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19th Century – Sotheby’s, New York

June 12, 2020
Charles Sprague Pearce - Sainte Genevieve

Charles Sprague Pearce – Sainte Genevieve

Just after the London Orientalist sale finished, Sotheby’s, New York, offered up a selection of mid-level 19th-century paintings (typically, this is one of their biggest sales of the year, generating millions).  Like London, this was another online-only sale, and from the looks of the items featured, I knew it was going to be a tough go. Among the hurdles they needed to clear was the fact that many of the paintings offered had been on the market in the last five years (more than 1/3 of the sale), and some were works that went unsold in very recent sales.  These days freshness is essential, not to mention quality and condition. Also, there were only four works with estimates above the $100K mark, and nothing in the high six or low seven figures.  (w/p = with premium)

John W. Godward - The Posy

Godward – The Posy

The top lot of the sale was a beautiful, large (83 x 67 inches), painting by Charles Sprague Pearce titled Sainte Genevieve.  According to the catalog, the painting was exhibited at the Paris Salon in 1887 and had an extensive exhibition history.  The work carried a $60-80K estimate and hammered at $120K ($150K w/p), making it one of the better performing lots.  Second place was nabbed by one of the higher estimated lots, Godward’s The Posy, which they expected to bring $100-150K, but hammered at $95K ($118.8K w/p – this work was offered last year and did not sell).  In third was a nice looking Ziem that sold for $75K ($93.8K – estimate $50-70K).

As we always see, several works fail to generate interest. Here, the unsold lots included some of the more expensive paintings – Munnings’ Unsaddled at Epsom, Summer Meeting (est. $300-500K – unsold in 2018), Corot’s Vallons Defriches (est. $150-200K – purchased in 2013, and unsold in 2018), and Julius Stewart’s The First Spring (est. $70-100K – went unsold in 2019).

When the session was over, of the 34 works offered, 21 sold (61.7%), and the total take was $781.5K ($977K w/p) – the low end of their estimate range was $1.54M, so they fell far short. Of the sold works, thirteen were below, three within, and five above their estimate ranges; this left them with an accuracy rate of just 8%.

As with the London sale, it is vital to keep the following in mind.  On the day of the auction (June 11), the pandemic was again headline news (cases on the rise in several US states), and the Dow was having a terrible day (by the end, it was down over 1800 points). These two events not only impacted their results but are another example of what can happen when the “news” is horrible on the day of the sale. If the world is in turmoil at that moment, all bets are off.