This report on the results of Sotheby’s Refining Taste sale of work from dealer Danny Katz’s collection by Colin Gleadell is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
Sotheby’s was the chosen cyber venue for dealer/collector, Danny Katz, whose special interests range from Renaissance bronzes to modern British art. Katz, who just turned 72, is a big spender when something excites him, like the Egyptian bronze antiquity he bought at Christie’s in 2012 for £3.7 million against a £400,000 estimate—a record for an Egyptian antiquity. But this felt more like a backroom clearance, with 144 lots priced mostly under £40,000, with several under £10,000. Some items had no reserve so Katz was prepared to let them go for almost nothing, although none did. A small 1960s work on paper by Scottish abstract expressionist Alan Davie had no reserve and was really a giveaway at £2,000 to £3,000, but 44 bids later it realized a reasonable £13,750. With 24 hours to go, 45 of the 144 lots had no bids and had not met reserves, but, with the help of twice-daily email alerts in Sotheby’s newsletters, only 11 were left unsold, and the sale reached an encouraging £2.3 million ($2.8 million), easily surpassing the £1.2 million low estimate.
The sale was led by a visually arresting, disembodied 1st-century AD Roman bronze arm for which, after a 28-bid contest, the winner paid £175,000 against a £30,000 low estimate. A top performer among the paintings picked up for £137,500 each was one by the short-lived artist Richard Parkes Bonington, a 19th-century Italian watercolor townscape, for which Katz paid £70,000 ten years ago; Katz had been prepared to let it go for £40,000. Another was a Dieppe street scene, circa 1899, by Walter Richard Sickert, Britain’s answer to Degas, which had a very tempting £15,000 estimate. Most of Sickert’s street scenes are dominated by shadows in grades of brown and black, but this one had a warm pink glow with a lively colored shop sign; the piece drew 36 bids before time ran out.
While some of Katz’s auction buys made small gains, it was the losses that stood out. A 1950s watercolor by British pop artist, Peter Blake, for which he paid £25,000 in 2016, made only £13,750. A classic 1950s bronze, Figure in Space, by Reg Butler, one of the “geometry of fear” artists who represented Britain in the 1952 Venice Biennale, was bought in 2007 above estimate for £96,000, the second-highest price on record for the artist. Those were different times, and Katz let it go for the low estimate of £43,750. Then a late effort by Sickert, a 1941 photographic street scene that Katz had acquired in a minor salesroom for a double estimate £45,000 in 2014, sold just below estimate this time for £13,750. One wonders if it was the underbidder last time who has it now.
Whether Katz regrets such losses or not is unclear, as he was not returning calls at press time; but none of the works he took a loss on fit into the higher-end territory that he is seeking to occupy as a dealer.
One of the best results was for a charcoal drawing circa 1946 of London’s Tower Bridge by David Bomberg, a major influence on the School of London stars Frank Auerbach and Leon Kossoff. Perhaps because it was unsigned and undated it was estimated to fetch only £7,000 to £10,000, but its quality was irrefutable, and it sold after 38 bids for £47,500.
In a presale interview with The Art Newspaper, Katz said the sale had been arranged prior to lockdown but he had no problem with selling online, as that was the future. “I don’t think live sales are really necessary,” he said, as so much bidding was already online or on the phone. He was not retiring, he added, but might close his smart Mayfair town house gallery “eventually” and work with fewer objects at the top end.
One area he avoids is contemporary, which he describes as “a lifestyle, a culture you buy into.” That market, he says, is full of speculators where “the idea of rarity does not exist. The more people that own them, the more people want them,” he remarked scathingly.