On the afternoon of December 11th, Christie’s presented their Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art sale. That covers a long span of time considering the earliest work dated from the 1820s and there was at least one artist in the sale who was born in 1970 (not sure he fit into any of those periods). Before we begin, I want to stress that there were no blockbuster works, so having a big payday was a long shot.
What was encouraging is that the first 26 lots were fresh-to-the-market – all coming from a descendant of Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones (the British Pre-Raphaelite artist). In fact, two were among the top three works… Danaë in the Brazen Tower (a 14 x 10-inch work on paper) hammered down at £135K/$211K (£169K with the commission – w/c) on a £40-60K estimate. Burne-Jones’ Love Disguised as Reason came in a close second at £130K/$204K (£163K w/c – est. £40-60K). Sir John Everett Millais’ portrait of John Wycliffe Taylor fetched the same price, but that one carried an estimate of £80-120K (this painting sold in 1997 for £95K). Rounding out the top five were a Dawson at £123K/$153K (est. 50-80K) and a Thorburn at £119K/$149K (est. £80-120K).
As with many of these sales, there were several lots that failed to find interest; among them were paintings by Cowper, Grimshaw, Hughes, Foster, Tissot, Munnings, Farquharson, and Seago (five out of five of his were bought-in). By the end of the short session, of the 125 cataloged works, 87 sold (69.6%) and they grossed £2.01M/$2.52M (£2.49M/$3.12M – w/c). The low end of their presale estimate range was £2.12M, so without the buyer’s premium, they came up just a little short. And as for their accuracy rate, only 26 of the works sold within their estimate range, leaving them with a rate of 20.8% — which isn’t too bad, but isn’t exactly good either.
The problem this sale faced was the lack of interesting works. I keep saying this, there are just too many sales going on. The big boys need to step back and realize that sometimes, less is more.