Category: Auctions

Test your connoisseurship - Spot the Copy

June 3 2020

Image of Test your connoisseurship - Spot the Copy

Picture: Christie's & Indianapolis Museum of Art

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Following on from my Reynolds post last week, here is another fun chance for readers of AHN to hone their connoisseurship skills. The upcoming Christie's Old Masters sale in NY contains a copy of Rembrandt's Portrait of the Artist c.1629, the prime version of which is in the Indianapolis Museum of Art. The Christie's copy is catalogued as by the 'Studio of Rembrandt' with an estimate of $40,000 - $60,000.

Here is a high resolution image of both works side by side, so that you can challenge yourself to spot the copy.

Once you've worked out which is which, follow these links to the Christie's copy and the Indianapolis Museum of Art prime version to find out if you're right.

Russian Painting Sells for £2.29m Online

June 3 2020

Image of Russian Painting Sells for £2.29m Online

Picture: Sotheby's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Katya Kazakina (@artdetective), Bloomberg News's Art market reporter, has noted that Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky's view of The Bay of Naples (pictured above) may have just set the record for the most expensive picture sold in an online auction. The painting sold yesterday at Sotheby's online Russian Sale for £2,295,000 (inc. fees) over at estimate of £800,000 - £1,200,000.

Aivazovsky's gargantuan paintings are highly prized in Russia, and fill the principal galleries of The State Russian Museum in Saint Petersburg.

It will be interesting to see if similarly impressive results will be achieved in the major London auctions this summer, especially during this age of online only sales.

Sleeper Alert! Polish Edition

June 3 2020

Image of Sleeper Alert! Polish Edition

Picture: Polswiss Art

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

I've been tipped off by a Warsaw based art historian that the record for the most expensive work of art sold at auction in Poland was broken today. The above portrait by the renowned Polish artist Jan Matejko (1838-1893), depicting Prof. Karola Gilewskiego, made 7,000,000 zł / £1.41m (inc. fees) over an estimate of 3,000,000 - 5,000,000 zł.  / £607,000 - £1,01,000. Press reports are calling it 'a lost masterpiece' and suggest it may have been purchased by a museum in Poland.

Curiously, the same portrait made just €344,600 at the Dorotheum in Vienna in 2015. The increase in the picture's value is quite impressive and just goes to show that the location of where you sell a picture can count sometimes.

Musée d’Orsay Aquires Manet Copy of Old Master

May 31 2020

Image of Musée d’Orsay Aquires Manet Copy of Old Master

Picture: Christie's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz

The Musée d’Orsay in Paris has acquired Edouard Manet's copy of Fra Fillipo Lippi's Self Portrait in the Uffizi, Florence. This rare surviving picture was completed when Manet was around the age of twenty one during his youth and training as a painter

The work was acquired by the museum at the recent Edmond Cormier-Thierry-Delanoue sale at Christie's for €118,750 (including fees). The brushwork is superb, and well worth zooming into if you have a spare moment.

Test your connoisseurship - Spot the Copy

May 30 2020

Image of Test your connoisseurship - Spot the Copy

Picture: The Wallace Collection & Sotheby's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

If you've ever envied the Wallace Collection's superb array of eighteenth century British Portraits, then here's your chance at getting the next best thing.

A rather pleasing copy of Hertford House's famous Portrait of Mrs Mary Robinson by Joshua Reynolds is coming up for sale in the upcoming Sotheby's NY Online sale. The impressive quality of the picture has warranted the attribution to 'Studio of Reynolds' with a very tempting estimate of $7,000 - $9,000.

If you want to challenge yourself in identifying which is the original and which is the copy, then here is a high-resolution image of the pictures side by side (without identifying them).

Once you've decided which is which, here are links to the Wallace Collection picture and the Sotheby's copy.

Sleeper Alert!

May 30 2020

Image of Sleeper Alert!

Picture: Lempertz

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

News on Twitter via. @AuctionRadar that this drawing of a skeleton 'Attributed to Bronzino' made €420,000 over an estimate of €3,000 - €3,500 at Lempertz this afternoon.

