Well, the spring auction season has come and gone and I always find it very interesting how the various newspapers report on the sales.
Late April saw the 19th century sales in New York and as expected many of the works being offered were less than desirable. In general the results were as expected, but there were a number of pleasant surprises and a whole bunch of … “you got to be kidding!” results.
Up for sale were a number of fairly unattractive works by James Tissot, all with lengthy catalog entries that included images of other, more attractive, works and all had hefty estimates. Glad to see that none of them found buyers. Vittorio Corcos’ monumental Maria Luisa Isabella Spada Veralli, featuring a rather odd looking woman seated on chaise longue, carried a $250 - $350,000 estimate and failed to find a taker. Ignacio Zuloaga y Zabaleta’s Mercedes, another monumental portrait of a rather unattractive (to put it mildly) woman with the same estimate, also did not sell. No takers for the ugly, which is good to see.
Emile Munier’s May I?, featuring an adorable young girl and measuring just 19 ½ x 16 inches commanded $180,000 while his large painting Sugar and Spice brought a ‘you’ve got to be kidding’ price of over $295,000. I say this because the work was recently offered for sale in London in its un-restored condition … which to put it mildly was horrific. The painting sold to a British dealer for about $114,000 who subsequently had the work repainted and somehow it ended up in the New York sale where someone got far less than they paid. On a similar note, William Bouguereau’s Portrait of a Young Girl (17 ½ x 14 ½ inches) carried an estimate of $150 - $180,000 … like the large Munier, this painting had extensive restoration … by my estimate about 50% of the painting was reworked. What I can only assume was an uninformed buyer plunked down $180,000 for her. While discussing Bouguereau I should also mention that his Enfant Tressant une Couronne, a beautiful composition from 1874 made over $867,000 and his reduction of Song of the Angels (which also had some serious condition issues) brought an over-the-top result of $1.58 million. Louis de Schryver’s A Flower Seller (1892) brought $240,000; Rico y Ortega’s Venetian Lagoon … also found a buyer at $240,000; P. van Schendel’s large A Night at the Sea-Fish Market brought an impressive $609,000; E. von Blaas’ Young Beauty with a Fruit Basket made $408,000; Atkinson Grimshaw, a favorite with the British, held his own with the top price of $632,000 being paid for A Golden Beam.
One saleroom offered over 268 works; of those 160 sold for a total of $20.49 million; even more interesting is that the top 20 works made up more than 50% of the sales total. The other sale featured 230 works, of those 133 found buyers for a total of $8.86 million. In this sale the top 15 works accounted for almost 60% of the sale total. What this illustrated is that with some exceptions, buyers are looking for high quality, good condition paintings that have attractive subject matter and are properly priced. For the most part, the 19th century market is still in a healthy cycle.
Now on to the Impressionists!
On the Saturday before the sales I walked through both exhibitions and was somewhat disappointed by the general lack of quality material that was being offered. While this was not a good thing for the auction rooms, it was nice to see that those collectors who own the really good works are not looking to sell at this time. Many, most likely, feel the way we do … more good times are on the horizon.
The New York Times’ art editor usually covers these sales and this season was no exception. What I did find very amusing was the title and first sentence of Carol Vogel’s article in May 5th edition … Art Market Bounces Back in 2nd Night of Spring Sales “In just 24 hours, the art market came back to life.” Are you trying to tell me that the energy in the Wednesday evening sale as compared to the Tuesday evening sale was caused by anything other than the fact that the works on Wednesday were better? I do not think so! What the title should have read was something like … Buyers Favor the Finer Works, or Discriminating Buyers Look for Quality, or even better Good Paintings find Buyers while the Bad, Ugly and Overestimated go Begging! … now on to the results:
Among the more interesting highlights were Claude Monet’s Vetheuil, après-midi, $6.62 million and his Les bords de la Seine a Argenteuil, $4.83 million; Pablo Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger, $18.6 million and his rather chunky portrait Téte et main de femme, $13.45 million; Rodin’s Eve, $2.36 million; Max Beckmann’s Self-Portrait with Crystal Ball, $16.8 million; Leger’s Les campeurs, $7.63 million; Pierre Bonnard’s Interieur avec des fleurs, $5.39 million; Cezanne’s Les grands arbres au Jas de Bouffan, $11.7 million; and the weeks superstar Brancusi’s Bird in Space sculpture with sold for $27.4 million.
Among the low points, which included the bad, ugly and over estimated, were Beckmann’s Perseus’ Last Duty ($4 - $6 million estimate); Chaim Soutine’s Le garcon en blue ($4 - $6 million); Matisse’s Le reflet ($5 - $7 million); Leger’s Les maisons dans les arbres ($8 - $12 million) and Kandinsky’s Two Riders and Reclining Figure ($15 - $25 million) ... all of which failed to find buyers.
