When we last left off, we were heading into American Painting week and the overall results were rather interesting … with both main salerooms coming in at a photo finish.
Top lot from for the week was Oscar Bluemner’s Illusion of a Prairie which made $5.35M (est. $2-$3M) and there was a tie for second place between a Marsden Hartley still life (est. $700-$900K) and a F.E. Church landscape (est. $1-$1.5M) at $3.22M. Rounding out the top five were Georgia O’Keeffe at $2.77M (est. $2-$3M), a Heade at $1.99M (est. $500-$700K) and a John La Farge (est. $500-$700K) and another Hartley (est. $1-$1.5M) at $1.87M. You may have noticed a recurring theme here … almost all of these works crushed their estimates.
Now for the numbers: Sotheby’s offered 111 works, of which 79 sold and 32 were not leaving them with a sell-through rate of 71.2% and a total take of $24.5M; the average price per sold lot was $310K. Christie’s offered 136 works, sold 87 and ended with a sell-through rate of 64%, but the total take was a little higher — $25.8M; the average price per sold lot was $297K. So the two rooms were pretty close in this race.
The combined results were in line with the last few years:
2008: 370 lots offered, 218 sold (59%), total take $46.1M – top lot -$2.66M (Silva)
2009: 239 lots offered, 166 sold (69%), total take $57.4M – top lot -$6.9M (Wyeth)
2010: 281 lots offered, 185 sold (65.8%), total take $48.2M – top lot -$4.2M (Tarbell)
2011: 247 lots offered, 166 sold (67.2%), total take $50.4M – top lot – $5.3M (Bluemner)
The overall trend shows that less might just be more.
From here we moved across the pond to London for the Old Master paintings and these sales really illustrated the difficulty the Old Master market is having … very few really good works are coming to the market.
Both rooms had their evening sales and they were both rather slim. Taking the pole position here was Brueghel’s The Battle between Carnival and Lent which made £6.9M ($10.7M – est. £3.5-£4.5M) – an auction record for the artist. In a close second was Zoffany’s pair of Garrick portraits at £6.8M ($10.6M – est. £6-£8M) – but let’s be fair, this was a pair of paintings. In third came Van de Velde’s Dutch men-o’-war… at £5.9M ($9.2M – est. £1.5-£2.5M) – another auction record; and rounding out the top 5 were a Flinck portrait at £2.3M ($3.6M – est. £700K-£1M) – another auction record – and a Gainsborough at £2.2M ($3.4M – est. £2.5-£3.5M). Of the top 20 works sold, 16 left their estimates in the dust.
Christie’s offer just 36 lots and sold 26 (72%) for a total take of £24.1M ($37.6M). Sotheby’s offered 38 works and also sold 26 (68.4%) for a total take of £20.1M ($31.4M). I will say that it was nice to see their sales were smaller than usual, something I have been stressing; but I do not know if that was a factor of the market not giving up its works, or being selective. I would like to believe the latter, but the quality level of some of the works makes me wonder.
Both rooms also had their corresponding day sales which were far less impressive. Christie’s offered 98 works and sold 59 (60%) and totaled £2.4M ($3.8M); top lot here was a Gainsborough portrait that brought £205K ($320K – est. £100-£150K). Sotheby’s presented 195 works, sold just 100 (51.3%) and took in £5.4M ($8.4M) – top lot here was a Jan van Kessel still life at £385K ($605K – est. £60-£80K). Now, before you say, well Christie’s offered far fewer works, you need to remember that they also have their ‘lower end’ Old master sales that same week … and those sales really added to the number of works offered. Their Drawings and Watercolors sale had 256 works in which 182 sold (71%) and the take was 779K ($1.2M) – top lot here was an impressive £253K ($397K – est, £3-£5K) for a work by van Bloemen. This one work took in about 1/3 of their total! Then the painting session added another 155 offerings of which 88 sold (57%) and the take was 638K ($995K). Top lot here was a circle of Anthony van Dyck portrait at £40K ($62K – est. £15-£20K).
If we add up all the works offered for the week, we find that of the 778 items, 481 found new owners (61.8%) and the total take was £53.7M ($83.4M). Now, in order to make a fair comparison to past years, we need to subtract Christie’s ‘lower end’ sales … since they were not in the mix a few years ago.
2008 – 447 offered, 286 sold, 64% sell-through rate, total take £35.9M ($53.3M)
2009 – 407 offered, 254 sold, 62.4% sell-through rate, total take £90.7M ($148.7M)
2010 – 513 offered, 290 sold, 56.5% sell-through rate, total take £58.4M ($91.8M)
2011 – 367 offered, 211 sold, 57.5% sell-through rate, total take £52.3M ($81.2M)
While the total dollar amount for 2011 was less than 2010, the number of works offered was far less and in fact, the price per sold lot number was stronger: £247.8K for 2011 vs. £201.4K for 2010. Of course, both of these numbers pale in comparison to 2009’s £357K … and let’s not even discuss the dismal 2008 numbers! Ok, I couldn’t help myself – it was £125.5K.
Victorian & British Impressionist
The next week Christie’s offered their British Victorian & Impressionist sale which was rather disappointing. When the catalog arrived I was wondering who would buy some of the works offered — a number of the highly estimated paintings fell on the wrong side of pretty; and in the end, nobody took them home.
Among the nicer pieces were: W.P. Frith’s Study for The Derby Day that made £505K ($780K – est. £300-£500K); Cowper’s Our Lady of the Fruits of the Earth at £469K ($725K – est. £150-£250K); a beautiful Dame Laura Knight watercolor titled A Girl Reading at £181K ($280K – est. £100-£150K) and a lovely drawing by Rossetti that brought £157K ($243K – est. £80-£120K). Among the dogs were works by Burne-Jones, Eastlake, Millais, Grimshaw and La Thangue.
When the session ended, of the 89 works offered 58 sold and 31 were returned to their owners; this left a sell-through rate of 65% and a total take of £2.94M ($4.54M) … the lower end of the estimate was £3.5M, so they fell far short. Oh well, better luck next time.