough to absorb anything you throw at it … if a saleroom does not have enough material to create a strong sale, then do not have one. And if you only have 60 or 70 good works then have a sale of 60 or 70 works … seems to me that you would far better off selling 100% of a 70 lot sale than 54% of a 139 lot sale. Just my 2 cents.