To put the Impressionist market into perspective in relation to the 19th century market, here is an interesting point to ponder … the Brancusi sculpture made $27.4 million; do you realize that the buyer of that piece could have purchased almost all of the works sold in the 19th century sales for that sum? So instead of one work he could have owned close to 300!
In the end almost $300 million worth of Impressionist and Modern art changed hands that week. In my book that is still a large sum and a good sign that this market is not only very healthy, but that many people are not just buying a signature.
Up next, the Contemporary sales!
I have to begin by saying that I only saw some of the works for sale … after my first visit I just could not handle some of the ‘stuff’ that was for sale and the prices they were estimated for. I actually laughed a few times at a number of the ‘things’ (hard for me to use the word ‘works of art’) and almost passed out when I saw the estimates … and the results prove that I am just plain stupid when it comes to contemporary art .
First up, my favorite artist – Maurizio Cattelan. His Mini-me a 15 x 8 x 10 inch sculptural version of the artist that one could place on the edge of a shelf (just what I always wanted) sold for $441,600; however this golden boy of the last few sales may have seen his day as his Frank and Jamie (life size sculptures of two security guards that are standing on their heads), that was estimated at $1.4 - $1.8 million, and his taxidermied Ostrich ($1.2 - $1.6 million) failed to find buyers … could it be that there is some sanity? As you will see, I do not think so. The next shocker was (and I will apologize in advance for the title) Mike Kelley’s ET’s long neck, two brains, penis and scrotum, I do not really know how to classify it so we will use the word sculpture, which was made from found stuffed animals sewn together, brought an embarrassing $408,000. I am really going to have to reassess my knowledge of what makes something a work of art. Then there was Jeff Koons’ Red Butt (Close up), a title that really does not describe the pornographic image, that sold for $520,000. I know that if I came home with that work, my wife would have me sleeping in the garage, with the painting!
As for the Blue Chip boys, they faired pretty well: Franz Kline’s 13 x 10 inch Red Field made $576,000; while his large (78 x 69 inch) Crow Dancer brought $6.4 million (auction record); de Kooning’s Sail Cloth (1949) brought $13.12 million; Rothko’s Untitled (1964) made just over $10 million while his No. 10 (1949) sold for $1.69 million; Philip Guston’s The Street (1956) made a whopping $7.29 million; Edward Hopper’s Chair Car brought $14 million (another auction record); Lucian Freud’s Naked Woman on a Sofa (one of the ugliest nudes I have seen) sold for $5.5 million; Warhol’s Flowers made $7.8 million while his Liz (1963) made $12.6 million (it was reported that the seller of this work purchased it from the artist for $1,000 in 1964); Chuck Close’s John brought a record $4.83 million; and Roy Lichtenstein’s Blue Nude (1995) made $5.28 million.
In the end, over $300 million was sold in the 4 days and as many as 20 new auction records were set.
It has become clear to me, and sometimes painfully so, that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. While I can appreciate all periods of art, I found myself in a state of shock after seeing what I would classify as ‘stuff’ sold for. Great art will always be great art, and the rest will, at some point, wash out with the tide.
Another Exhibition in Oklahoma
This fall, the Oklahoma City Museum of Art will present Artist as Narrator: Nineteenth Century Narrative Art in England and France. This exhibit will run from September 8 through November 27, 2005 and will explore the stylized richness of 19th century genre paintings and their various subject matter, ranging from Shakespearean scenes to historical accounts to biblical images. With over 100 paintings loaned from over 50 museums and private collectors, the exhibit will include such artists as Henri Fantin-Latour, Julien Dupré, Jules Breton, Arthur Hughes, Frederic Leighton, and W. P. Frith.
Among the featured works will be 10 paintings that Rehs Galleries has sold, including Emile Munier’s May I Have One Too; Victor Marias-Milton’s The New Chef; Adrien Moreau’s The Ferry; Louis de Schryver’s Apre l’avers: Place du Theatre Français and A Young Man’s Fancy; Daniel Ridgway Knight’s Going to the Wash House; Joseph Caraud’s The Pet Canaries; Julien Dupré’s Glaneuses and Femme Versant a Boire; as well as Auguste Bonheur’s Ploughing in the Nivernais. For many of these works it will be the first time they will be displayed for public viewing.
Please remember that the museum normally prints their catalogues in a limited run, so if you want to purchase one, please check with them just before the show opens.
Gallery Updates: The gallery has started its summer hours. During the month of June we are open Monday through Thursday from 10am – 5:30 pm; all other times by appointment.
Next Month: I will finish up my Art Market report – sorry, ran out of room – and will update you on the many sales that have taken place in the gallery … and there have been many, including works by Corot, Dupré, Munier, Zuber-Buhler, Wiggins, Cortes, Blanchard, and Swatland.
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