Sotheby's Results

July 30 2020

Image of Sotheby's Results

Picture: Sotheby's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The results from the recent Sotheby's Old Master Painting sales are in.

The Evening 'Rembrandt to Richter' sale realised £149,730,290 (inc. fees). The Old Master pictures in the sale contributed £28,411,800 to this figure which is roughly 18.97%.

Their online Old Master Sale, which included drawings and watercolours, brought in a very respectable £4,669,000 (inc. fees) with 73.26% of lots sold.

The top lot old master of the evening, Rembrandt's self portrait, made £12,600,000 (hammer) which totalled £14,549,400 when fees are included. It was sold to a phone bidder with an expert from the company's New York office, prompting speculation that it was bought by an American collector.

The old master that created the greatest 'buz' in the sale was the incredible rare Paolo Uccello battle scene which made £2,415,000 over an estimate of £600k - £800k. Judging from the commentary on social media and elsewhere, its obvious that this beautiful picture was going to smash through its temptingly low estimate.

Equally dramatic was the news an hour before the sale started that several lots had been withdrawn. This included the Verrocchio drapery study and the Frans Hals portrait. A valuable Bacon was also withdrawn. We may only speculate as to why, but it's possible that there simply wasn't enough interest in the pictures.

Coming back to the online 'day-sale', some very impressive results were achieved. A Van Dyck of Saint Philip made £675,000 over an estimate of £120k - £180k; A still life by Balthasar van der Ast made £150,000 over an estimate of £20k - £30k; A Francois Boucher study doubled its high estimate to make £43,750; an a portrait of a servant of the Lawrence Family by John Taylor made a staggering £137,500 over a £1k - £1.5k estimate.

Several old master drawings too smashed through their estimates, which must have contributed greatly to the sale's success. This included a very lovely 'Attributed to Carel Fabritius' which made £150k over an estimate of £7k - £9k.


So, did the 'boundary breaking' evening sale have the desired effect? Only the experts at Sotheby's will know for sure. It would be interesting to get an insiders perspective if any contemporary collectors decided to take a flutter on the Van Goyen or Bellotto.

During the sale auctioneer Oliver Barker, senior director of the Contemporary Art department, was keen to point the cross departmental phone bids. As many of you will know, top collectors are assigned dedicated experts and directors from departments to be their main point of contact for phone bidding. It seems that there was some overlap, but only the auction house will be able to see whether it made a difference.

Did the sale contribute to promoting Old Master Paintings on a wider scale? Perhaps so. Yet, I found it highly amusing to read several spectator comments lauding the fact that a Joan Miró had 'beaten' a Rembrandt by making c.£22m over £14m etc.

In this case yes, the market had judged this specific Rembrandt to be worth £8m or so less than a blue canvas with some white, red and yellow splodges on it. More widely speaking, are auctions the best way to judge the true value of artworks? I am certain that the readers of AHN will relish in Wilde's famous dig at cynics who 'know the price of everything but the value of nothing'.

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