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Christie’s, London – British and European Art

December 18, 2020
evening road scene in england


On December 10th, Christie’s 15-day online sale featuring 105 lots of British and European art ended … I know, not another sale!  Sorry, but the hits, or better yet, failures, just keep on coming. Hopefully, once this medical mess is behind us, the salerooms will go back to the way it was. Wishful thinking on our part. (unless otherwise noted, all prices include the Buyer’s Premium)

neoclassical woman in an interior


Taking the top slot was Grimshaw’s Under the Silvery Moonbeams, which brought £237.5K/$316K on a £100-150K estimate (the work was last on the market in 1995 with an estimate of £20-30K and did not sell).  Coming in second was Godward’s His Birthday Gift at £137.5K/$183K (est. £50-80K); this same work last sold in 2013 for £56.3K/$92K on a £50-70K estimate. Third place was taken by artist Jessica Hayllar when her Fresh from the Greenhouse crushed its £20-30K estimate, selling for £81.3K/$108K.  Picou’s The Birth of Venus (est. £20-30K) and Ziem’s Fête de l’Assomption devant la Douane, Venise (est. £60-80K) tied for 4th and 5th place as they each sold for £69K/$91K (I was surprised the Ziem sold since the top of the cupola on Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, in the background, is tilted). I think we can all agree that the sellers of the top four works were happy.

interior with flowers in a vase


A few of other work that performed well were Blanche’s Tamara Karsavina, ballet dancer of the Ballets Russes at £60K/$80K (est. £20-30K), Edward Seago’s Street Corner, Hong Kong making £52.5K/$70K (est. £15-25K), and Abraham Solomon’s Academy for instruction in the discipline of the fan, 1711 garnering £47.5K/$63K (est. £8-12K).  Then there were some of the more expensive works that found no takers; among them were Courbet’s Vue de Franche-Comté (est. £150-200K), Boldini’s La Spagnola (est. £100-150K), Grimshaw’s Woodland near Leeds (est. £50-80K), and about 6 works that carried £50-70K estimates.

dome of a church in Venice

Ziem – detail

Once the sale ended, of the 105 works offered, 66 sold, and 39 went back to the sellers; this gave them a sell-through rate of 62.9%. The 66 lots brought £1.83M/$2.43M and the low end of the estimate range was £2.16M – so they were a bit short considering the total includes the buyer’s premium and the estimate does not. Of the sold works, 24 were below, 21 within, and 21 above their presale estimate ranges.  Adding in the 39 unsold works, this resulted in an accuracy rate of 20%.

We believe that until the main auction rooms get back to creating curated sales (like they did years ago), they will continue to have some sales that do well and others that do not.  The people who pay the biggest price are those whose works go unsold.