Category: Auctions

'Old Masters, New Perspectives'

September 6 2018

Video: Sotheby's

A nice video from Sotheby's highlighting their recent attempts to take Old Masters to new audiences. Where the art market leads, will museums follow?

London Old Master sales

June 11 2018

Image of London Old Master sales

Picture: Sotheby's

The catalogues for the London July Old Master sales are now online. Christie's Evening sale here, Day here; Sotheby's Evening here, Day here; and Bonhams here. Sotheby's drawing sale is here, and Christie's here.

I'll write more about some of the highlights in due course. My choice above is Turner's Lake Lucerne from Brunnen, at Sotheby's for £1.2m-£1.8m.

incidentally, the most recent Old Master sale at Sotheby's in New York was quite the success, bringing in $9.8m against an estimate of $5.4m-$7.9m. As The Art Market Monitor asked, 'what happened?' More here

Update - and of course not forgetting sculpture. Here at Christie's, and here at Sotheby's.

'New Rembrandt discovery in Holland' (ctd.)

May 22 2018

Video: Reuters

Above is a short video by Reuters on Jan Six's Rembrandt discovery, including an interview with Jan himself. And here, on a Dutch TV chat show, you can see Jan unveiling the picture in front of a studio audience, and he gives a much longer and very revealing interview (with English subtitles). The host brandishes a copy of the Christie's catalogue in which the picture was described as 'Circle of Rembrandt' as Jan tells us how he went about researching the picture before the sale. He says two particularly interesting things: first, that he showed a photo to the leading Rembrandt scholar Ernst van der Wetering before the sale (I've always though that's cheating!); that van der Wetering had himself not been asked for an opinion by anyone else before the sale. Which is surprising.

Update - you can buy Jan's book on the discovery here. It sets out all the evidence behind the attribution. A wise move, for in this game there's no end of people determined to say you're wrong, merely on the basis of looking at a few photos on the internet. When it's a big discovery, the blinkers go on, and the knives come out.

New Rembrandt discovery in Holland

May 15 2018

Image of New Rembrandt discovery in Holland

Picture: NRC

Exciting news from Amsterdam; a newly attributed portrait by Rembrandt has been unveiled at the Hermitage museum. The painting was discovered by the art dealer, Jan Six, at auction in London in 2016. His hunch that it was by Rembrandt has been endorsed by subsequent research and conservation, and by a number of Rembrandt scholars, including Prof. Ernst van der Wetering of the Rembrandt Research Project.

More here at NRC (in Dutch), and there's also an interview with Jan Six. Jan is, incidentally, a descendant of the Jan Six painted so memorably by Rembrandt. How wonderful that four centuries later, the name Jan Six can still be associated with heralding new paintings by Rembrandt.

The painting was offered in London as 'Circle of Rembrandt', with an estimate of £15,000-£20,000, and ultimately made £137,000. For what it's worth, I was one of the underbidders. Although I'm absolutely not a Rembrandt specialist, I thought on seeing the picture that it had an excellent chance of being by Rembrandt himself, painted in the early 1630s. The brilliantly painted collar in particular I thought was almost as good as a signature, and entirely consistent with the collar on the painting by Rembrandt of Philip Lucasz in the National Gallery, which was painted in 1635. What was interesting is that from the photos, the painting did not look that impressive. But in person, it was almost as one was looking at a different painting. That's a common connoisseurial challenge these days of course; photos so rarely do justice to good paintings.

As you can imagine, the days before the sale were rather tense ones in AHN towers. But when the sale came, we soon ran up against our limit. There's always a feeling in situations like this that if only you'd gone for one more bid, you might have got it. But in the NRC interview, Jan Six tells us he was able to bid significantly higher, so we'd never have got it. I am so pleased that the painting has now found its rightful status. Many congratulations on the excellent sleuthing Jan!

Re-discovered: Rubens' portrait of his daughter (ctd.)

