Howard Rehs is an art dealer specializing in 19th Century works through Rehs Galleries on 57th St. in New York. Here’s his take on last week’s Old Master and 19th Century sales. Pay close attention to his analysis at the bottom of average prices, sale volumes and sell-through rates. The numbers don’t do what you would expect them to do.
At the end of January Christie’s continued with their combined sales in NY and once again, the offerings were a bit thin and the results a bit choppy; it appears they may have realized the error of their ways … only time will tell.
While I did not have the ability to view the entire sale, I did have an opportunity to see a number of the lots before I left for Los Angeles … some of which were nice and others were nothing to write home about. Among the more interesting items I saw were a wonderful Dawson and a fabulous Gérôme; those I was not impressed with were works by Corot, Knight, Tadema and Elsley. The catalogs for this sale arrived and they were huge. I really need to know: why do they need such large and heavy catalogs? They should start making them a bit more convenient to carry around … maybe cutting down on paper thickness would help?
There were two catalogs for this sale … an ‘Important’ morning session and a general afternoon session. The ‘Important’ session included 75 lots of which 21 fell into the 19th century – which I will discuss now. Taking the top position here was Gérôme’s Master of the Hounds at $1.4M (est. $700-$1M) — a very nice painting. Coming in second was Millet‘s La fin de la journée at $1.3M ($800-$1.2M est.) – not one I would want to own – and coming in third was Godward’s At the Gate of the Temple bringing $800K (est. $700-$1M) – a nice example. Of those 21 works 6 failed to sell (71.5% sell-through rate) and the total take was $8.16M (the 19th century presale estimate was $7.45M – $10.85M); so they were right in the range. Included in this section were 7 Orientalist works which accounted for $3.65M (expected range was $2.67M-$3.93M); or about 45% of the 19th century results.
As for the Old Masters, there were 54 works offered, of those 1 was withdrawn and 22 were bought in (a sell through rate of just 59.5%) and a total take of $15.5M. The low end of the estimate range for the Old Masters was $23.4M … so they fell way short here. You know, maybe the Old Masters are holding back the 19th century!!!
The top three estimated lots in the sale were a Luca Carlevarijs Venice scene which made $3.5M (est. $3.5 – $4.5M); Canaletto‘s View of Mestre which failed to sell (est. $2.5M – $3.5M) and a landscape by Joos de Momper II & Breughel II which also failed to find a buyer at $1.8 – $2.2M. And of the top 10 highest estimated works, 19th century paintings held the 5th and 6th slots – each at $800- $1.2M – the Millet’s which sold for $1.3M and a Bouguereau portrait (not an easy sell) which failed to find a buyer – no surprise there.Part II included 228 works of which 65 were 19th century paintings (there was a separate section for drawings). The 19th century paintings had a combined presale estimate of $3,487,500 – $5,214,500 and when they were done, of the 65 offered 2 were withdrawn, 18 failed to sell (a 72.5% sell-through rate) and the total take was only $2.2M … well below the expected range.
The results for the entire sale were as follows: 299 works offered, 210 sold (70% sell-through rate) and a total take of $36.6M (please note that this figure includes the buyer’s commission, all other figures above are the hammer prices and do not include the buyer’s premium). The top 5 lots for the entire sale (all listed with the buyer’s commission) were: Carlevarijs’s Venice scene at $4.0M; Batoni‘s Venice Caressing Cupid $1.76M (est. $400-$600K); d’Hondecoeter‘s A Peacock, a peahen…. $1.65M (est. $400-$600K) and two 19th century works – the Gérôme and Millet.
On the other side of the city, Sotheby’s had their corresponding Old Master sales and the results crushed the competition. Now I will add that they did have a number of sales, including one for some ‘Important” paintings from the Safra Collection which included five 19th century painting (they really looked out of place). I am still wondering: why did they use the word ‘Important’ since there were many unimportant works? And did they really need a separate catalog? This sale included 59 paintings, of which 34 sold (57.6% sell-through rate) and the total take was $12.4M. The three top lots were an interior scene by Sorgh at $1.76M (est. $2-$3M) – bought in 1998 for $1.63M; a still life by Oosterwijck at $1.43M (est. $600-$900K) – bought in 1996 for $420K – and a coastal view by Van de Velde the Elder at $902K (est. $400-$600K) – bought in 1991 for $150K; and a number of pricey lots failed to find buyers: a Jacopo Amigoni at $1.5-$2.5M, two Giovanni Panini‘s each estimate at $1-$1.5M and a Jan Miel at $800-$1.2M. Not a great start, but better things were coming.
The following day they held the Important Old Master Paintings & Sculpture sale and this one brought in the money. Taking top honors here was Titian‘s A Sacra Conversazione… at $16.8M (est. $15-$20M) – not a work I was very impressed with and from the lack of interest, other must have felt the same way. Rounding out the top 5, all of which not only beat their estimates but achieved auction records, were works by Vernet at $7M (est. $1.5-$2M); Wtewael at $6.24M (est. $800-$1.2M); Dou at $5.3M (est. $2-$3M) and Brueghel at $4.56M (est. $2-$3M).
When the day’s activities were over 377 works crossed the block and 252 found new owners (66.8% sell-through rate) and a total take of $90.6M and when you add in the Safra sale the totals were $109.2M with 286 sold works (a 61.4% sell-through rate); far in excess of the $36.6M at Christie’s. Now to be fair, Sotheby’s did offer a lot more work; but even so, the average price per sold lot worked out to $174,285 for Christie’s and $381,818 for Sotheby’s.
So for two years running, Sotheby’s has not only trounced the competition, but seems to be gaining market share for these winter sales. Last year Christie’s sold $39.5M worth of art in their combined sales and had a sell-through rate of 65%; while this year they sold $36.6M and had a sell-through rate of 70% – more works selling, but less gross sales. In 2010 Sotheby’s sale brought in $61.5M with a 73.5% sell-through rate; this year they made $109.2M with a sell-through rate of just 61.4% — far less works selling, but more money! From these numbers it appears that Sotheby’s is quickly gaining ground in sales volume, but declining in terms of sell-through rates. It is also interesting to note that the top 5 works in the recent Sotheby’s sale made more than the entire Christie’s sale – $39.8M vs. $36.6M. Now, if they would just be a little more selective, they could have higher sell-through rates and along with the higher gross sales.
While the general art market is picking up steam, and more people are looking at art as safe place to park some of their money, the salerooms still need to be selective in their offerings. Keep the sales lean and mean … and if possible, please make the catalogs a little lighter.
You Heard it Here First
I think we are going to get our 19th Century back! While they will not officially admit it, Christie’s is rebuilding their 19th Century painting department. I guess they finally realized it was a mistake to combine the Old Master and 19th Century departments – especially after their competition’s most recent sale was a blockbuster; more on this, and their recent combined sale later in the broadcast.