There was a lot of moaning last week about the London Old Master sales and how their results were tepid in comparison to the frenzied Contemporary art markets. But Colin Gleadell’s detailed recap—and evidence presented by Sotheby’s on the geographic origins of buyers—as well as the raw sales figures suggest something very different.
The Old Master market, like the Impressionist and Modern market, is thriving but constrained by supply. The supply limitations are of two types. There’s just not a ton of high quality work that hasn’t been on the market recently. As Gleadell shows, the flush of works held by aristocratic families for generations that animated these sales both at Sotheby’s and Christie’s provided much of the excitement. Sotheby’s got most of the attention but Gleadell points out that the right works at Christie’s also saw strong competition:
Eleven new artist’s records were also set, notably a large still life by Willem Claeszoon Heda, which had been in the same collection and in perfect, untouched condition, for 200 years. This which was bought by New York dealers French & Co, bidding against Richard Green, for a double-estimate £4.8 million.
So sparks were flying, and not just for brand-name artists. How many people, for instance, know about Giovanni da Rimini, the Master of the Half Lengths, or the Baroque painter, Luca Giordano – all record breakers at the sales? This is still a scholarly market at heart.
That last comment is worth pondering. The second form of supply constraint is the lack of education (you could call it marketing, if you like) for collectors—especially the growing number of non-Western buyers—to appreciate artists who are not household names.
Art Sales: new records for Old Masters (Telegraph)