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For the North – Bonhams 19th Century European

April 30, 2019

All those years of procrastinating on homework assignments and book reports are finally paying off! This last week of the month has seen a flurry of auctions, and since the newsletter is due out any minute, we’re cramming to cover them all…

I’m just going to preface this by saying that when I went to view the sale, I was not very impressed with the quality and expected this to be a rough going.

Ernst - The Palace Guard


The Bonhams 19th Century European Paintings sale just finished up and it was a bloodbath in the likes of the Battle of Winterfell… the BI’s were pouring in like the army of the dead. Honestly, I don’t think I can recall seeing a sell-through rate below 50%…  it was bad! Sorry Madalina : \

Let’s quickly go through the highlights of the sale, if we can even call them that… the top lot and cover piece was Rudolf Ernst’s The Palace Guard, which unfortunately fell a bit short of its $200-300K estimate as it hammered at $180K. When you add the premium, that bumps the price to just over $225K. The provenance indicated that the work was acquired in 1998 for just $66.5K, so while the seller may have had loftier expectations, he still came out ahead. Taking second was Wilhelm Kuhnert’s Lowen in der Steppe, which too fell short of its $150-200K estimate when it hammered at $130K. Again, once we add in the buyer’s premium, that bumps the reported price to $162K… this work, while reportedly acquired in 1997 through Christie’s South Kensington, has sneakily gone unreported on all of the auction databases… let’s all just hope for the best, and assume the seller made a few bucks on this one too. Rounding out the top three was a work by Munnings – this one actually made it into the estimate range without the help of the buyer’s premium… Fred Gray – Leading Home hammered at $110K on a $100-150K estimate. Once we factor in the premium, that brings us up to $137K.


I’d be hard-pressed to find anything else that was noteworthy… a Thomas Somerscales made $40K on an $8-12K estimate – that’s relatively impressive, I guess.

All that said, there were times that this sale seemed downright terrifying… I mean, imagine the cover-piece selling below the estimate, followed by two more works selling below the estimate, and then rattling off 12 straight unsold lots! The mood in the room was dire, to say the least. There were also fun, little near-failures that added to the depressing mood… while they were not substantial lots, we still got to watch a work by Louis Isabey estimated at $8-12K sell for just $1,000… and a John Naish achieve $1,500 on a $10-15K estimate.


The overall picture painted certainly isn’t a pretty one… in fact, you may find it in another Bonham’s sale. There were initially 78 works offered with 4 withdrawn prior to the sale commencing… that left us with 74 works up for grabs – just 34 (45.9%) of them found buyers. On top of that, 18 of those 34 were at prices below the estimate… and of the 9 lots that sold within their estimate range, 5 of them were exactly at the bottom end of said range… for those who are curious, when we compare the results to the pre-sale estimates, we get a roughly 12% accuracy rate.  In the end, Bonhams sold roughly $972K of material ($1.2M when we add in the premiums) but given the estimates, they were anticipating bringing in between $1.4-2.1M, so they were quite a bit short of that mark.