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Sotheby’s Attempt At A European & British Sale

July 20, 2021
a landscape with snow covered mountains


Auction rooms need to start paying attention to what works and what does not. Putting together a large sale of ‘nothing too great’ is just not going to cut it today. On July 14th, Sotheby’s presented one of these sales.

a ground of figures in a courtyard

von Blaas

As with any sale, there are always a few works that do well. Here, Harald Sohlberg’s Winter Night in the Mountains (a watercolor) took the top spot at £1.1M/$1.5M (£1.35M/$1.86M w/p – est. £800-1.2M). This painting was a very nice example and had descended in the artist’s family – so it was fresh! Another fresh work grabbed the second spot – Eugen von Blaas’ No Love Without Envy. This painting has been in the same family’s collection since 1952; it carried a £150-250K estimate and sold for £350K/$484K (£439K/$606K w/p). And the third-place finisher was Dawson’s The ‘Shun Lee’ in Pacific Seas, which was last on the market in 1962 (oh look, another fresh one that did well), and brought £170K/$235K (£214K/$296K w/p – est. £80-120K). Rounding out the top five were Monsted’s A Woodland Stream on a Summer Day at £120K/$166K (£151K/$209K – est. £60-80K), and Frederic, Lord Leighton’s Head of a Girl at £110K/$152K (£139K/$191K w/p – est. £60-80K).

two ships passing each other


While I could go on about other works that did ok and those that did not (of the top ten lots with the highest estimates, only three sold), I believe that the numbers speak for themselves. The sale consisted of 115 lots. Of those, 60 found buyers, and 55 are going back to their owners, giving them a sell-through rate of just 52%. The total take was £3.05M/$4.2M (£3.8M/$5.25M w/p), while the presale estimate range was £5-7.4M, so even with the buyer’s premium, they fell far short. Of the 60 sold works, 6 were below, 33 within, and 21 above their estimates, this generated an accuracy rate of 28.7% (which is not all that bad), but on the flip side, when almost half the sale is bought-in, that is not very good. 

While studying the 33 works that sold within their estimate range, an interesting statistic emerged. Twenty-three of them sold at the bottom of their range, meaning that most likely, those paintings sold on the reserve to just one bidder.

Next up … Christie’s British and European sale…