Souren Melikian isn’t happy with the way the Old Master sales played out in London last week. He predicts their potential demise, not for a lack of buyers but for the cupidity of sellers.
If the drying up of supplies continues, auction houses will anyway have to hold only one major sale a year, not two. And that might altogether signal the end of the auction market in this field, because for auctions to attract bidders, a certain pace is indispensable.
Here’s Melikian’s evidence of a stagnating market:
The portrait of a lady by Lucas Cranach the Younger might have made a greater impression had it not been seen at Christie’s on July 5, 2007, when it realized £1.81 million courtesy of Colnaghi of London. On Wednesday, it made only £1.38 million.
Another portrait signed by Peter Lely traditionally said to depict Nell Gwyn, the young working class prostitute who became the mistress of King Charles II, had realized £75,000 at Sotheby’s on June 27, 2001. This year it matched the lower estimate at £97,250 — less in real terms than the price paid 10 years ago.
A “Crucifixion” scene considered to be by the Dutch artist Cornelis Engebrechtsz was offered at Sotheby’s on April 19, 1989, when it remained unsold. Back on the block at Christie’s New York on April 6, 2006, with a $350,000 to $450,000 estimate, it again failed to find a taker. This week, the “Crucifixion” narrowly missed a third failure when it sold on a single bid for £121,000.
Bloomberg’s Scott Reyburn adds these observations:
“There are still serious collectors interested in Old Masters valued at more than $2 million,” said Philip Hoffman, chief executive officer of the London-based Fine Art Fund. “There are Russians and Americans buying at the top end. The classic European collector is staying away at the moment. Works priced at under $200,000 are difficult to shift. Tastes have changed.” […]
“People are nervous about selling at the moment,” said Andrew McKenzie, an Old Master specialist at Bonhams. “They don’t think the economy is very good and are worried their works won’t fetch high prices. I’m confident the good pictures will still do well.”
Art Shivers in the Recession (International Herald Tribune)