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Christie’s Train Wreck – 19th Century, New York

June 19, 2020
Henryk Siemiradzki and studio's At the Fountain

Henryk Siemiradzki and studio’s At the Fountain

On June 17th, Christie’s closed their 19th-century online sale. Sadly, this was one of the worst sales I have seen in my career … a complete disaster.  Making it very difficult for people to understand how bad it was, is the fact that if something does not sell, Christie’s immediately removes the lot from their site. Lucky for all of you, I watched the entire, annoyingly slow, train wreck.

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer Sérénade au Clair de lune – Venise

Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer Sérénade au Clair de lune – Venise

I will start with the few bright spots.  Henryk Siemiradzki and studio’s At the Fountain took the top place at $300K ($375K w/p – est. $150-250K). Then came Lucien Lévy-Dhurmer Sérénade au Clair de lune – Venise at $180K ($225K w/p – est. $80-120K).  In a distant third was Thro’ the Wood, a tiny Grimshaw (14 x 9 inches), that hammered at $75K ($93.8K w/p – est. $70-100K).  Rounding out the top five were a bronze by Franz von Stuck titled Amazone – $55K ($68.8K w/p – est. $20-30K) – and Frans Verhas’ La collectionneuse au kimono vert that made $32K ($40K w/p – est. $25-35K).

Grimshaw's Thro' the Wood

Grimshaw’s Thro’ the Wood

I know you are now going to say – Howard, all five of those lots either met or beat their estimate ranges. What’s so bad?  Well, the ‘bad’ is the fact that very few works sold!  In fact, for every sold work in the sale, two did not sell.

The other issues with this online sale was the length of time it took … just 71 lots and over 4 hours to complete … and the bidding process was extremely difficult. Since we are still in quarantine mode, I was able to have a bite to eat and something to drink as it dragged on and on and on.

By the end of the very long session, of the 71 works offered, just 25 sold (35% – not sure I have seen a sell-through rate that low), and the total take was $950.KM ($1.19M w/p) – the estimate range was $2.26-3.43M.  They were way short!  Of the 25 sold lots, 15 fell below, 7 within, and 3 above their estimate ranges, leaving them with an accuracy rate of just 9.9% … another low number.

I have said this before, and will say it again: if you cannot obtain great quality works that are fresh to the market, postpone your sale.  A result like this does not help anyone.