Category: Auctions

China and art - the next bubble?

April 26 2011

Image of China and art - the next bubble?

Picture: The Atlantic

Derek Thompson in The Atlantic asks if China's phenomenal spending in the art market is taking the form of a bubble, and finds a potential answer from Vikram Mansharamani, author of Boombustology - Spotting Financial Bubbles Before they Burst:

Once again, China has surpassed the United States in a key economic number. No, it's not GDP. It's art. In four years, China has zoomed past us from the world's fourth-biggest fine art scene to the world's largest auction market for art.


In the last 20 years, Sotheby's mostly stable stock has experienced four sharp peaks. In the late 1980s, Japan had been "the center of gravity" in the international art market. But its economy imploded, sending Sotheby's stock reeling. Ten years later, the Internet bubble drove another auction boom among Silicon Valley newbies, and the bubble burst again. Ten years later, we watched the same film play out. This year could be deja vu, all over again ... all over again. 

The graph they use is a little silly - you could draw the same conclusions from a vast array of stocks that went up when the economy was booming and went down when it wasn't.

There may well be a bubble in China at the moment, judging by the government's increasingly desperate attempts to bring prices under control. But it doesn't take many people to make a bull market in the art world (witness the pre-Raphaelite boom in the 1990s), and I reckon there are enough new Chinese millionaires to keep prices rising for a while yet. 

Cowdray collection to be sold

April 21 2011

Image of Cowdray collection to be sold

Picture: Daily Mail

Another aristocratic art collection bites the dust - this time that of the Viscounts Cowdray. The house, Cowdray Park, has been on the market for a while (asking price £25m), and now the pictures are going too, at Christie's. The highlight will be a full-length Gainsborough of Miss Read (above the piano), with an estimate of £6m.

It's all part of a process of 'rationalisation', apparently. Lord Cowdray describes the house as a 'noose around his neck.' Nice noose.


April 20 2011

Image of Superlative-itis

Picture: Sotheby's

How many hyperbolic superlatives can you fit into an opening paragraph? In their catalogue entry, Sotheby's goes for the record over Jeff Koons' $20-30m Pink Panther:

Representing the highest tier of Jeff Koons' artistic achievement, Pink Panther from 1988 is immediately identifiable as a masterpiece not only of the artist's historic canon, but also of the epoch of recent Contemporary Art. It conflates the classic themes that define Jeff Koons' output - materiality and artificiality, eroticism and naivety, popular culture and rarefied elitism – and is, quite simply, the model expression of one of the most innovative and influential artists of our times. The elite edition of three plus one artist's proof is immensely illustrious: one version is housed in the Museum of Modern Art, New York and another resides in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. Following the spectacular successes of major exhibitions at Versailles; Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin; the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; and the Serpentine Gallery, London in the past two years alone, Jeff Koons' critical reputation today is virtually unmatched. As one of the salient works from a period of astounding development within his career, Pink Panther is a sculpture of enduring art historical significance, and its appearance at auction affords an exceedingly rare opportunity.

Someone should write a Google Translate programme for this sort of thing. 

Compare the above with Sotheby's more restrained and readable opening paragraph for their catalogue entry for Titian's Sacra Conversazione, which holds the auction record for a work by Titian at $16.8m: [More below]

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Hockney sale at Bonhams

April 20 2011

Image of Hockney sale at Bonhams

Picture: Bonhams

The top price today was £66,000 for An Image of Celia, above. One of the other anticipated works, George, Blanche, Celia, Albert and Percy, didn't sell (est. £15-20,000).

'The one that got away' - a newly discovered Rothko at Christie's

April 13 2011

Image of 'The one that got away' - a newly discovered Rothko at Christie's

Christie's will offer a previously unknown painting by Mark Rothko on May 11th, proving that you can even make discoveries with modern art. 'Untitled No.17', painted in 1961, was bought directly from the artist, and had never been heard of or seen since:

“It’s one of the very few that got away,” said David Anfam, London-based art historian and the author of “Mark Rothko: The Works on Canvas.” “It went to a private collection soon after it was made and those collectors just kept a very low profile.”

The estimate is $18-22m. More here. Earlier this year, another newly discovered work by Andy Warhol made $17.4m. Sod finding lost Old Masters - I need to make find me one of these lost modern things. 