May 1 2018

Image of Re-discovered: Rubens' portrait of his daughter (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

Rubens' portrait sketch of his daughter, Clara Serena, is to be offered by Christie's in London this July, with an estimate of £3m-£5m. Regular readers will remember that the painting was deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum in New York in 2013 as a copy, with an estimate of $20k-$30k (it eventually sold for $626k). James Pickford in the FT has the story, but what struck me most was the rather silly response from the Met, who said:

“The attribution of the picture has been debated in the past and we believe it will continue to be debated. Given the strength of our holdings in this area, we stand by the decision to deaccession the work.”

This is a classic example of how politics and egos get in the way in art history. The grown up thing to do would be to admit that the Met made a mistake, and that the picture was now recognised - after cleaning and further research - as a Rubens. But instead, in an attempt to justify their mistake, they attempt to cast doubt on the attribution, and suggest bizarrely that they would have been happy to let a Rubens go for just $20k (the lower estimate). Have a look at their collections site yourself, and judge if the Met is bursting with Rubens head studies (it isn't).

Update - a number of people have wondered if I am the owner of this picture; alas not! Nor am I connected to it or the owners in any way. I hope readers will know that if it were mine, I wouldn't comment on it publicly without saying so. I have championed the picture only because I think it deserved to be championed. For what it's worth, it belongs to private collectors, whom I only met once by chance, long after the picture was authenticated as a Rubens. They just liked the painting, and took a punt on it. 

Crowdfunding Picasso

April 28 2018

Image of Crowdfunding Picasso

Picture: RTS.ch

Fancy owning 1/25,000 of a Picasso? Me neither, but apparently 25,000 people have joined forces on the Swiss auction site QoQa to buy a Picasso for CHF2m. It's now on display in the Museum of Modern Art in Geneva. More here

New Artemisia self-portrait (ctd).

April 9 2018

Video: Drouot

Remember that previously unknown Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait which surfaced at auction in Paris last year, for €2.3m? On Twitter, one French art historians suggests that it was bought by the National Gallery in London. Bravo the National Gallery, if so.

Old Master sales

April 9 2018

Video: Christie's

There's a spate of Old Master sales at the moment. Christie's New York Classic Week begins on 19th April, with Part one here, and Part two here. There's a full-length Titian at a bargain $700k-$1m, if you fancy it. In the video above, Christie's Jonquil O'Reilly (formerly of Sotheby's New York) talks about the fashion in some of the pictures on offer. On 25th April Bonhams in London has a mid-season sale, here. On May 2nd, Sotheby's in London has its mid-season sale, catalogue here. There will also be an online only Old Master sale at Sotheby's, which will be available here

Constable discovery at London auction

March 30 2018

Image of Constable discovery at London auction

Picture: Rosebery's

A delightful and unknown oil sketch by Constable has ben sold at a minor auction in London. The picture wasn't a sleeper, and was fully researched and catalogued by Roseberys in London - but it made a hefty price of £305k against an estimate of £20k-£30k. More here

'art world ambulance chasing'

February 5 2018

Image of 'art world ambulance chasing'

Picture: via TAN, La Salle University's 'The Tomb of Virgil' by Hubert Robert

The news that La Salle University is to sell 46 works of art from its museum - about a third of the art on display - has prompted an excoriating article in The Art Newspaper from Brian Allen, a former US museum director. He lays some of the blame on the auction houses willing to help museums deaccession works:

It seems to me that the auction houses are equally culpable. They are training their sights on financially pressed colleges and museums as part of their business development strategies. This is art-world ambulance chasing.

Christie's top ten Old Master sales

February 5 2018

Image of Christie's top ten Old Master sales

Picture: Norton Simon Museum

There's a great 'top ten' piece on Christie's site - even auction houses go in for clickbait - listing their most significant Old Master sales over the last 251 years. Naturally, the sale of the Salvator Mundi is top of the list. But two other tales stand out. First, the day Norton Simon tried to bid on Rembrandt's Portrait of the Artist's Son, Titus (above):

Prior to the introduction of the paddle system, buyers were allowed to choose their own bidding signals. The American industrialist and collector Norton Simon sent a letter to Christie’s before the sale of the Rembrandt, explaining, ‘If he is sitting he is bidding; if he stands he has stopped bidding. If he sits down again he is not bidding until he raises his finger. Having raised his finger he is bidding again until he stands up again.’ Unfortunately, Chance misinterpreted Simon’s sitting and finger-raising, and sold the work to Marlborough Fine Art in London for 700,000 guineas. 

