Saturday, 6 July 2013

Old Master Sales

Five studies of children
Picture: Christie's
Good drawings by the most famous draughtsmen made high prices last week, but there's a big gap in the middle market. Neil Jeffares points out on Twitter that the top two lots at Christie's and the top four at Sotheby's make up 43% of their respective sale totals. Some of the most interesting sheets went for relatively low prices. 

Christie's Old Master Drawings made £5,473,050. The fine Goya made £1,517,875 and the Watteau £817,875 (above). I thought the Watteau might have done even better. Watteau drawings in his characteristic three-crayon technique in black, red and white chalk are most esteemed. This one is a red chalk study, but it's superb - a great drawing, and a charming subject. The few outstanding Watteaus still in private hands are mainly in French collections, meaning that they could be pre-empted by a French museum or donated in lieu of taxes. This is one of the best still freely available. 

The Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo that I tipped made £21,250 - slightly above estimate, but still good value in my opinion. The lovely Danube School landscape made £60k hammer against a £50k-£80k estimate. Christie's reports the price as £73,875 but this lot is additionally subject to 5% sales tax on the hammer price, so the buyer might have paid £79,650 if liable for UK sales tax (5% on hammer price, 20% on premium). Ah, the complexities of auction prices! I was surprised that this Roslin pastel made only £22,500. Not the prettiest face, but a shimmering image. An unsurprising but regrettable failure was the album of Roman views by Pieter van Bloemen that didn't sell, which I was delighted to look through at the viewing. The estimate of £150k-£200k was reasonable for 255 views, but albums are hard to display. It will be a great shame if it's broken up. I wish a museum had stepped up to buy it and ensure it stays together - it would fit nicely in the Getty's collection, given the Getty's strong collection of Roman antiquities. Hope they buy it after the sale.
Picture: Sotheby's
The Sotheby's sale surprisingly did less well (£4,653,929), despite having a much larger sale with plenty of valuable lots. The headline numbers can be misleading in assessing relative commercial success, because so much depends on the terms achieved on private sales of the lots that didn't reach their reserves. The biggest casualties were the two Goyas, less nice than Christie's's and ambitiously estimated at £1.2m-£1.6m. Their more characteristic Watteau sold for £494,500 - a nice drawing, but it appealed to me less than the one at Christie's. The superb Boucher (above) did better, making £506,500 against an estimate of £150k-£200k. That's a high price for a Boucher, but absolutely deserved for this wonderful drawing. The surprises were that the marvelous Liotard failed to sell against a £350k-£450k estimate that I thought conservative, and that the anonymous drapery study that I admired made only £16k (£20k with premium). It's not the most commercial drawing, but still the bargain of the day.

The Mater Dolorosa
Picture: Christie's
Some one is seeing something I don't see in this 'Circle of Rubens' (above) that made £193,875 against an estimate of £2k-£4k at Christie's South Kensington. You can zoom in on the excellent Christie's website. It doesn't look like Rubens - in fact, it doesn't even look very good. Maybe I'm missing something. The impasto highlights seem crude and the homogeneous area of thick paint on the cheek isn't like Rubens. Art History News brought the 'Rubens' to my attention, and has great summaries of the paintings sales. Overall I thought there were few surprises in the evening sales. The Willem de Poorter that I thought underestimated made three times its high estimate at Christie's, selling for £217,875 including premium. Sotheby's estimated each of their two pictures by El Greco at £3m-£5m. I wasn't surprised that the better one made £8.1m (£9,154,500 with premium) and the worse made £3m (£3,442,500 with premium). I was surprised that the Rubens at Christie's made only its low estimate of £1.5m hammer (£1,741,875 with premium) - it would have done better if I'd only won the lottery in time. 

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