Extremely rare object offered by Christie's

April 13 2011

It's a job! Not many of these in the art world at the moment. If you're fluent in another language, and interested in Old Masters, there's a vacancy in Christie's OMP department in King St - one of the best places to work in the art market. Closes 15th April.

Mid-season sales

April 12 2011

There are some nice things in this week's mid-season sales at Sotheby's and Christie's, but nothing as exciting as the forthcoming £20m Stubbs at Christie's main sale in July.

Sotheby's sale offers more evidence that the aristocratic sell-off continues apace, with part of the collection of the family of the Marquess of Ailesbury/Earls of Cardigan. The ancestral portraits on offer are of varying quality, however, and it always makes me sad to see centuries of collecting dispersed all at once for not much gain. [More below]

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The attribution from hell?

April 11 2011

Image of The attribution from hell?

Picture: Sotheby's

Sotheby's must have been presented with a real puzzle when it came to cataloguing the above portrait for this week's old master sale, and I'm impressed by their solution. [More below]

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More deaccessioning

April 11 2011

Image of More deaccessioning

The headlines today are that Bolton Council has decided not to sell a work by local artist Alfred Heaton Cooper (above). But they will press ahead with the sale of 36 other works deemed irrelevant to their 'core collection'. These will be offered at Bonhams over the next few months. The list includes:

  • Gaspard Dughet Classical Landscape
  • Richard Ansdell Buzzard and Ptarmigan
  • William Powell Frith A Dream of the Future
  • 18th Century French School The Finding of Oedipus
  • Arthur Ambrose McEvoy Madame Errasuriz
  • Walter Richard Sickert Pauline de Talleyrand-Perigord
  • Philip Wilson Steer The Falls at Aysgarth 
  • John Everett Millais The Somnambulis
  • George Romney King Lear
  • Edward Burne-Jones Danae and the Brazen Tower
  • Charles Ginner English Landscape
As you can see, there are some big names on the list. And this is just one sale by one council. Floodgates? Opening?

Yet more optimism

April 8 2011

Image of Yet more optimism

From the BBC news website:

A cobweb-covered painting found behind an old bureau in a Northamptonshire farmhouse could sell for a six-figure sum, an auctioneer has said. The picture of a French village is believed to be by Maurice Utrillo, an early 20th Century post-impressionist painter. Last December an auction of his work in Paris raised over $7m (£4.3m). ...

"We are attributing the painting to him. We have put it in with a conservative estimate of £2,000 to £3,000 but it is caveat emptor, buyer beware," he [auctioneer J P Humbert] added.

I'd be very beware. To see some Utrillos vraiment, cliquez ici

Art History Futures

April 6 2011

Image of Art History Futures

Picture: AFP

A triptych by Zhang Xiaogang has sold for $9.8m in Hong Kong, setting a record price for a Chinese contemporary work of art.

If anyone thinks this is a high water mark for Chinese contemporary art, think again. It's probably just the beginning...

Stubbs to break £20m barrier?

April 6 2011

Image of Stubbs to break £20m barrier?

Auction news from Christie's this morning; George Stubbs' masterpiece Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, Stable-Lad and a Jockey (1765) will be offered for sale on 5th July, with a lower estimate of £20m. This follows Sotheby's sale of Stubbs' Brood Mare and Foals in December 2010 for just over £10m, which set a new auction record for the artist by some margin. 

Both prices suggest that Whistlejacket, bought by the National Gallery in 1998 for £15.75m, was a bit of a bargain. 

Only paintings by Turner, Pontormo, Rubens and Rembrandt have previously made more than £20m at auction. 

Murillo returns to Tyntesfield

March 27 2011

Image of Murillo returns to Tyntesfield

The National Trust has announced the return of a Mater Dolorosa by the studio of Murillo to Tyntesfield House in Somerset, where it once hung. 

The Trust bought the picture for just over $80,000 at Christie's in New York, against an estimate of $30-50,000.

22,503 times the estimate - or, why I wish I could speak Chinese

March 24 2011

Image of 22,503 times the estimate - or, why I wish I could speak Chinese

Picture: Sotheby's

Bit off beam this one, but I love these Chinese vase stories. A vase estimated by Sotheby's at $800-1,000 has sold in New York for a whopping $18,002,500. The auctioneers believed the vase to be 20th Century, but up to seven bidders saw the mark at the base and thought otherwise. 

