The London sales started out pretty strong with the evening sale of Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s. On offer was a nice cross-section of work works from the early 1400s through the early 1800s and at times, there was some very spirited bidding.
I have always stated that many times these sales come down to one or two paintings … and this was no exception. Taking the top spot, as expected, was Joseph Wright of Derby’s luminous An Academy by Lamplight that brought a record £6.3M (£7.26M w/c – est. £2.5-3.5M). The work has been in the same collection for more than a century and was in great condition … see what happens when you get a great example, that is fresh to the market and has little to no condition issues.
In second was John Constable’s The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, seen from Whitehall Stairs, London, 18 June 1817 which brought £1.9M (£2.3M w/c – est. £1-1.5M). Another fresh to the market painting that generated a great deal of interest. And in third we had Bernardo Bellotto’s Venice, A View of the Grand Canal Looking North from Near the Rial Bridge… which hammered down at £1.7M (£2.05M w/c – est. £2-3M). This one was last on the market in 2007 and had been restored … so these were probably factors in its final price.
Rounding out the top five were another John Constable (wow, two in one sale) which brought £1.5M (£1.81M w/c – est. £2-3M). Now before you feel bad for the family that sold it, keep this in mind: according to the cataloging, it was purchased for £1,700 in a sale back in 1979 where is was catalogued as being by Thomas C. Hofland (a late 18th / early 19th century British landscape artist). Not a bad return! And finally, there was David Teniers The Younger’s An Elegant Company Before a Pavilion in a Ornamental Garden which garnered £1.3M (£1.57M w/c – est. £800-1.2M).
Two of the bigger lots failed to attract any bidding: Titian’s Portrait of a Venetian Admiral… (est. £1-1.5M) and George Stubbs’ Two Bay Hunters in a Paddock (est. £1.5-2M) … but the record price for the Wright of Derby made up for them.
Of the 50 works offered, 41 sold (82% – on the surface, not bad), and the total take was £25.05M w/c (low end of the presale estimate was £18.57M). Now for a slightly deeper analysis. Of the 41 sold works, 15 were below, 8 within and 18 above their estimate range. Adding in the 9 unsold we get an accuracy rate of 16%. The high sell-through rate received a little help from some very low reserves – 3 or 4 lots sold at almost half the low end of their estimate range – but hey, that is probably what they were worth. And finally, the top 5 works combined account for £14.98M, or 60% of the sale’s total … just for fun, the top 10 made 18.55M or 74%.