To begin with let me wish you all a very safe, healthy, happy and successful New Year! And please not to drink and drive and always remember to wear your seat belts! Okay, now that my public service message is over I thought that this month I would give you a quick review of what has been happening in the art market during the last few months.
The Art Market – Still Going Strong!
As we are all aware, the stock market has been on a rebound … thank goodness … and I am sure that many of you, or at least those who are still invested in it, now have a bit of a smile on your face. It is a great feeling to know that maybe, someday, we might possibly return to those lofty levels of yesteryearJ.
This past fall and early winter saw the art market continue its upward trend with strong prices for great quality works and high failure rates for the poor ones. Remember that today the auction rooms are being forced to take just about anything in order to fill their sales and many of the works that dealers have been offered directly by the sellers and passed on, end up in these sales … leaving the sales filled with many mediocre works.
The season began with the 19th century European painting sales in New York and while the actual works offered left a lot to be desired, many of the paintings had condition and quality issues with only 60% finding buyers, there were a few interesting results. William A. Bouguereau’s large La Petite Tricoteuse (1875) made $735,500, his Le Baiser (1863), similar in size, but slightly less interesting commanded $713,600 and Le Gué, a late (1895), large and somewhat odd looking work, failed to sell with a $500,000 - $700,000 estimate, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s Melody on a Mediterranean Terrace sold for $792,000, Hungarian artist Mihály Munkácsy’s The Two Families (1880) made a record $662,700, Frederick Morgan’s His First Birthday made $545,100, John Atkinson Grimshaw’s Late October made $344,000, Arthur John Elsley’s Hide and Seek made $321,000 (a work that we sold back in 1982 for a mind boggling $15,000 – not a bad return for the owners), and Victor Gilbert’s small La marchande de fleurs made $98,000 while his slightly larger Un marché parisien sold for $105,160.
These sales were followed closely by the Impressionist sales - where strong prices were also recorded for those works that were fresh to the market and of the ‘right quality’. The star of the sales was Gustav Klimt's Landhaus Am Attersee selling for $29.128 million (auction record), followed closely by Amedeo Modigliani's 1917 Reclining Nude which sold for $26.9 million, and Fernand Leger's La femme en rouge et vert at $26.89 million. Alexej Jawlensky portrait of Schokko made an auction record of $8.3 million, Henry Moore’s - Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped made $6.17 million while Van Gogh’s small, and I do mean small (9 ½ x 6 ½ inch), still life - Nature morte avec branche fleurie et livre - made $4.375 million – that’s about $70,564 per square inch … and many of you think Cortès’ paintings are expensive when you figure them out by the square inch!
Another week went by and it was time for the Contemporary sales. The top lot was Willem de Kooning's Spike's Folly I (1959) which sold for $11.2 million while Mark Rothko's No. 8 (White Stripe) made a respectable $8.85 million and his work Untitled from 1963 made $7.175 million. Alexander Calder’s untitled red stabile from 1968 sold for $5.8 million, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s large Untitled (Two Heads on, Gold) from 1982 made $4.6 million and Lee Krasner’s mural-sized abstraction from 1960, Celebration, sold for a record $1.9 million. There were also auction records set for a Roy Lichtenstein sculpture - $2.13 million along with records for works by Agnes Martin ($2.58 million), Brice Marden ($2.47 million), Susan Rothenberg ($1 million), Hans Hofmann ($1.1 million), Joan Mitchell ($903,500), Takashi Murakami ($623,500), Lee Bontecou ($456,000), Marlene Dumas ($332,300) and Yoshitomo Nara ($130,700).
There were also some interesting 19th century European results across the Atlantic. While these sales also had their fair share of works that failed to find buyers … quite a few in fact … they also had some amazing highlights -- Joaquín Sorolla y Bastida’s large, 33 x 46 inch work from 1904, La hora del baño (The bathing hour) sold for the hefty sum of $6.2 million and his small, 18 x 21 inch 1906 work, Barcas en la playa (Boats on the beach) made $535,000; even more impressive was a severely underestimated (180,000 – 250,000 British Pounds) work by Telemaco Signorini titled L'alzaia (The tow-path) that finally hammered down at $4.7 million, Henri Gervex’s Retour de bal realized $488,000 and William A. Bouguereau’s late (1894) and somewhat unattractive La Vague sold below its estimate for $583,000 ... a relatively strong price for an image of a smiling plump nude seated by the shore about to be engulfed by a large wave – would be interesting to see if she was still smiling after the wave hit her … I don’t think so!
