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19th Century European – Sotheby’s Mid-Level Sale

October 17, 2020
racehorses and jockeys


When I first saw the Sotheby’s sale (and we did physically view it), I knew they would have a tough go – there were very few outstanding works.  A few years ago, they moved their major 19th-century sale from the October/November time slot to January/February.  So, these October sales contained mid-level works.  I said ‘sales’ because it took place in two parts, two days apart, but I have combined them to give a fair comparison to last year’s sale (they had one auction in 2019).

cows and figures in a landscape

Corot – Collines et pâtures des environs de Saint-Lo

As we have seen in previous sales, the auction rooms are having difficulty obtaining high-quality material in this genre. There were even several works that we had the opportunity to purchase directly from the owners and decided to take a pass. I will add that they did have a few nice paintings in their collection… we bought those! Anyway, on to the results. (w/p = with the buyer’s premium)

Taking the number one spot was a ‘not too great’ looking Sir Alfred Munnings titled Five Racehorses with Jockeys.  The painting was estimated to bring $200-300K and hammered down at $140K ($176.4K w/p).  In second and third were works by Corot. Collines et pâtures des environs de Saint-Lo was expected to bring between $150-200K and sold for $120K ($151.2K w/p), while Un Torrent des Abruzzes made $110K ($138.6K w/p) on an estimate of $150-200K.  As you can see, while the top three lots did find buyers, none of them reached their presale estimate range.

dark landscape with water and hills

Corot – Un Torrent des Abruzzes

In the fourth, fifth, and sixth places, we had a three-way tie.  Courbet’s Paysage Franc-Comtois or Le Vallon Vert (est. $100-150K), Corot’s A Corner of the River with Houses and Poplars (est. $40-60K), and Millet’s Portrait of George Roumy, Uncle of Pauline Ono (est. $15/20K) each hammered at $80K ($100.8K w/p).  I was surprised by the prices paid for the Corot and Millet.

Other than Paul Huet’s Salt Marshes Around Saint-Valèry in Sum, Picardie that hammered at $65K ($81.9K – est. $20-30K) and Georges Picard’s Sous l’Arbre Rose that made $32K ($40.3K w/p – est. $6-8K), most of the other works did not fare too well. Several pieces failed to find buyers (and that was no surprise to me as their estimate or condition were a hindrance); among them were Arthur Chaplin’s Floral Still Life ($80-120K), Frederick Bridgman’s Woman of Algiers on a Balcony (est. $60-80K), and  Munnings’s Gypsy Caravan (est. $150-250K).

By the end of the first session, of the 67 lots offered, 39 sold (58.2% sell-through rate), the total hammer price was just $1.694M ($2.135M w/p), and the low end of their estimate range was $2.48M … so even with the buyer’s premium added in, they fell short.  Of the 39 sold works, 20 were below, 9 within, and 10 above their presale estimates; this left them with an accuracy rate of 13.4%.

The second session added another 84 works. Of those, 54 found buyers (64.3% sell-through rate) and garnered an additional $437K ($547K w/p). The low end of the estimate range was $598K, so this one fell a little short too. Here, 32 went below, 7 within, and 15 above their projected ranges, leaving them with an accuracy rate of 8%.

Combining the two parts resulted in 151 works offered, 93 sold (61.6% sell-through rate), a total of $2.131M ($2.68M w/p), and an accuracy rate of 10.6%.  The low end of the presale range was $3.08M … so they were short. To drive home the point that these were nothing more than general 19th-century sales – the top lot was only expected to bring between $200-300K (which it did not); there were 126 works carrying estimates that did not exceed $50K at the top end… of those, 117 did not exceed the $30K level, and 51 were below $10K.

With everything being offered online (without the expense of hard copy catalogs), it is far easier for the salerooms to offer just about anything they can get their hands on.  Like they say — throw it against the wall and see what sticks!

I also looked back at the October 2019 sale that had 162 lots and a total (w/p) of $1.69M … so when compared to last year’s sale, this one did a bit better: $14K per lot sold in 2019 vs. $17.7K per lot sold in 2020 – a 21% improvement.  But to really put the offerings into perspective, in their January 2020 sale, the top lot (an Alfred Munnings) brought $3.14M, a million more than all the lots in this sale.  In fact, the top three lots in January made almost exactly what the October 2019 and 2020 sales combined made: $4.36M vs. $4.37M.  Guess we need to wait for their January 2021 sale to see if they can source any top-end works.