New York Old Master sales (ctd.)

January 29 2017

Image of New York Old Master sales (ctd.)

Picture: BG

Thank you for your patience while I was away.

The New York Old Master sales seem to have gone well. With news of another exceptional Old Master fake emerging a week earlier, and the inauguration (followed by mass protests) of a new president, we might have expected a bumpy ride for Old Masters. But they performed as solidly as ever - nothing too exciting and nothing too disastrous. The overall sale total for Sotheby's Master Paintings week was $41.9m. We have no comparison for Christie's, who have moved their paintings sales to April. Christie's do however still have their Old Master drawings sale in January, and this also performed respectably, bringing in $6.1m. Here is The Art Newspaper's take of the week.

Sotheby's Evening Old Master sale totalled $27m, and was led by a newly discovered Rubens equestrian study making $5.1m against an estimate of $1m-$1.5m. The Adam de Coster depiction of a Young Woman holding a Distaff made $4.8m (est. $1.5m-$2m) while a previously unknown Willem Drost of Flora made $4.6m (est. $400k-$600k). 34 pictures were sold out of 55, which is to be expected these days when so few dealers are there to provide a 'floor' for prices. In the Sotheby's press release for the sale's top lots, no work is listed as going to a trade buyer. Even five years ago this would have been a different story. One of the pictures I really wanted to see, an Old Woman being sold as 'attributed to Rembrandt', was withdrawn at the last minute. The St Veronica called 'attributed to El Greco' made just $675k - I thought it would do better. It must be 'right'. 

Sotheby's day sale totalled $8.6m. The top lot here was a 15th Century English altarpiece of exceptional quality (the original polychrome still intact) which made $1.3m. A somewhat yellowed but very fine portrait by Raeburn that I admired failed to sell, to my surprise. Again, in recent years this would have been picked up by the trade.  

Christie's drawing sale featured a fine drawing by Rubens, based on a work by Giulio Romano. It made $1.56m, having sold in 2008 for about $250,000. A drawing I coveted, a series of characterful heads by Jordaens, fetched $52k against an estimate of $7k-$10k. Sotheby's drawing sale made $4.5m, and was led by a couple of good Turner watercolours. One of my favourites was the below cow by Thomas Gainsborough, which made $40k (est. $15k-$20k).

I think the overall lesson of the week is that the Old Master market still performs strongly enough overall, but that taste is continuing to shift towards works that are immediate; primarily non-religious; visually appealing; and in some way 'modern'. These factors are of course hard to pin down, and you may well point to the sale of a semi-naked and wrinkly St Jerome by Abraham Janssens at $492k as disproving my theory - but in fact this picture is rather 'modern', not least because of its Caravaggesque lighting. An example of a picture which has suffered from such the shift in taste (an incidentally, taste is always shifting) is a portrait of a mother and child by Romney, which bought in at $40k-$60k, despite being what was once thought to be an appealing image and in good condition. It was previously sold by both Colnaghi and Philip Mould, for whom such a picture would once have been a best seller. Perhaps there was something too sentimental about the image for today's taste. These days, image is everything.

Update - Colin Gleadell in The Telegraph reports that the three top lots in Sotheby's Evening Sale (the Rubens, the de Coster and the Drost) were all bought by the same collector. Whoever you are - bravo!

Notice to "Internet Explorer" Users

You are seeing this notice because you are using Internet Explorer 6.0 (or older version). IE6 is now a deprecated browser which this website no longer supports. To view the Art History News website, you can easily do so by downloading one of the following, freely available browsers:

Once you have upgraded your browser, you can return to this page using the new application, whereupon this notice will have been replaced by the full website and its content.