Rounding out the New York season were the American sales … and there were many strong, and at times unbelievable, prices. The star of the sales was Albert Bierstadt’s Yosemite Valley, a 38 x 61 inch canvas that sold for $7.17 million (the scuttlebutt is that the sellers bought it from a gallery in 1977 for $1 million, but on good authority, it seems as though they only paid about $200,000), Marsden Hartley’s Storm Down Pine Point Way sold for $2.36 million, Maurice Prendergast’s Promenade sold for $1.9 million (auction record), Georgia O’Keeffe’s Birch and Pine Trees – Pink made $1.8 million, a tiny (9 x 6 ¾ inch) watercolor by Winslow Homer sold for $1.69 million, a small Thomas Cole made $1.46 million (auction record), Daniel Garber’s Bryam Hills, Springtime made $1.13 million, Frederic Remington’s The Mountain Man made $1.13 million, and a small (14 x 10 inch) watercolor by Childe Hassam made $960,000.
Keep in mind that I am only giving you a few of the highlights from the season and that these sales contained many other works, some sold and many others did not. There were poor quality works, those that had condition problems, some with estimates so high they would never sell, and a handful that had been shopped to death. There were also many more important works that made their way directly to galleries and did not appear on the ‘auction block’ … we were fortunate to acquire, and sell, some of them.
What we are continuing to see in many of these markets is, if I can borrow a phrase from Wall Street, ‘a flight to quality’. People are still look at art as an alternative ‘investment’ vehicle … the trick is to know which works are the ‘quality ones’ – those that have the chance of making ‘record prices’ in the future!
We covered a good deal of material this year and I hope some of you found it useful. I discussed Insuring works of art (Volume 25); steps you can take to help reduce the chances of Theft (Volume 26); Framing (Volume 27); proper ways to Store works of art (Volume 28); how to Transport works of art (Volume 29); a number of ways to Sell, or market, a work of art (Volumes 30, 31 and 32); the proper way to Photograph a work of art (Volume 33) and how to get works of art you own included in historically important exhibitions (Volumes 34, 35 and 36). All of them can be found on our web site in the Newsletter Archives.
As I have said many times, we are always available to answer any specific questions you may have on any of the topics; and welcome your comments and ideas for future newsletters.
Gallery Updates: Please note that the gallery will be closed from December 29 – January 4 and will reopen on Monday January 5th, 2004. Since our last update we have added works by a number of artists to our web site, including those by Louis M. de Schryver, Louis Aston Knight, Édouard Cortès, Antoine Blanchard, and Sally Swatland
Virtual Exhibitions: This month we have updated Rehs Galleries: A Visual History with two interesting works that I think you will all enjoy seeing. The first is The Estridge off Dover by the marine artist Robert Salmon – considered the father of American 19th century marine art. This important early work, painted in 1800, was sold by the gallery in 1988.
The second painting - Outside the Mosque - by the 19th century French Orientalist artist Eugene Alexis Girardet captures all the light, detail and color that made this artist so popular during his lifetime.
Since our last update we have sold a number of paintings by many of our favorite artists. Images of most of these works have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions; among them were: Louis Aston Knight’s Brittany Evening and his Market Place, Rouen; Cornelius C. Dommelshuizen’s Dome of Utrecht (Holland) and Purmerend (North Holland); Eugene Galien Laloue’s Place de la Republique and Les Bouquinistes; Victor Marais-Milton’s Ses Petits Compagnons; Edouard Cortès’ Marche des fleurs a la Madeleine, Pottery Market in Guingamp, Book Sellers along the Seine, and Rue de la Paix (Place Vendôme), a number of works by Antoine Blanchard including: Champs Elysees (Winter); Place du Chatelet, Boulevard de la Madeleine, Porte St. Denis (Winter); Place de la Republique, and Le Moulin Rouge; along with Sally Swatland’s Spring Picnic and Heidi Coutu’s Garden at Giverny.
Next Month: It’s still too early to tell.
To subscribe to our monthly Comments On The Art Market newsletter, click here.