More here. You can read the latest about the £51.6m vase sold in West Ruislip in November, here

Mid-Season sales online

March 23 2011

Image of Mid-Season sales online

Picture: Christie's. Detail of lot 60; View of the Thames at Wesminster by Gabriele Ricciardelli

The mid-season Old Master sales (traditionally where they offer the not so good stuff) have gone online. If you have the patience to navigate the tortuous 'eCatalogues', Sotheby's is here, and Christie's here. There are some nice things - check back nearer the auction date (14th April) for my pick of the sales. 

Recession? What recession?

March 15 2011

Image of Recession? What recession?

Picture: Cleveland Museum of Art

Hats off to the Cleveland Museum of Art for a really impressive piece of acquisitioning; they've just bought the above cabinet miniature by Isaac Oliver. Possibly painted for Anne of Denmark, it is one of very few large scale miniatures by Oliver to survive. 

It's not only a good buy, but a canny one. The picture was offered at Sotheby's in New York in January with an estimate of $200 - 300,000, which I felt was too high. However, it failed to sell, and presumably the museum were able to secure it for a good price post-sale. [More below]

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March 14 2011

Image of Optimism

Picture: Peter Willott/St.Augustine Record.

Here's a strange one - a full-length portrait has gone on display at a museum in Florida because;

'...the owners have spent more than 20 frustrating years unable to sell it for what they think it is worth. By placing it at the Lightner [Museum], they hope to inspire new interest.'

The owners, one of whom is Mr Paul Partel, above, believe their portrait of Louis XVIII by Antoine-Francois Callet is 'worth millions'. However, it was offered at auction by Christie's in 1991 with an estimate of $60-80,000, before being withdrawn by Mr Partel because; [More below]

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Koons to set new record?

March 14 2011

Image of Koons to set new record?

Picture: Sotheby's

A sculpture by Jeff Koons, Pink Panther, is set to sell for up to $30m at Sotheby's Spring Contemporary auction in New York. Sotheby's press release said:

'Representing the highest tier of Jeff Koons' artistic achievement, Pink Panther is immediately identifiable as a masterpiece not only of the artist's historical canon, but also of the epoch of recent Contemporary Art...

In Pink Panther, the display of the woman's semi-naked body is sensual. However, with the bizarrely incongruous cuddly Pink Panther toy clinging to the literal embodiment of carnal desire, Koons strikes an outrageous contrast between the competing powers of adult and childhood associations. 

The artist's painstaking selection of media is central to the conceptual project, contributing directly to the importance of the work. The terms of its execution are flawless: the contrasting textures of the porcelain surfaces are rendered in dazzlingly vivid colours that reinforce the object's artificiality, while the transparent glazes simultaneously evoke the fragility of thin glass and the ethereal nature of a reflective liquid.'

I rather like it. But if it's still worth $30m in 50 years time, I'll eat my trousers.

Landseer in the Highlands

March 10 2011

Image of Landseer in the Highlands

Picture: Mallams

This small and rare landscape sketch by Landseer, estimated at £8-12,000, sold for £70,000 yesterday.

Update 20.3.11: it isn't the highlands, it's Devon apparently. I saw the picture at Maastricht. 

The £100m/£20k Leonardo - its implications for auction attributions

March 10 2011

Image of The £100m/£20k Leonardo - its implications for auction attributions

There’s an interesting piece by Simon Hewitt in this week’s Antiques Trade Gazette on the Leonardo/not Leonardo drawing, above. The article isn’t online, so I can’t link to it. 

Christie’s sold the drawing for $19,000 in 1998, but recently Martin Kemp, a leading Leonardo scholar, said it was by the great master. If it’s ‘right’, some say the drawing would be worth £100m. If it isn’t, then the original valuation is probably right. There’s nothing in between. 

The picture is now the subject of a lawsuit between a previous owner, Jeanne Marchig, and Christie’s. Mrs Marchig claims that Christie’s were negligent in selling the drawing as ‘German School, 19th Century’, when in fact it was by Leonardo. However, Christie’s are sticking to their guns, and say that although Martin Kemp believes it is a Leonardo, many other scholars do not, and neither do they. [More below]

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