Yes, Sotheby’s is still squashing our beloved 19th century sale at the end of the Impressionist sales week … not something I am very happy about, but what can I do — keep complaining! We really need our OWN week!
Anyway here is my take on this sale. Grabbing the top slot was a small, but beautiful, Bouguereau from 1875 titled Girl with a Pomegranate which carried what appeared to be a rather optimistic estimate of $500-$700K, but when the bidding was done those numbers were left in the dust — the painting made $2.3M WOW!, Coming is second was what they believed was going to be the ‘star’ lot of their sale, Tissot’s The Morning Ride, at $1.87M (falling short of its $2-$3M est.). Now I must add that while the quality of the painting was pretty good, the subject was not the best – at least when one thinks of Tissot – and judging from the result, the general market felt the same way. In third was Boldini’s Portrait of Mrs. Howard-Johnson at $1.76M (est. $1.5-$2M) … a nice standard Boldini portrait, but it lacked the sex appeal of those that make the Big Bucks – like it or not, sexy sells! Rounding out the top five were a very impressive work by Godward titled A Fair Reflection which garnered $1.45M (an auction record – est. $400-$600K) and a nice Corot Les etangs de Ville d’Avray at $1.1M (est. $700-$1M).
It was nice to see that they have continued to keep the number of offerings in check, but the real question is: was it their choice, or the markets? In other words, are they not being offered the works they need to create larger sales? My feeling is the latter is probably more of the case and I base that conclusion on the fact that while the sale was small, it really should have been smaller … some of the works offered should not have been in this main sale — whether that had to do with the quality, condition or estimate range.
Look, the nicer works (in my opinion) commanded very good prices: La Thangue’s Winter in Liguria – $843K (est. $500-$700K – sadly the seller paid $851K for it in 2003 so they took a loss); a nice Kaufmann – Portrait of a Rabbi – at $435K (est. $250-$350K); Knight’s Coffee in the Garden $315K (est. $150-$200K) and Courbet’s Le Moulin at $435K (est. $160-$200K). And then there were those which, in my opinion, should have never been included in this sale; these included paintings by Bouguereau, Perrault, Morgan, Munier, Kaemmerer, Barye and a few others.
When their session was done, of the 110 works offered 71 found buyers (64.6% – a rather low number and pointing out the market’s desire for the really good works) for a total take of $20.6M — pretty good considering 35% of the works did not sell. Now let’s compare this sale to last year when they had 100 works offered, sold 66 (66%) and grossed $44.6M. Ok, so you are wondering: why was last year’s sale so strong? Well, remember that they had a fairly pricy Tadema – it made $29M – and this year there were no works in that league. Now, when you strip out that one work we find that the 2011 sale brought in about $15.5M from 65 sold works and this year they brought in $20.6M from 71 sold works … in my book, this year’s sale was just as strong as last year’s. My only concern is that they are beginning to increase the size of their sales – little by little … this is not a good thing! Please keep them lean … for the time being.