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Sotheby’s 19th-Century Sale

January 31, 2020
Alfred Munnings’ racing scene - Mahmoud Being Saddled for the Derby, 1936

Alfred Munnings’ Mahmoud Being Saddled for the Derby, 1936

At the end of January, Sotheby’s presented a rather lackluster sale of 19th-century European paintings; a sale illustrating the continued difficulty auction rooms are having sourcing good quality works. What I will say is that I was surprised that some of the really poor conditioned works found buyers, a few even had competitive bidding!

Bouguereau’s Ora Pro Nobis

Bouguereau’s Ora Pro Nobis

Taking the top lot was a classic Alfred Munnings’ racing scene – Mahmoud Being Saddled for the Derby, 1936 – which carried an Estimate Upon Request (the whisper number was in excess of $3.5M) and hammered for $2.6M ($3.14M with premium – w/p).  Coming in at a very distant second was Bouguereau’s Ora Pro Nobis at $550K ($680K w/p – est. $500-700k), and in third was Courbet’s La mer Orageuse at $430K ($536K w/p – est. $500-700k) … the seller purchased the work in 1998 for $431.5K w/p, so no profit there.

Courbet’s La mer Orageuse

Courbet’s La mer Orageuse

Rounding out the top five were Bouguereau and Studio’s L’Aurore at $420K ($524K w/p – est. $300-500K) – this work sold in 2004 for $243K, and in 2012 for $387K; and Grimshaw’s A Yorkshire Home at $350K ($437.5K w/p – est. $350-500K) – seller paid $611K in 2014, so that was a big loss.

There were a few very surprising results (at least they were to me). One of Antoinetta Brandeis’s largest paintings – Campo San Giacomo dall’Orio – found a buyer at $75K (94K w/p – est. $50-70K); however, the painting was a wreck with large areas of the sky being either repainted or over-cleaned – in great condition this work had the potential to achieve a record price.  Gustave Courbet’s Portrait présume de Tony Marlet hammered at $44K ($55K w/p – est. $30-50K) – the work had extensive areas of pigment separation (images below). And Corot’s La gue au gros arbre found a buyer at $55K ($69K w/p – est. $70-90K) – the painting was so thin (most likely due to over-cleaning) that the canvas and ground were visible throughout the work.  Here is an interesting side story. While Amy was viewing the work, another couple walked over and the wife commented on the painting’s poor condition, the husband replied that was the way Corot painted … Amy then had to correct him, and the wife then replied – I told you!

Gustave Courbet’s Portrait présume de Tony Marlet

Courbet photo showing cracks (detail)

Gustave Courbet’s Portrait présume de Tony Marlet

Courbet catalog photo (detail)











Then there were a number of big ones that failed to find buyers – Jean Beraud’s Jeune femme traverant le boulevard (est. $150-250K); Julius Stewart’s Twilight on the Terrace, Paris (est. $150-200K); Courbet’s Château de Chillon (est. $300-500K); Hammershoi’s Dunkebakke, Frederiksvaerk (est. $300-500K); and Strindberg’s Flood on the Danube (est. $600-800K).

Of the 95 works in the sale, 67 found buyers (70.5% — a pretty strong sell-through rate based on the works offered … I would have bet that more works went unsold), the total take was $7.94M ($9.46M w/p), and the low end of their estimate range was $11.32M, so they fell way short.  Going a little deeper, we find that the Munnings accounted for 33% and the top five for 50% of the sale’s total.  Of the 67 sold works, 38 were below, 19 within, and 10 above their presale estimates.  This left them with an accuracy rate of 20%.

Oh well, better luck next time!