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The Orientalists Take A Hit – Christie’s London

November 24, 2020
man taking a nap


On the 18th of November, Christie’s presented a mixed bag of Orientalist works, and the results will have hopefully taught them a lesson. The lesson – slow down on the number of works you are throwing into the market! (w/p = wth buyer’s premium).

man seated with a hookah pipe


Taking the top spot here was one of the more interesting lots in the sale, Gustav Bauernfeind’s Warden of the Mosque, Damascus. The exquisitely painted interior scene carried a £1.5-2.5M estimate and sold for £2.2M (£2.66M/$3.54M w/p).  Coming in a distant second was a tiny (9 ¾ x 11 ¾ inches) Gérôme’s, Chef arnaute, in a family collection since the early 20th century, that carried a £200-300K estimate and sold for £320K (£400K/$532K w/p). Well behind that was Ludwig Hans Fischer’s The Khamsin which brought £62K (£77.5K/$103K w/p – est. £40-60K).  Rounding out the top five were Mahmoud Mokhtar’s Au Bord du Nil at £60K (£75K/$99.7K w/p – est. £60-80K), and Rudolf Ernst’s The Narghile Smoker at £50K (£62.5K/$83K w/p – est. £60-80K).

horses and riders in the desert


While there were no real ‘big hits’ in the sale, there were several big failures… the biggest of which was John Frederick Lewis’s The Bezestein Bazaar of El Khan Khalil, Cairo (est. £3-5M). Then there was Gérôme’s An Arnaut Smoking (£1.2-1.8M), and Roubtzoff’s The Souk, Tunis (est. £300-500K).

By the end of the small 41 work sale, only 20 found buyers (a 48.8% sell-through rate – not very good).  The presale estimate range was £7.04M-11.34M, and the total take was £2.92M (£3.56M w/p) — less than half of what they expected.  I decide to calculate the presale estimate range of ONLY the sold works… that worked out to £2.1-3.35M, so even without the buyer’s premium, they fell into that range. Now here is an important fact to consider, the top lot (Bauernfeind) not only accounted for 75% of the sale’s total, but it alone brought the sale into the range — basically making up for a lot of works that sold but did not do very well. As we always say, what a difference one painting can make!

Going a little deeper, we find that 5 works sold below, 12 within, and 3 above their presale estimate ranges; this gave them an accuracy rate of 29.3% … stronger than some.