A collaborative online sale between Christie’s and La Biennale Paris, a regular art and antiquities fair, closed last week with in a total of £1.5 million ($1.8 million) or less than one quarter of the £7 million pre-sale low estimate. Overall, the sale realized a heart-wrenching 23 percent sell-through rate across 91 lots offered.
Announced after the beginning of the pandemic in Europe, the joint online sale was planned as an alternative to the live fair that would have normally taken place at the Grand Palais in mid-September. With works from 42 art galleries, many of which are members of the Syndicat that runs the biennale, the online auction drew 60,000 visitors to the online platform from September 24 to September 8.
When the partnership was first announced in June, the unprecedented joint venture between the auction house and rival dealers seemed to be a promising way to address the pandemic. The results raise questions about the virtual format and whether it is losing appeal as the pandemic goes on.
Among the top selling lots were Pieter Breughel the Younger’s 17th century painting Le Denicheur. It was consigned by Galerie Florence de Voldere and sold for £250,000 ($295,000), hammering below its low estimate. Another titled Madonna and Child with a parrot attributed to an Antwerp old master painter made £150,000 ($176,217), against an estimate of £120,000-180,000. Édouard Vuillard’s 1900 painting Femme dans un intérieur, la mère de l’artiste, rue Truffaut sold for £187,500 ($220,272) against an estimate of £150,000-250,000. Mannerist Abraham Bloemaert’s 17th century painting Portrait of an old bearded man, wearing a beret sold for £50,000 ($58,739). The remaining lots in the sale were mainly decorative objects.
In a statement, the president of La Biennale Paris Georges de Jonckheere focused on the sale’s exposure despite the lackluster result. “This daring sale has given us strong international visibility as well as an enhancement of our businesses, which is essential in such a terrible context for our profession” said Jonckheere.
Part of the proceeds from this sale were donated to Mission Stéphane Bern, an initiative to aid in the preservation of monuments and historic buildings in France.