The dealer Richard Feigen has been quick to take on the auction houses in the press (over issues both serious and petty) but even quicker to go to them when selling his greatest treasures. Over the last decade he has auctioned, often taking risk off the table with various forms of guarantees, works by Max Beckmann, Orazio Gentilischi and J.M.W. Turner. These last two works were bought by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles for substantial sums.
At the height of his career, Feigen would make these kinds of museum sales directly himself without needing the pressure of underbidders to achieve his price. Over the years he sold works to more than a hundred museums, including the Getty, the Louvre and the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The paintings were by a broad range of artists from Rembrandt to Jasper Johns to James Rosenquist. That Feigen turned to the auction houses in his late seventies and early eighties to achieve top dollar for the works he bought over a lifetime tells us more about the changing shape of the art market than it does about Feigen’s skill or stature.
Feigen likes to call himself a collector dressed up as a dealer but that’s just what dealers used to say to try to take the sting out the profits they were making off their clients, especially museums. Everyone likes to buy works that seem like they will never be sold. What makes Feigen different isn’t his acting like a collector but his being the last of the dealers who bought strategically and opportunistically believing that, over time, art would out perform money.
Feigen’s approach was born in the inflation-cursed seventies. He often contrasted the limited number of great works of art against the profligate printing of money. With that in mind, Feigen bought what he thought best across a wide range of styles, regions and time periods. Although his most significant holdings have now been liquidated, Feigen still has work that must be sold. Today, Christie’s announced several of those—including a $800k John Constable, a $3m Guercino and $4m Carraci—are going to be sold in early May. Here’s the auction house’s release:Continue Reading