Sotheby’s, London, offered up a selection of 19th century Orientalist works from the Najd Collection (the sale was originally going to take place on March 31). The catalog featured 34 works; however, by the time the auction took place (strictly online), several important works appeared to have been withdrawn. (w/p = with premium)
Taking the number one spot was Gustav Bauernfeind’s Procession in Jaffa, hammering at £1.4M/$1.76M (£1.695M/$2.14M w/p, est. £1.5-2.5M). Coming in a distant second was Ludwig Deutsch’s The Scholar – it hammered for £500K/$630K (£615K/$776K w/p – est. £500-700K), and taking an even more distant third was Rudolf Ernst’s Outside the Mosque which made £110K/$139K (£137.5K/$173K w/p – est. £150-200K). Rounding out the top five were Gérôme’s The Camel Driver – £80K/$101K (£100K/$126K w/p – est. £150-250K), and Ernst’s The Palace Guard – £65K/$82K (£81.25K/$102K w/p – est. £80-120K). From just these results, you can see that it was not a very strong sale.
The sale might have seen a bit more strength, had some of the more valuable pieces not been removed; these included three works by Deutsch (two estimated at £600-800K, one at £400-600K) and a Gérôme (£200-300K). Also, a few of the more expensive lots did not sell – Deutsch’s The Sentinel (£200-300K), The Water Seller (£200-300K), and A Refreshing Drink (£200-300K), and Gérôme’s Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert (£700-1M). Sadly, I cannot even point to any lots that had serious competition.
When the session was over, of the 29 works offered, 24 sold (82.75%), and the total take was £2.6M/$3.3M (£3.22M/$4.06M w/p) – the low end of their estimate range was £4.3M, so they fell way short. Of the sold works, 19 were below, 5 were within, and none were above their estimate ranges; this left them with an accuracy rate of 17%.
While thinking about these results, it is very important to keep the following in mind. On June 11 (the day this sale took place), the pandemic was making the news (cases on the rise in several states), the Dow was having a terrible day (down over 1500 points – 5.5%), and oil was hovering in the $36 range (down over 3%). To see how much this has affected the Orientalist market, all we need to do is look at the last sale featuring works from the Najd collection. Back in October 2019, another work by Bauernfeind was offered (Market in Jaffa) – it was smaller in size, but similar in composition to the one sold today. That work carried a much higher estimate £2.5-3.5M and sold for £3.73M/$4.8M; more than all 24 lots in today’s sale.
We have always said that the most significant issues one faces when selling at auction is that they happen on a specific day and at specific time. If the world is in turmoil at that moment (stocks dropping, etc.), it will impact the results.