What is a "Museum Price"?

June 18 2013

Image of What is a "Museum Price"?

Pic: Christies

Here at our gallery it means a super low discount price! But does it mean something very different for auction houses? 

A reader reminds me that two of the pictures on offer in the forthcoming Old Master sales, the Jan Steen and the Vernet, were, as tax exempted items of cultural interest, formally made available to UK museums some months before being sent to auction. Each picture was listed at what now transpires to be the upper estimate: the Steen [above] was being marketed to museums at a 'guide price' of £10m, and is now estimated by Christie's at £7-10m (and I'll eat my trousers if it gets much beyond the low estimate), while the Vernet was on offer at £5m, which is the high end of Sotheby's estimate of £3-5m.

As the Arts Council warned any museums interested in the pictures:

The practice of the auction houses is usually to pitch this at their high auction estimate or, sometimes, even higher.

Update: my earlier version of this story got the estimate for the Steen wrong - apologies!

Update II: as my fellow dealer Johnny Van Haeften often says; 'with dealers the price can only ever come down - but at auction it only goes up'.

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