On the 15th of October, Christie’s online sale of mid to lower-level European art closed, and while some lots generated action, many others had a tough go.
The most expensive work in the sale was a bit of a surprise. Léon Herbo’s small (14.75 x 11.5 inches) Portrait of an Art Connoisseur, possibly Ira Aldridge was expected to bring $20-30K and eventually hammered down at $110K ($137.5K w/p). I guess the figure could be Aldridge, but Herbo was born in 1850, and Ira Aldridge (an actor) died in 1867. That would mean that if Herbo painted it from life, he was just a teenager. It is also interesting to note that this painting came up in a European sale back in 2019. Then it was cataloged as Ecole du XIXe siècle L’amateur en haut-de-forme au vernissage d’un salon (19th-century school The amateur in a top hat at the opening of a salon), carried a €600-800 estimate and sold for €5,000 ($5,700); so that seller was very happy!
A collaborative work between Jean B.C. Corot and Jules Antoine Demeur took second place. Arleux-du-Nord—le bord des clairs was painted in 1871, had an estimate of $40-60K, and hammered at $75K ($94K w/p). This one surprised me a bit since it had some condition issues, was not a strong work, and had sold in October 2020 for $60K ($75K w/p). However, the painting that took the third spot was even more of a surprise (I would have bet that this one would not sell). Louis M de Schryver’s Paris – The Flower Market on the Île de la Cité was not one of the artist’s more impressive works. The painting was offered in 2019 with a $200-300K estimate, and in 2020 with a $120-180K estimate; both times it went unsold. Even though the painting has some serious condition issues, which included a good deal of inpainting on the central figure and the face of the woman on the far right, someone did not care and bought it for $70K ($87.5K w/p – est. $70-100K). Why?
In fourth place was Charles Daubigny’s Les Laveuses au bord de la Seine à Bonnière; a beautiful, tranquil landscape that generated a bit of interest and sold for $65K ($81K w/p – est. $30-50K). In fifth, there was a tie. Louis-Ernest Barrias’ bronze and marble sculpture Nature Revealing Herself Before Science (est. $30-50K), and Firmin-Girard’s Le quai aux fleurs et la tour de l’horlage (a small/weak work with a fair bit of inpainting in the sky – est. $20-30K) both sold for $55K ($69K w/p).
The only other work that generated strong interest was Alphonse Mucha’s Portrait of the Artist’s Daughter in Slavic Dress; a small chalk on paper estimated at $8-$12K that sold for $38K ($47.5K w/p). There were, however, many works that did not sell… these included paintings by Rochegrosse ($200-300K), Breton ($60-80K), Reekers ($60-80K), von Blaas ($60-80K), Sorolla ($60-80K), and Diaz de la Pena ($30-50K).
Of the 62 lots offered, 36 sold (58%), and the total achieved was $1.09M ($1.37M w/p). The presale estimate range was $1.68-$2.5M, so they fell short even with the buyer’s premium. Of the 36 sold lots, 14 were below, 10 within, and 12 above their estimate range, leaving an accuracy rate of just 16%.
When you are looking to purchase a work of art, you need to be smart. Buying something just because it looks good to the naked eye may not be a wise decision. As a buyer, you need to dig a little deeper. Find out about the work’s condition (not every painting is perfect, but you do not want those that have serious issues), and try to determine how the work fits into the artist’s oeuvre – when was it painted, is it a subject that people expect to see, etc. Some of us in the art world do not want to see people throw away their money.