The New York Times continues its assault on the Old Master market with a report that faults the Old Master sales for not keeping up with the explosive rise of Contemporary art:
In 2005, European old masters generated $655 million of auction sales, compared with $1.6 billion for contemporary works. In 2015, old master auctions had declined to $561 million, while equivalent sales of contemporary art stood at $6.8 billion, according to the 2016 Tefaf Art Market Report.
Even on year-over-year terms, the NYTimes says the December sales were a bit of let-down even though there was lively bidding for lower-priced works, exactly the kind the news outlet says are languishing on the market:
By way of perspective, however, the aggregate £27 million with fees generated by the two houses’ relatively small old master sales was 7 percent below the £29.1 million achieved at the equivalent evening auctions last December.
Curiously, though, the Times seems to look for every reason to make the Old Master market look as bad as possible. Here’s an example. The figures cited for this resale of a Breughel neglect to illustrate the effect of dramatic currency shifts that have recently taken place.
When this work sold in January of 2011, it took $1.59 to buy a pound sterling. Today it takes $1.24. In 2011, the last week’s seller paid £2.9m for the Brueghel that he sold at a loss. But the loss in sterling was £300k (the equivalent of $327k if the seller has a reason to convert into USD) not the $1.3m loss imagined here:
The top-performing work at Sotheby’s was a version of Pieter Breugel the Younger’s boisterous genre scene “Return From the Kermesse,” packed with drunken figures, which sold, again on the telephone, for £2.6 million, or about $3.3 million, at the low end of its estimate. It had been bought by its seller at auction in 2011 for $4.6 million, representing a sobering loss on a five-year investment.
Just a final note, neither calculation shown above takes into account the loss of the buyer’s premium. So, in both cases, the loss to the collector is greater than shown here.
Seeking a Fountain of Youth for Old Masters (NYTimes.com)