31 out of 55 lots 'BI' at Christie's

January 28 2015

Image of 31 out of 55 lots 'BI' at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

So there's me merrily chirping away about the Old Master market, and how it doesn't all need to be doom and gloom, and then there's a car wreck of a sale at Christie's New York 'part 1' auction. The one which is supposed to have all the good stuff in. 31 out of 55* lots failed to sell, or 'BI'd' as we say in the trade (that is, 'Bought In'). See the results here

Except, there wasn't really a lot of good stuff, and much was over-priced. For example, $2m-$3m was always going to be a big ask for this unexciting painting by Theodoor Rombouts, who has never previously made anything like that level (as far as I can make out, the record for Rombouts is $270k). Probably the less said about the $3m-$5m 'Caravaggio' (above), which also failed to sell, the better. And I wasn't suprised to see this painting by Philippe Mercier fail to sell either, at $70k-$100. I really like Mercier's work, but he's never going to be a 'Part 1' kind of artist, especially not in New York. As I said back in January, Sotheby's (who go tomorrow) has the better sale. 

On the other hand, this sensibly priced Reynolds got away at $233k, and I wasn't surprised to see more 'contemporary' pictures do well, such as this Fuseli (at $377k), whose style and story are easily translatable in the modern world. 

Of course, there's Christie's seperate 'Renaissance' sale to come this afternoon. I'm still not sure of the wisdom of seperating the Renaissance works out from the main Old Master sale. 

So, despite the poor sale rate at Christie's, I don't see much to change my optimistic view of the Old Master market - the right pictures, properly priced, will continue to do well, and at all levels. Can you tell I'm an optimist by nature?

Update - at Sotheby's drawing sale this morning we had an example of the kind of Old Master image that is just right for today's market; the below head by Federico Barocci made $221k against an estimate of $50k-$70k.


Update II - Brian Boucher on ArtNet tells us the sale was Christie's worst since 2002:

The sale tallied just $9.3 million, a quarter of the pre-sale high estimate of $39 million. It was the worst result of a January old master sale since 2002. [...] “The estimates were just too high," Amsterdam dealer Salomon Lilian told artnet News. “Many of these works were known to the market, having been shown previously at TEFAF."

This is an unfair comparison though, for we need to add in the $15m plus total from Christie's seperate 'Renaissance' sale. The trouble with hiving off the Renaissance works into a seperate sale, though, is that it can make the 'Part 1' total look too low.

I should note another casualty of the Part 1 sale - a small copper by Guido Reni, which failed to sell at $1.2m-$1.8m, despite having been bought by Richard Feigen at Sotheby's in London in July 2008 (just pre-crash) for $3.6m. Those were the days...

* My first headline said 32 out of 55 lots BI's, but in fact one picture was withdrawn.

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