When the hammer came down, the enraged collector approached Chance’s rostrum and demanded that bidding be reopened. Simon went on to win the auction, spending an additional 60,000 guineas to secure the work. But if the industrialist’s obscure bidding tactics were intended to help him hide from press attention, he now became the focus of the sale. When the painting made the front cover of Time  magazine that year, Simon became an unlikely star. Today the portrait hangs in Simon’s museum in Pasadena, California.

And then a postscript to the sale of the Chandos portrait of William Shakespeare from Stowe in 1848:

In another twist of fate, Thomas Woods, the son of Stowe’s gamekeeper, was so inspired by the sale that he decided to become an auctioneer. In 1859 Woods joined George Christie and William Manson as a partner in their firm, creating Christie, Manson & Woods — still the official name for Christie’s.

Christie's NY Old Master drawings

January 31 2018

Image of Christie's NY Old Master drawings

Picture: Christie's

The top lot in Christie's New York Old Master drawings sale was a watercolour by Turner, Lake Lucerne from Brennan, which made $.109m (inc premium). A lot which exceeded its estimate dramatically was Jupiter handing a newborn boy to Diana by Perino del Vaga, a pupil of Raphael; this made $708,000 against an estimate of $150k-$200k. The sale totaled $3.9m.

Guercino discovery in the UK

January 31 2018

Image of Guercino discovery in the UK

Picture: Cheffins

A previously unknown depiction of an Italian Mastiff has been attributed to Guercino, after it was discovered by a regional UK auction house. Colin Gleadell in The Telegraph reports:

The owners, whose forbears made the Grand Tour of Italy in 1850, were completely unaware who the painting was by until a routine valuation visit by Cheffins auctioneers from Cambridge started an investigative ball rolling.

Cheffins called in their Old Master paintings consultant, John Somerville, a former specialist at Sotheby’s, who recognised the painting as ‘Bolognese School’ Baroque, but needed corroboration for an attribution to Guercino as only one dog portrait by the artist is known.

That painting, a brindle mastiff with the Aldrovandi family coat of arms on its collar, was sold in 1972 for the then princely sum of £110,000  to the Norton Simon Museum in America where it hangs today. The Cheffins painting is of a bull mastiff, or, more correctly in Italian, a Cane Corso.

The picture will be offered on 7th March, with an estimate of £80k-£120k.

Charles I's Titian in New York

January 22 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Another picture at Sotheby's in New York is this 6ft tall religious picture by Titian and his workshop, of St Margaret. It once belonged to Charles I, and when valued after his death was deemed to be worth more (at £100) than Leonardo's Salvator Mundi (at £30). Today the estimate is (by comparison with the Leonardo) a modest $2m-$3m.

As The Guardian reports, it was offered to a plumber, in part exchange for repairs carried out at the royal palaces during the Cromwellian regime. 

It's one of two versions, the other is in the Prado.

How not to pack a drawing

January 15 2018

Image of How not to pack a drawing

Picture: Crispian Riley-Smith

The drawings dealer Crispian Riley-Smith has shown on Twitter what happens when an auction house doesn't pack artworks properly. Happily, after a little conservation, the damage is less obvious. 

Sotheby's New York Old Master sales

January 8 2018

Video: Sotheby's

Sotheby's New York Old Master catalogues are online; with many wonderful things available to see. I'll write more about what's on offer soon. But here is the Evening sale, here is the Day sale, and here is the special catalogue for the collection of Otto Naumann, the Obi-Wan of the Old Master dealers, who is retiring from the business. 

