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Christie’s 19th-C. European Art Auction – A Tough Go

October 19, 2021
three nude woman floating in the sky sold at european art auction

Herbert James Draper

On October 13, Christie’s presented their European Art Part I auction, which included just 37 lots. We did go to view the sale; in fact, I went twice, and while there were some nice paintings, I was a little skeptical that overall, the sale would be a real success.

a woman and man on the beach at european art auction

Peder S. Krøyer

The top lot was an awe-inspiring work by the British Victorian artist Herbert James Draper titled The Mountain Mists. The painting, which measured 85 x 46 inches, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1912… it carried a $1.2-1.8M estimate and hammered for $1.65M ($2.01M w/p). The seller purchased the piece back in 2000 for $1.25M, so they made a little profit! Peder S. Krøyer’s Summer Evening on Skagen Beach, Portrait of the Artist’s Wife generated a bit of interest and hammered for $750K ($930K w/p), beating its $500-700K estimate; this landed the work in second place. The seller purchased the painting back in 1989 for $120K…  they did well! Galloping into the third spot was Alfred Munnings’ After the Race, Cheltenham. This large and attractive looking painting came from the estate collection of Mrs. Elizabeth Moran (a thoroughbred owner and breeder); it was expected to bring $700-1M, and hammered at $680K ($846K w/p). Mrs. Moran purchased the painting back in 1981 for $200K, so even though it did not reach the estimate, it appreciated nicely.

race horses on a racetrack at european art auction

Alfred Munnings

Rounding out the top five were William Bouguereau’s Retour des Champs at $610K ($762K w/p – est. $700-1M). This large, single-figure painting was last on the public market in 1992 and sold for $198K. It was purchased by a London dealer and sold to a collector in the US; the current seller was a relative. In the fifth slot was Sir Francis B. Dicksee’s 1901 Royal Academy painting Yseult. I remember when it was offered at a Sotheby’s sale in 2019 and found it a little sad looking – I still feel that way. In that sale, it was estimated at $1-2M and sold for $900K ($1.15M w/p). This time it was expected to sell between $800-$1.2M and hammered at $600K ($750K w/p)… I am sure the seller was not very happy.

dark sky with a town below at european art auction

Adolph von Menzel

There were only two works that sparked competitive bidding. The first was Adolph von Menzel’s Mondschein über den Dächern von Berlin. A small (12.5 x 7.5 inch) gouache on paper that was a restituted work and was being sold on behalf of the current owner and the heirs of Alfred and Gertrude Sommerguth. I must say that when viewing the sale, I paid very little attention to it, but at least two people really wanted it. Not sure why, but then again, what do I know?  The work carried a $200-300K estimate and sold for $550K ($687.5K w/p)… so I am sure both parties were happy. The other was a small (12 x 9 inch) study of a jockey by Munnings. The painting was from the Moran collection, had a $15-20K estimate, and sold for $40K ($50K w/p).

Sadly, some pricey works went unsold. Among the more expensive were Julius Stewart’s The Hunt Supper (est. $2-3M), Bouguereau’s Tricoteuse (est. $1.2-1.8M), Munning’s Who’s the Lady? And Two Studies ($800-$1.2M), Segantini’s Ritratto dells signora Torelli (est. $600-800K), and Edward Hughes’ Wings of the Morning ($400-600K). Also, Gustav Bauernfeind’s Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives at Sunset (est. $2-3M), was withdrawn just before the sale. The funny thing is that the same painting was offered in a 2020 Sotheby’s London sale with an estimate of £3-4M and was also withdrawn.

When the short session finished, of the 36 works offered, 22 sold (a sell-through rate of 61%), and the total take was $8.09M ($10.05M w/p). The presale estimate was $12.9-$19.8M, so they were way short even with the buyer’s premium. Digging a bit deeper, we find that of the sold lots 9 were below, 6 within, and 7 above their expected range. When we added the unsold lots, this left them with an accuracy rate of just 16.6%. 

We all want to see these sales succeed, so the main auction rooms must be very choosy with the works they offer. The estimates need to reflect the quality and salability of each piece, and those works with serious condition issues should be pushed to the side.