Danny Katz Sale at Sotheby's

May 28 2020

Image of Danny Katz Sale at Sotheby's

Picture: Sotheby's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Yesterday's online sale at Sotheby's in collaboration with the dealer Danny Katz achieved an impressive £2.26m (inc. fees). 92.2% of the lots on offer were sold. Further proof that online sales are producing strong results in these uncertain times.

The sale consisted of a mixture of sculpture, modern pictures and some fine British works on paper. This included a fine selection of Zoffany drawings that were only recently unveiled by fellow dealer Andrew Clayton-Payne. Quite a few pieces soared above their estimates, including this Roman arm which sold for £175,000 over £30,000 - £50,000.

My favourite picture in the sale was the Sickert pictured above, which sold for £22,500 over an estimate of £8,000 - £12,000.

Louvre Acquires Vouet Drawing at Christie's

May 28 2020

Image of Louvre Acquires Vouet Drawing at Christie's

Picture: Christie's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

La Tribune de l'Art has reported that the Louvre has acquired Simon Vouet's drawing of Cardinal Mazarin that sold at Christie's Paris yesterday. The drawing was purchased for €165,000 (without fees).

The auction house published a rather interesting article to accompany the three Vouet drawings that were included in the sale. It explains that the portraits were completed for the young Louis XIII, who wanted to become an artist himself.

As their works on paper expert mused:

‘It is easy to imagine Louis inquisitively watching Vouet over his shoulder, as the artist sketched away in his court,’ suggests Christie’s Old Master drawings specialist Hélène Rihal. ‘Maybe Louis even studied alongside him, pastel in hand.’

Seeing Double at Bukowski's

May 21 2020

Image of Seeing Double at Bukowski's

Picture: Bukowskis

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

The Swedish auction house Bukowskis's upcoming Important Spring Sale has been uploaded online. As usual it is filled with many interesting pictures.

I had to do a double take at lot 383, given to the 'Circle of Mierevelt'. It is another version of an obscure picture in the former collection of the Earls of Warwick (one of my unhealthy obsessions, I must disclose).

What is the connection between the two pictures? Which one might have come first?

The Warwick picture had been traditionally identified as a daughter of one of the family's seventeenth century descendants. In fact, just over the past few weeks I had been discussing this very painting with a colleague who had recently found many payments to the artist and dealer George Geldorp (c.1595-1665) in the family's account books of this period. But the appearance of the Bukowski picture probably suggests that this connection might be entirely false.

I wonder who this young girl was?

Sotheby's Results

May 8 2020

Image of Sotheby's Results

Picture: Sotheby's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Yesterday's mid-season old masters sale at Sotheby's brought in a very respectable £3.37m (including fees), with 86% of lots sold. This is further encouraging proof that the market for old masters is still going strong despite these strange times. It is also a sign that buyers have confidence in bidding online, something that has not always been taken for granted.

There were several lots that sold particularly well. The most impressive result was Bernado Zenale's Saint John the Baptist, standing in a landscape (pictured) which brought it £225,000 over an estimate of £20,000 - £30,000. The majority of the Earl of Clarendon's set of full length portraits sold above their upper estimates too. This shows that copies of fine pictures can still command respectable prices.

Seller's Remorse?

May 4 2020

Image of Seller's Remorse?

Picture: Christie's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Some rather unusual news has emerged regarding a Rubens that was sold at Christie's in 2018. The picture above, A Satyr holding a Basket of Grapes and Quinces with a Nymph (c.1620), was purchased at auction by billionaire entrepreneur Sean Parker on behalf of his charitable foundation for around $6m ($4.8m hammer). 

After the auction the picture's consigner Debra Turner expressed remorse and decided to 'cancel' the sale. Christie's then proceeded with arbitration to resolve the matter. Their recent conclusion was that the auction house had fulfilled their contractual obligations and thus the Rubens had been successfully acquired by the winning bidder. They are now seeking to confirm the arbitration's award in the federal courts.

