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Sotheby’s 19th-Century Sale — Where’s The Meat?

May 29, 2019
Julius Stewart

Julius Stewart

The last sale we are covering is the 19th-century sale at Sotheby’s.  Like many of the recent sales of this period, the less interesting, over-estimated, and condition issue works had a tough time.  Then there were a few that had some market freshness and they performed well.

Taking the top spot was Julius Stewart’s Five O’Clock Tea that carried the sale’s highest estimate of $1-$1.5M and hammered at $1.55M ($1.88M with premium – w/p) – not bad.  This painting was last on the market in 1990 and sold for $847K.  Coming in a distant second was Bouguereau’s La Paresseuse at $550K ($680K w/p), just below its $600-800K estimate (the sale’s second highest).

William Bouguereau

William Bouguereau

While the Bouguereau had remained in the same family’s collection since the late 1930s (making it very fresh), it did have a couple of things going against it – the work was painted in 1901 (a little late), and some areas appeared to be a little thin (possibly due to overcleaning). The third spot was taken by Jean Beraud’s Rond-Point des Champs-Elysees at $280K ($350K w/p), which also hammered below its $300-500K estimate. The owner attempted to sell the work last April at Christie’s with an even more aggressive $500-700K estimate – there were no takers. Rounding out the top five were von Blaas’s Festival Day, Venice at $260K ($325K w/p – est. $300-500K), and two Bouguereau’s – Saint Famille (est. $150-200K) and Bohemienne au tambour de Basque (est. $250-350K) – both at $220K ($275K w/p); the latter had been on the market at least three times since the late 1980s. In addition, the artist painted another same size version (which is very unusual for Bouguereau), which was dated 1867 and sold in 2016 for $334K.

Jean Beraud

Jean Beraud

Other than a couple of other strong performers, most of this sale illustrated the difficulty salerooms have sourcing great quality 19th century works. Among the paintings that could not find a buyer were Kaufmann’s Portrait of a Boy (est. $450-650K), Stewart’s The First Spring (est. $100-150K), Godward’s The Posy (est. $150-250K) and A Classical Beauty (est. $150-200K),Sorolla’s Jardin de los Adarves, Alhambra, Granada (est. $300-500K), and five paintings by Munnings whose combined estimate range was $880K-$1.27M.

By the end of the short 75 lot session, 47 sold (62.6%), and the total take was $5.13M ($6.39M w/p) – well short of the $7.25M they expected. On top of that, 26 works sold below, 7 within, and 14 above their estimate range.  This left them with a dismal 9.3% accuracy rate but do note that 18.6% of the works sold above their range.

The fact that Sotheby’s postponed their October 2018 sale until February 2019 (that sale did pretty well, bringing in $13M on an $11-17M estimate range) shows that sourcing great material is still very difficult and maybe, just maybe, they need to scale back on the number of sales they push out each year. Holding another major 19th-century sale just three months later is not nearly enough time to source a strong group of paintings.

I know I say this all the time, today the auction rooms are not an accurate barometer of the health of the 19th-century market. There are many collectors who just do not want to take a chance that their work will be among the 30, 40 or 50% that do not sell – and who can blame them?  Auction sales are just a small slice of a much larger pie and sometimes, those slices need a bit more meat and extra time in the oven.

 

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