Reviews of the London Old Master sales

December 13 2017

Image of Reviews of the London Old Master sales

Picture: Christie's

I wrote a short review of the London Old Master sales for The Art Newspaper, which is here. Among the pictures I focused on was a Portrait of Petronella Buys by Rembrandt (above), which sold at Christie's for £3.4m. In his review for The Telegraph, Colin Gleadell managed to track down the name of the buyer; the Leiden Collection of Thomas Kaplan. 

Colin and I are in agreement that the Old Master market now has a decided spring in its step, post the Salvator Mundi sale. I hope finally we can now move on from the 'Old Master market is dead' myth. 

 

Who bought the Salvator Mundi? (ctd.)

December 12 2017

Image of Who bought the Salvator Mundi? (ctd.)

Picture: via Twitter

So this much we know for sure; the picture has 'been acquired' by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, as the museum has confirmed, and will go on display there. But who actually bought the picture? Christie's statement says:

Christie’s can confirm that the Department of Culture and Tourism Abu Dhabi is acquiring ‘Salvator Mundi’ by Leonardo da Vinci.

...'is acquiring' is interesting wording, and implies a break in ownership between the Christie's sale and now. As I mentioned below, both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal have reported that the picture was bought by the Saudis. The Times first mentioned the name of Prince Bader bin Abdullah, but the WSJ believes he was acting for the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and also that the picture has been gifted to the Louvre Abu Dhabi by him.

But CNN has reported that the painting was not a gift, and was definitely bought by the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and that the Saudis were just intermediaries. CNN published a statement by the Saudi embassy in Washington:

"His Highness Prince Badr, as a friendly supporter of the Louvre Abu Dhabi, attended its opening ceremony on November 8th and was subsequently asked by the Abu Dhabi Department of Culture and Tourism to act as an intermediary purchaser for the piece."

Such mystery is typical of anything related to Leonardo da Vinci, but the pattern of events is unusual in the art world. I'm told that the US government believes that Mohammed bin Salman was indeed the buyer at Christie's. But why would the Saudi Crown Prince, who is busy shaking up Saudi Arabia in the most dramatic way for decades, be used as an intermediary to buy a picture of Christ for a museum in another country? Was he looking for a commission? Of course not. And are we to believe that the Louvre Abu Dhabi didn't have the cash or an account with Christie's? Again, of course not.

So what's going on. I'm speculating, but I wonder if the bidding war for this picture was due to a battle for cultural supremacy between the Emiratis (with their Louvre Abu Dhabi) and the Qataris (with their less glamorous sounding Qatar Museums Authority).

Both countries have been on buying sprees, as they seek to create world class museums from scratch. The Qataris have set many price records on their buying spree, such as the reported $250m for Cezanne's Card Players. But what might have given the battle for Salvator Mundi added zing is the diplomatic falling out between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Both are majority Sunni nations, but the Qataris have been accused of being more aligned with (Shia) Iran, and have also irked the Saudis through their media outlets such as Al Jazeera. Amidst all this, the UAE are important allies for Saudi Arabia and their energetic new Crown Prince.

But this is all guesswork, so don't pay it much attention. Maybe the underbidders were connected to an Asian museum, as has been speculated. Either way, we're seeing a return to the sort of national bidding wars for great art that defined collecting in the 17th Century. 

Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's (ctd.)

December 6 2017

Image of Wright's 'Academy by Lamplight' at Sotheby's (ctd.)

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's set a new auction record for Joseph Wright of Derby, selling his Academy by Lamplight for £7.26m (against an estimate of £2.5m-£3.5m).

London Old Master sales

November 21 2017

Image of London Old Master sales

Picture: Sotheby's

The December London Old Master sale catalogues are online. Sotheby's Evening sale here, Day sale here. Christie's Evening here, day here. Bonhams here. Sotheby's are offering the above late Titian portrait - who's an old friend from my London dealing days - at £1m-£1.5m. I'm looking forward to seeing him again.

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