Most curiously, the picture has been removed from the auction house's website (Christie's, New York, 19 April 2018, lot 41).

Sotheby's Mid-Season Sale

April 22 2020

Image of Sotheby's Mid-Season Sale

Picture: English School, Piazza, Covent Garden, c. 1649 via Sotheby's

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Sotheby's have recently posted their mid-season Old Master Paintings sale. Their online sales have been producing some very encouraging results in the past few years. Lots of fine pictures to peruse, including an intriguing set of full length portraits from the Earl of Clarendon's collection.

Encouraging news for Old Master Paintings Sales

April 8 2020

Image of Encouraging news for Old Master Paintings Sales

Picture: Sotheby’s

Posted by Adam Busiakiewicz:

Some very encouraging news to report from the Old Master Paintings auction world today. The London dealer Rafael Valls’s recent online sale with Sotheby’s brought in a total of £1,601,375 (inc. fees). This number was nearly four times the pre-sale estimate of £430,000, as Head of Department Andrew Fletcher reported via. his Instagram page.

Having a look through the results it seems that many paintings did extremely well against their estimates. The most impressive result, especially considering the current climate, was for a Portrait of a gentleman standing beside a framed portrait of a Lady – Italian Flemish School 17th century (pictured) which made £275,000 (inc. fees) against an estimate of £8,000 – £12,000.

Auctioning in collaborating with art dealers has always been something of a risky business, especially if they are generally perceived as a ‘stock sale’ by the trade (ie. pictures that dealers have not yet sold privately). I’ve personally never seen the shame in this at all, a good picture will always be a good picture. However, what auctions do provide is that all important factor of the urgency of time. Auction houses too can bring greater exposure than dealers can sometimes muster themselves. This is particularly the case online. Equally, in our age where the pool of finding good pictures is generally shrinking, finding attractive pictures for sale will always be of interest to the auction houses.


The Toulouse Caravaggio

April 17 2019

Video: Labarbe

The catalogue for the auction in France of the 'Toulouse Caravaggio' has gone online. In the video above, the Caravaggio expert Nicola Spinosa tells us why the picture is indeed by Caravaggio. The auction is in 71 days time, says a countdown on the site. The presentation is impressive. Will it sell?

The picture will be in New York from 10th - 17th May at the Adam Williams gallery. 

Christie's NY OMP sales

April 8 2019

Video: Christie's

Christie's New York Old Master sales take place on May 1st. In the above video, art critic Alastair Sooke and Christie’s specialist Jonquil O’Reilly discuss works being sold by Richard Feigen - the eminent Old Master dealer - including the only known still life by Guercino. There are three catalogues, the main sale here, works from the estate of of Lila and Herman Shickman here, and a 'day sale' here

Battle for the Battle of Anghiari

February 1 2019

Image of Battle for the Battle of Anghiari

Picture: Sotheby's

There was a fierce bidding battle for a drawing copy of Leonardo's Battle of Anghiari at Sotheby's drawing sale in New York. It made $795k against an estimate of $25k-$35k. The drawing had once been thought to be by Rubens, and had belonged to Sir Thomas Lawrence before entering the Dutch royal collection. But a long line of current Rubens scholars have said it's certainly not by Rubens. Does the market think it knows something else? Or was it just a combination of Leonardo's lure, some royal provenance, and a dash of speculation? See a high res of the drawing here

An undoubted Rubens drawing from the same Dutch royal collection made $8.2m at Sotheby's, a new record. 

The $1.7m Mona Lisa copy

January 31 2019

Image of The $1.7m Mona Lisa copy

Picture: Sotheby's

The above copy of Leonardo's Mona Lisa just made an extraordinary $1.7m at Sotheby's Old Master Day Sale in New York. The estimate was just $80k-$120k. There's quite a few of these copies knocking around - they're all suddenly rather more valuable...

