On April 29th, Christie’s London presented a small selection of 19th-century Orientalist paintings and the overall results were rather disappointing.
The top lot of the sale was Gustav Bauernfeind’s Forecourt of the Umayyad Mosque, Damascus (1890) which carried an Estimate on Request (it was in the region of £3M), and sold for £3M hammer (£3.61/$4.67M with commission – w/c) – guess they squeaked that one out. Coming in a distant second was Bridgman’s Two Young Algerians at £210K (£262.5/$340K w/c – est. £50-70K). I am sure the owner was happy with that result considering they paid $96K for it in 2010. In third, they had Edward L. Weeks’ Before the Great Jami Masjid Mosque, Mathura, India which hammer at £180K (£225/$291K w/c – est. £100-200K). This seller was likely not too happy since they paid $300K for it in 2010 (a little loss).
Rounding out the top five were Frederick Goodall’s Prayer in the Mosque of Sultan Hasan, Cairo that brought £175K (£219/$283K w/c – est. £60-80K … it last sold in 2016 for $24K … another very happy seller); and then there was a large Ernst (which from the photo, did not appear to be one of his best) that hammered at £110K (£138/$178K w/c – est. £120-180K … this one sold in 2013 for $119K, so there was a little profit).
With all that happiness, you might think the sale went well – think again. There were several paintings that failed to find buyers; among them were works by Weeks, Corrodi, Gerome, Goodall, Caffi, Ernst, and de Dreux. In fact, of the 29 works offered for sale, only 16 (55.2%) sold and the total take was £4.8M/$6.2M w/c. The low end of the estimate range was £5.23M; so even with the buyer’s premium, they fell short.
Looking a bit deeper we discover that the total for the top five lots was £4.46M, or 93% of the sale’s total — the Bauernfeind alone accounted for 75% of the total (I am sure they were thankful for that lot). Of the 16 sold works, 4 were below, 7 within, and 5 above their presale estimate range; this left them with an accuracy rate of 24% which, when compared to other sales, is not too bad. However, the fact that almost half the works did not sell, really drives home the point that proper estimates, quality, and condition all factor into a successful sale.
All we can do now is wish them better luck next time.