Scott Reyburn believes he has identified the seller of the Klimt that leads Sotheby’s sale in London next week.
The longtime owner of the painting has been the London-based Canadian collector David Graham, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be identified because of art trade confidentiality protocols. Mr. Graham was the only bidder when the painting sold at Christie’s in 1994 for £3.7 million, according to the person.
But he also seems to think there’s something more going on with the sale than Sotheby’s. Enough to present it with this quote:
“Sotheby’s is aggressively changing the way it does business,” said Wendy Cromwell, an art adviser based in New York. “It no longer sees itself as a traditional auction house, but rather as a company with huge resources that it is leveraging in all kinds of new ways.”
So what’s this aggressive new behavior? Well, it’s hard to tell. Reyburn thinks he has divined a new form of financial alchemy in Sotheby’s having provided a direct guarantee that it later replaced with an irrevocable bid, as the firm did with last November’s Munch. Perhaps there is something more to it than meets the eye. But you can judge for yourself from the evidence Reyburn adduces:
Sotheby’s 2017 catalog entry states that the Klimt was “purchased at the above sale,” rather than “purchased at the above sale by its present owner.” And, though the painting is described as being “property from an important private collection,” the hieroglyphic catalog symbols below the description, once deciphered, reveal that the auction house “owns the lot in whole or in part.”
Auction houses occasionally offer artworks that they own, particularly if they had been previously guaranteed by the house and failed to sell. In this case, Sotheby’s appears to have proactively purchased the Klimt, at least in part. The auction house seems now to be “flipping” the painting at one of its own sales, where it is certain to find a buyer, thanks to the irrevocable bid.
London Sales Will Gauge Art Market’s Health in Trump Era (The New York Times)