Although it's always dangerous judging from photos, I can't immediately see what got people excited about this copy. It's not even on panel, like the original, but canvas, which generally suggests a somewhat later date. But maybe it's just the Leonardo effect. The catalogue entry is here

The sale results have been pretty strong. 


AI art (ctd.)

October 29 2018

Image of AI art (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's/Obvious

After the sale of the 'artificial intelligence' Portrait of Edmond Bellamy at Christie's in New York for $432k, many people were asking; 'but is it art'? In fact, the question we should have been asking was; 'is it AI?' To which the answer, according to this interview in Artnome by Jason Bailey with one the artwork's creators, Hugo Caselles-Dupré, appears to be 'no':

JB: Why did you say, “Creativity is not only for humans,” implying that AI was autonomously making the work, even when you knew that was a false statement?

What about your narrative that “creativity isn’t only for humans”? Were you playing up the machines and now saying that is not what you meant?

HC: Yeah. Exactly. I think that's what happens when you're doing something and nobody cares, then you’re just goofing around and doing really clumsy stuff. And then when everybody has this view, then they go back to what you did before and then you have to justify it. We kept justifying, because we still think that this part of the GAN operator that creates the images is really interesting and there is some form of creativity there … and we just thought it was cool to just do it like this. For us, it was just a funny way to talk about it. 

JB: You didn't know you were going to be under the microscope.

HC: If we knew we were going to have to 400 press articles on what we do, we most definitely would have done that. But at [that] moment we were like, 'Yeah, it’s silly, okay, whatever, let's put this.' But retrospectively, when we see that, we are like, 'That's a big mistake.'

JB: All you can do is admit the mistake. What creative behavior do GANs exhibit? Many feel they don’t exhibit creative behavior.

HC: For me, the fact that you give it a certain number of examples and then you can continue to see results in the latent space, for me, the gap has to be [bridged]. So necessarily, there's some kind of, like, inventing something. So I guess there is some kind of creativity for me… because creativity is a really broad term, so it can be misunderstood, because creativity is something really related to humans. But at the basic, low level, it was given a set of images, it can create images that does not belong to the training set. So that's something that is transformed by the model, and there's some kind of creativity. So it's just a way you interpret the word "creativity." Maybe from certain perspectives you can say it's creativity. 

JB: So it sounds like you believe it is dependent upon your personal definition of creativity? Some people say GANs are just are approximate distributions and that is not really creative - but it sounds like you think it is creative?

HC: Yeah. It's like, whatever you think creativity is, if we fit on the same definition, we are obliged to agree on something. So if we go to the same definition that creativity is something like, let's say, this ‘Concept A,’ then GANs will fit this concept. Or not? It's just a point of view thing, I guess -- and I understand that people can argue that [it’s] not great, we understand that, but it's just a point of view.

Update - David Knowles on Twitter sums it up perfectly:

If it was AI then the IQ was very low.

AI art (ctd.)

October 26 2018

Image of AI art (ctd.)

Picture: Christie's

My prediction that the 'first AI work to be sold at auction' would fly above its estimate of £5k-£7k has come to pass; it made £337k at Christie's yesterday. Truly, there is no shame in the contemporary art market; what a woeful blancmange of a painting.

Now, I don't deny at all that their is a genuine and laudable creative process behind the concept of art-producing AI. To that extent, what we're really being asked to appreciate is the human creativity behind it. But the much vaunted 'AI' artwork at Christie's, Portrait of Edmond Belamy, is little more than a composite blurring of the 15,000 portraits fed into the programme in the first place. It's you or I fiddling around on Photoshop for an hour, just scaled up. A regular cry against much contemporary art is 'my child could have done that'. But now we can replace that with; 'my laptop could have done that'. 

