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A 19th-Century Warm Up Sale

October 24, 2019
Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña’s Le mare aux fées

Diaz de la Peña

On October 22nd, Sotheby’s presented their mid-level 19th-century works of art (their BIG sale will take place in January) and the overall results were encouraging.  Do keep in mind that there were no ‘blockbuster’ works being offered, and $30-$50K was the highest estimate for any of the works in the sale.

Cesare Detti’s A Noble Lord and Lady on Horseback

Cesare Detti

Taking the top spot was Narcisse Virgile Diaz de la Peña’s Le mare aux fées which carried a $25-35K estimate and hammered for $95K ($119K with premium – w/p) … this same painting sold back in 1987 for $14K – not a bad return.  In second there was a tie: Cesare Detti’s A Noble Lord and Lady on Horseback that was expected to bring between $30-40K and hammered for $42K ($52.5K w/p), while the same price was paid for Jan Portielje’s An Eastern European Beauty that was estimated at $20-30K (the Portielje last sold in 2009 for $31,250 w/p).  I know we now have the top three, but there was a rather dark Charles Daubigny titled Village pres de la Riviere that brought $38K ($47.5K w/p – est.$15-25K) – making it the third-highest price in the sale.

Jan Portielje’s An Eastern European Beauty

Jan Portielje

Keeping in mind that this was a mid-level sale, there were some other strong results (all prices include the buyer’s premium): a tiny (14 x 10 inch) Julien Dupré – La Porteuse d’Eau – $25K (est. $12-18K); an even smaller Stanislas Lépine (8 x 13 inches) brought $21,250 ($7-10K est.); Hans Zatzka’s Fleurs Printanieres made $32.5K (est. $15-20K); Santiago Rusiñol’s Bosc de Cuni Garden in Olot – $21, 250 (est. $3-5K); Carl Kahler’s A Night at the Opera – $18,750 (est. $5-7K); and Paul Trouillebert’s La Loire a Montsoreau – $16,250 (est. $5-8K).

Of course, there were a number of duds (and a few works that sold that I would have bet never would – shows you how much I know). Among them were paintings by Piot (est. $20-30K); Garrido (est. $18-25K & $15-20K); Richmond (est. $15-20K); Merle (est. $20-30K); Chocarne-Moreau (est. $15-20K); and Swebach (est. $20-30K).  There was an announcement before the sale that one lot had a guarantee … a silly-looking Verboeckhoven … and it went unsold.  I thought if a work was guaranteed, it had to sell?  Additionally, those I would have bet would never sell included a small Piot ($11,250 w/p on a $6-8K est.), and a Cortes with part of its signature missing ($32,500 w/p on a $12-18K est.).

By the end of the session, of the 159 works offered 1 was withdrawn, and 117 found buyers giving them a sell-through rate of 73.6% (not to bad for this type of sale).  The total take was $1.36M ($1.69M w/p) while the presale estimate range was $1.46 – $2.11M, so they needed the buyer’s premium to make it.  Of the 117 sold works, 36 were above, 57 below, and 24 within their estimate range, leaving them with an accuracy rate of 15%.

The story remains the same.  The auction rooms are having difficulty sourcing enough high-quality 19th-century works to create exceptionally strong sales.  When good paintings appear, they make healthy results; however, the ‘stuff’ is still not selling, and these unsold works really hurt the overall results.  Smaller and stronger sales are the way to go.