> TELEPHONE US 212.355.5710

European 19th Century

May 23, 2018

Bouguereau “La bourrique”

Sotheby’s 19th-century sale took place on the morning of the 22nd and when the estimates were in line with the quality and condition, all went well; when they were not, they either sold well below expectations or passed. It’s worth noting this sale included four works deaccessioned from the Berkshire Museum – something we’ve been following closely.

Bouguereau “Les quatre saisons”

Normally, there are several artists who make it into the top three; however, in this sale, we saw a hat-trick … Monsieur Bouguereau took them all.  La bourrique … one of the Berkshire works … made $1.45M ($1.755M w/c – est. $2-3M – the estimate seemed to me, and turned out to be, a little robust). This was followed by Les quatre saisons (a set of four paintings dating from 1854 and his earliest recorded gold ground decorations) at $1.05M ($1.275M w/c – est. $600-800K). Bringing up the rear was another Berkshire deaccession, L’agneau nouveau-né at $800K ($975K w/c – est. $1.5-2M).  The two works from the Berkshire Museum were nice examples and in fairly good condition but fell very short of their estimate ranges.  I personally believe that the estimate ranges were a little rich and all the controversy surrounding the sale did not help.  Rounding out the top five were Alma-Tadema’s Love’s Jewelled Fetter at $520K ($639K w/c – est $500-700K) and Emile Renouf’s Un coup de main, which brought $500K ($615K w/c – est. $300-500K).

Bouguereau “L’agneau nouveau-né”

Among the more coveted items were Giuseppe de Sanctis’ Teodora at $220K ($275K w/c – est. $100-150K); Bouguereau’s small (16 x 13 inch) Portrait de jeune fille – $270K ($338K w/c – est. $125-175K); another small Bouguereau (22 x 14 inches) titled Bohémienne au tambour de Basque at $220K ($275K w/c – est. $70-90K); von Blaas’ Flirtation which made $400K ($495K w/c – est. $100-150K); a tiny nude by Munier (14.5 x 7.5 inches) at $25K ($31K w/c – est. $8-12K) and one of the more surprising … Corot’s 13 x 18 inch La gelée blanche à Auvers-sur-Oise that hammered down at $300K ($375K w/c – est. $80-120K).

Corot “La gelée blanche a Auvers-sur-Oise”

And then there were those lots which failed to find a buyer… these included paintings by Pasini (est. $700-$1M … from the Berkshire); Bouguereau (est. $600-800K); Godward (est. $120-180K); Corot (est. $250-350K) as well as Cordero’s Siesta (est. $500-700K – it was last sold in 2014 for $446K, so not very fresh).

When the session was over, of the 88 works offered, 69 sold (78.4% – which is pretty good) and the total take was $11.02M ($13.6M w/c – low end of the estimate range was $12.97M). So, with the buyer’s premium, they made it. When compared to last month’s 19th-century sale at Christie’s we see that Sotheby’s was the clear winner (APPL = average price per lot):

61 lots              43 Sold            70.5% Sell-through rate          $6.4M w/c       $148K APPL

88 lots              69 Sold            78.4% Sell-through rate          $13.6M w/c     $197K APPL

Digging a bit deeper we find that 18 works sold below, 25 within and 26 above their estimate range giving them an accuracy rate of 28.4%. On the surface, that was not as strong as Christie’s 31.1%; however, 26 (29.5%) of the works sold above their range while at Christie’s just 8 (18.6%) did.  So, if you are going to miss that is the way to do it.  And in case you are wondering, the top 3 lots accounted for $3.6M (26.4%) of the sale’s total.

As we saw with Christie’s sale last month, when we compare Sotheby’s May 2017 to 2018 results we see continued improvement:

Number of Lots: 86 (2017) vs. 88 (2018)
Sell-through rate: 63.9% (2017) vs. 78.4% (2018)
Accuracy rate: 27.9% (2017) vs. 28.4% (2018)
Low end of estimate range: $12.27M (2017) vs. $12.97M (2018)
Total take: $9.4M hammer (2017) vs. $11.02M (2018)
Total take with Buyer’s Commissions: $11.62M (2017) vs. $13.6M (2018)

With all the options available to sellers, we can no longer look to the New York sales for a clear indication of the 19th-century art market’s health.  For these sales to become the barometer they once were, there is going to have to be a change in the seller’s choice and I am not sure we will see that anytime soon. What is clear, is that there is still good competition for the interesting/quality works and that is a positive sign.


I mentioned earlier that there were a few works from the Berkshire Museum in this sale – two by Bouguereau, one by Daubigny and one by Pasini.  The combined presale estimate range for the works was $4.27-$6.1M and the total hammer price was just $2.31M (the Pasini did not sell) … well short of expectations. Sorry, Berkshire … bad move!