This week’s sale of Victorian and British Impressionist works of art once again illustrated my point that there are far too many mediocre works of art coming to the market and buyers are being very selective. However, like all the recent sales, when the right work/works appear with the right estimates, amazing results can be achieved. This was another sale that falls into my category of: what a difference a painting can make.
Taking the top position here was a large watercolor by Burne-Jones (the Pre-Raphaelite artist) that sold for an over-the-top price of £13.2M (£14.8M/ $22.1M – with commissions) and crushing its £3-£5M estimate. In second was Millais Sisters at £2M (£2.3M/$3.4M – with commissions), just making its £2-£3M estimate and in third was Leighton’s sculpture An Athlete Wrestling with a Python which made £410K (£494K/$735K – with commissions), beating its £250-£350K estimate … all three were auction records. Rounding out the top five were Millais’ Portrait of Lady Campbell at £400K (£482K/$728K with commission – est. £400-£600K) and Arthur Wardle’s A Fairy Tale at £280K (£482K/$728K with commission – est. £150-£200K) … the latter making another auction record.
Along with these great results were a number of works that did not find homes. Among those were Armstrong’s A Girl Watching a Tortoise (est. £150-£250K), Landseer’s Merry Trick & Mark Hall… (est. £200-£300K), Watts’ Portrait of Laura Gurney… (est. £60-£80K), Lady Butler’s To the Front… (est. £70-£100K), Herring Senior’s The Gamekeeper’s Shack… (est. £60-£100K), Ansdell’s Going to the Lodge…(est. £100-£150K) and other works by Riviere, Sharp, La Thangue, Munnings, Harvey and Seago (they had 10 Seagos in the sale and 4 were unsold – just too many for one summer sale).
Of the 123 works offered only 71 sold (57.7%) and the total take was an amazing £19.36M (£22.2M, $33.5M, with the buyer’s commissions) – the presale estimate range was £10.1-£15.6M. According to the auction room, this was their highest total ever for this category. Digging a little deeper we find that the top 10 works brought £17.2M (£19.5M with commissions) or about 90% of the sale’s total. In addition, the number one lot – Burne-Jones’s Love Among the Ruins – accounted for 66.9% of the sales total …like I always say, what a difference a painting (in this case a watercolor) can make.
Now I know they are all excited about the overall results for this sale, but let’s be real; without the Burne-Jones this sale would have fallen far short of expectations. Removing that one lot from the sale would have resulted in a presale estimate range of £7.2-£10.6M and the sale would have grossed £5.2M.
It is really time to trim the fat and reduce the number of sales. Small and stronger sales are the way to go.
Howard L. Rehs, after graduating from New York University with a degree in Art History, joined Rehs Galleries, Inc. in 1981. His first year was spent living in London; during which time he both bought works for the gallery’s inventory and studied the 19th century European painting market. Upon his return to the United States a serious interest in French Academic, Realist and Barbizon art emerged and over the years more works by the masters from these schools entered the gallery’s inventory.
Today the gallery specializes in 19th and early 20th century European works of art and displays paintings many important Barbizon, Realist and Academic artists including: Eugene Boudin, William Bouguereau, Jean B.C. Corot, Julien Dupré, Daniel Ridgway Knight, Louis Aston Knight, Edouard Cortès, and Emile Munier. In addition the gallery features works by mid 20th century American artists such as Ilya Bolotowsky and Ugo Giannini and represents a number of Contemporary Realist artist, including Allan Banks, Barry Oretsky, Gregory F. Harris and Sally Swatland.