In none of the breathless reporting of the auction result will you find any analysis of how easy it is to game the contemporary art market at auction.  Let us suppose you have a direct financial interest in an artist. You may be that artist. You may be their agent. You may own a number of their works. If you want to set a new, higher value for that artist, then the combined opacity and visibility of the auction market is perfect for you. The contemporary art market is driven by auction values; they take the place of stock indices, and are widely seen to be 'authentic'. But everything else is done in secret. You can consign anonymously, buy anonymously, and bid anonymously. You, and others, can bid on artworks without any disclosure, driving up value. If by some misfortune you end up being the last bidder, then no matter; a new high 'value' has been established, often with global press coverage, and all it has cost you is the price of the auction house's commission. 

Update - here's an article on The Verge showing how the 'collective' behind the picture sold at Christie's seems actually to have borrowed the code from, er, someone else:

[...] for members of the burgeoning AI art community, there’s another attribute that sets the Portrait of Edmond Belamy apart: it’s a knock-off.

The print was created by Obvious, a trio of 25-year-old French students whose goal is to “explain and democratize” AI through art. Over the past year, they’ve made a series of portraits depicting members of the fictional Belamy family, amplifying their work through attention-grabbing press releases. But insiders say the code used to generate these prints is mostly the work of another artist and programmer: 19-year-old Robbie Barrat, a recent high school graduate who shared his algorithms online via an open-source license.

Update II - there's an interesting article from Jerry Saltz in Vulture. He makes the important point that although Christie's promoted this as 'a first', really it's anything but:

I’ve seen the process done with landscapes, flowers, dogs, movie stars, clouds, buildings, and food. This poster is an individual image, but it’s not unusual to see it done in grids or series of images printed out. People have done it with Hollywood blockbusters arranged by superhero, color, setting, and even credits. It’s been done with porn films that render one Ur-orgy, superstar, or set of sexual fetishes. I’ve seen every abstract painting reduced to one meta-abstraction and seen it done with these same abstract paintings morphing endlessly one into the next like a hypnotic screensaver. Benjamin Edwards has been doing it in paintings since the late 1990s — compiling all the Starbucks in Seattle, for example, into one wild structure. Artists Jason Salavon and the late Jeremy Blake were doing this sort of thing in video and painting back then too. Julie Mehretu’s paintings are said to be handmade versions of the same visual overlay strategies. Really, this generic tic has never not been around since these sorts of digital files, compiled pictures, found footage, and captured images became a genre. World famous photographer Thomas Ruff has made, shown, and sold pictures like this for almost 20 years. In other words, it is a flat-out lie that this is the “first portrait generated by an algorithm to come up for auction.” The question is, why did so many collectors go crazy for it?

As to his last question, I think it's an assumption that 'collectors' did go crazy for the picture. I think it's more likely to have been speculators and vested interests.

That said, there was of course 'a first' in action at Christie's; the first time such a work had made a ton of money. And what made it 'valuable' in the first place was the fact that Christie's chose it for inclusion in an auction. That act was part of the art itself, if you like, just as Sotheby's auction in London was an integral part of Banksy's new work, Love is in the Bin.  

But let's think about what that artistic 'moment' actually said about the market and indeed the art world. Earlier this week I went to the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester to give the 49th Pilkington Lecture (and I only found out afterwards that the first lecture had been given by none other than Kenneth Clarke - which pleased me no end). The topic of my talk was 'Why connoisseurship matters', and as part of my explanation of the history of connoisseurship I touched on the controversy of 'the canon' in art historical academia; the idea that the canon as promoted to us by art history in the 19th and early 20th Centuries was almost exclusively one shaped by white, privileged men, from Western Europe with Christian beliefs. In other words, deeply conservative.

And what was 'the first' AI artwork to make a ton of money? Why, a portrait of a white, privileged man from Western Europe. He was actually given the title 'Count'. Isn't it a bizarre contradiction that the painting hailed as revolutionary leap in art should be something so backward looking? 

Shredding Banksy (ctd.)

October 11 2018

Video: Banksy, via The Guardian

Further to my post below, the cataloguing for Girl with Balloon read:

"Signed and dedicated on the reverse."

I can report that the dedication was, ‘Thanks Jo’, with a heart and a CND symbol.

It may be a coincidence, but Banksy's publicist is Jo Brooks

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