London’s Old Master sales were up more than 70% year over year but that didn’t satisfy the press or some of the dealers in attendance.
Fixating on Christie’s, the laggard in this category, and a weak sell-through rate that may indicate the auction house was anticipating demand and tried to load up its sale with marginal works, the Wall Street Journal finds little joy:
Sales of Old Masters were a disappointing mixed bag this week, with collectors zeroing in on the most rarefied paintings and giving short shrift to dozens of less-distinguished works.
At auctions in London, Christie’s sold only 53% of its works, falling short of the 70% threshold that represents a strong showing for Old Masters. Sotheby’s sold 81% of its offerings, generating $117 million in sales. Bidders hewed to a time-tested formula, holding out for works of undisputed provenance by well-known painters that hadn’t been on the market in decades.
Christie’s $77 million in sales Tuesday was partly a consequence of padding its offerings with middling works. Many had dour religious themes unpopular with Asian collectors who bided their time and snatched up secular pieces at Sotheby’s the following evening.
The International New York Times shared one flamboyant dealer’s the sense of malaise:
“It was a bloodbath,” said the veteran New York dealer Richard L. Feigen. “The sale didn’t have a single spectacular picture. Old Masters have been neglected and all the money has flowed into modern and contemporary.”
But the Times also tried to explain what’s going on here. Simply put, buyers don’t have enough sense of the art history to recognize the works. And they don’t buy based upon their own taste or art historical interest:
“We’re entering a new era of collecting,” said the Paris dealer Giovanni Sarti. “When people come into my gallery they look at the name and they ask the price. They don’t really look at the painting.”
Which, unfortunately, has some dealers thinking the solution to work at the problem of shallow art historical knowledge from the other end:
“There is an issue of branding here,” said Andreas Pampoulides, head of fine arts and business development at the Mayfair branch of the Spanish dealers Coll & Cortés. “There aren’t so many brand artists in Old Masters, but when they do appear, they can sell for stratospheric prices.”
Tough Times for Old Masters in Today’s Art Market (NYTimes.com)