On December 11th, Christie’s presented their offering of British and European Art in London… it’s become the norm for these low-mid level sales to yield high BI-rates along with many works selling for under the estimate… this time around was no different.
By far and away, the winner on the evening was Jean-Leon Gerome’s Arnaut and two Whippets… the small work, measuring just 14 x 9 ¾ inches, depicted a guard carrying his weapons alongside two dogs; I mean, who doesn’t love a couple of good boys? This piece has changed hands a number of times in the past twenty years… it’s popped up at auction on three other occasions; most recently in 2009 at Christie’s London where it sold for £541K with premiums (w/p) on a £400-600K estimate. Not only that, but each time the work appeared it featured a slightly different title, which makes tracking the provenance a bit more difficult (a topic we addressed in Volume 215). This time around, the work hammered at £560K (£680K w/p) on an identical £400-600K estimate. Interestingly, due to exchange rates, the price in US dollars was nearly $50,000 more when it sold in 2009. Taking second, in unimpressive fashion, was Honore Victor Daumier’s La blanchisseuse… the small oil on paper study measured just under 14 x 10 inches and was very dark and sketchy; it was expected to bring between £150-200K but sold well below at what I assume was the reserve price – £100K (£125K w/p). There was no associated provenance with the piece; the catalog simply stated it was coming out of a private collection in France. Another small work rounded out the top three… White Lilacs by Henri Fantin-Latour found a buyer at £75K (£93,750 w/p) on a £60-80K estimate. I think we can all agree, there is not much substance to a sale when two of the top three lots are essentially studies… I mean, the top lot (which was also fairly small) accounted for more than 25% of the sale total!
There were a couple of impressive results (relative to their estimates), but nothing about this sale was actually impressive. A Guglielmo Ciardi, estimated at £15-25K, found a buyer at £81K; and an Isaac Israels made £60K on a £15-20K estimate… on the other hand, several of the works with loftier expectations were either pulled or failed to garner significant interest. Among the bunch were works by Corot (est. £100-150K… it was really ugly), Deutsch (est. £200-300K), Theodore Ralli (est. £70-100K), and De Nittis (est. £100-150K – withdrawn).
Of the 63 lots initially included in the sale, two were withdrawn, 22 failed to sell (36%), and another 15 sold below their estimate. With those numbers, it was no surprise they didn’t hit their presale estimate range (the bottom end was £2.325M) with the sale only taking in £2.06M… and that total includes the premiums! Additionally, looking at the estimate accuracy, we see that just 19% of the lots fell into their respective estimates… not good on all fronts.