April has always been 19th century month in NYC and now that Christie’s merged its departments we only have one major saleroom offering a strictly 19th century painting sale … which may be better for the market since it will keep the number of works being offered at public sale in check.
Before I get started with the Sotheby’s sale I will discuss the Bonham’s sale of Old Master and19th century paintings. In the past these sales took place in California; but since Christie’s abandoned the independent 19th century market, Bonham’s is trying to fill the void – the key word here is ‘trying’. The majority of the paintings offered fell into the middle and lower ranges; 180 of the works were estimated in the $2K- $10K range and 87 in the $10K – $30K range … so of the 294 lots offered, 267 (91%) were mid to lower range works. In addition, the only painting carrying an estimate in excess of $100,000 was a very grey Boudin ($100K – $150K) … makes it hard to compete with Sotheby’s whose top lot, a Bouguereau, carried a $1.8M – $2.2M estimate. However, it was nice to see that the general offerings in this sale were a definite improvement over their last sale.
During the Bonham’s sale only two lots broke into the six-figures — Eugene Boudin’s somewhat lackluster Bateaux sur la meuse at $134,000 and Bellei’s In the Theatre at $107,360 … the latter estimated at $25K – $35K. Third place was taken by Adrien Moreau’s Concert d’amateurs… at $70,150 (est. $20K-$30K); fourth was picked up by Adolf Schreyer’s The Raid at $54,900 (est. $50K-$70K) and in fifth there was a tie: a small study by Munkacsy and a work attributed to Bernardino Mei (Old Master) each made $48,800 (both carrying $25K – $35K estimates).
Among their most notable failures were Arthur Wardle’s After the Ball, Munier’s A Young Boy Holding a Branch of Berries and Thaulow’s A Stream Through a Village … all of which were among the sales most highly estimated offerings and all failed to find buyers.
And now for the final results: The first part of the sale consisted of 42 Old Masters. Of those, 25 sold and 17 were bought-in for a sell-through rate of 59.5% and a total of $265,289. Next came 250 19th century works of which 163 sold (65.2% sell-through rate) and a total of $2,086,183. When added together, the sale saw 188 of the 292 works sell (64% sell-through rate) and a grand total of $2.35M. Not bad for a sale that was made up of what can generally be described as ‘Select’ and ‘Standard’ cuts of beef … the real meat came two days later, at Sotheby’s.
When the Sotheby’s catalog arrived the first thing that struck me was the fact that there were only 116 lots (lean and somewhat mean); and of those, 21 (18%) were Orientalist (7 paintings and 14 sculptures). In addition, there were a number of familiar works (recently on the market – some at smaller sales and other with dealers) and a cross section of mid-range to higher-range paintings (no lower end works … those priced under $10K) . When compared to the Bonham’s sale, most of the offerings fell into the ‘Choice’ and “Prime’ cuts of beef (good meat) -making it much easier for them to hopefully report higher dollar figures.
Among the more impressive works, at least from the catalog illustrations, were paintings by Vibert, Ernst, Lewis, Bouguereau, Munier, Boldini, Godward, Corot, Beraud, Kaufmann, de Dreux, Munnings and Dawson; but the first test was going to be how the paintings looked in person. Additionally, there were a few works by Knight and Dupré in the sale, but I had already seen them and knew what to expect.
After viewing the sale I can report that some of the ‘star’ lots held up to their images … among those were the Vibert, Ernst, Lewis, Munier, Courbet, Bouguereau, Boldini, Godward, Kaufmann, de Drux and Munnings. I was a bit disappointed with the Corots (just too dark or condition problems), Beraud (areas of pigment separation) and Courbet (rather disappointing). As for the Dupré and Knight paintings, the main themes here were condition and/or quality.
Then came the real test, sale day; and as one would expect, the cream rose to the top. Taking top honors was Mr. Bouguereau whose L’Amour et Psychè was estimated at $1.8M – $2.2M and brought $2.2M (about equal to what all 188 sold lots brought at the Bonham’s sale); in a close second was J.F. Lewis’s A Frank Encampment in the Desert of Mount Sinai at $1.87M (est. $1M – $1.5M); in a distant third was another Bouguereau – Amour à l’affût – at $794,500 ($600 – $800,000 est.); while fourth and fifth places were taken by Godward’s Dolce far Niente ($745,500 with a $500 – $700,000 est.) and Courbet’s Femme Endormie ($710,000 with a $700 – $900,000 est.).
Among my other favorites were the Vibert ($68,500); Ernst ($482,500); Elizabeth Bouguereau ($494,500); Boldini ($482,500); Kaufmann ($278,500); de Dreux ($602,500) and Munnings ($578,500). I was not surprised that the Beraud, large Corot and Knights did not find buyers; while I was shocked that the Raffaëlli, Dupré and smaller Corots found takers.
In the end, of the 115 works offered (1 was withdrawn), 73 sold and 42 were bought-in for a sell-through rate of 63.5% (close to Bonham’s) and a total take of $13.3M (more than 5 ½ times Bonham’s total) . It is also interesting to note that the low end of their estimate range was about $12.9M … so it took the addition of the buyer’s premium to top that.
The 2010 results were much stronger than the corresponding 2009 sale in which 116 works were also offered, the sell-through rate was a dismal 42%, and the total take only reached $10.8M (low end of the estimate range was in excess of $14M). Better times are ahead!