The action continued in New York this past month with a series of offerings in the 19th century realm … and as we have seen in the past it was another case of The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
I think the salerooms are forgetting that the 19th century market normally trades on the image being presented in a specific painting and not just on the fact that a specific artist painted the work. This is not the Contemporary market where just about anything will sell these days. On top of that, it is really important that the estimate be in line with the work’s value – some were and others were not; there were many instances were they were either overvalued or undervalued.
I will begin with The Good. First up was Bouguereau’s Chansons de printemps … a wonderful, crisp, and fresh image, though there were heavy horizontal bands of cracking throughout … but that did not deter the new owner from parting with $1.72 million to acquire it. Arthur J. Elsley’s The Happy Pair made $768,000; Eugene von Blaas Awaiting the Return made $712,000 (this work was last on the market in 1998 and sold for $371,000); Jean B.C. Corot’s Le Sentier au Printemps (est. $120 - $180,000) was underbid by Rehs Galleries and sold for $540,000; John W. Godward’s Memories made $552,000; John A. Grimshaw’s small (18 x 14 inch) Under the Moonbeams, Knostrop Hall, which carried an estimate of $120-$180,000, cost the new owner $492,000 (this was last on the market in 1995, in London, and sold for $37,000 .. now that was a nice profit); Rosa Bonheur’s The Horse Fair (a watercolor of her painting at the Metropolitan Museum of Art) made $480,000; Pierre Van Elven’s A View of Jerusalem, (est. $60,000 - $80,000) brought $432,000; Montague Dawson’s A Clipper Ship in a Moonlit Sea brought $420,000; Frederick A. Bridgman’s Outside the Mosque (est. $120 - $180,000) brought $408,000; Vittorio Reggianini’s lovely La Soiree (est. $150-$200,000) made a strong $360,000; a beautiful small Jules Breton Young Brittany Girl Knitting (15 x 10 ½ inches) made $228,000; Martin Rico y Ortega’s Rio San Trovaso brought $420,000; and Leon Perrault’s The Young Seamstress (est. $25 - $35,000) found a new home at $144,000.
Next up are The Bad (these are normally a selection of works that are either very late examples, or in bad condition). Vittorio Reggianini’s rather late Seduction found a buyer at $114,000; Paul Guigou’s over-cleaned Une matinée d’automme à Cernay found a taker at $120,000 (it last sold in 2000 for $82,500); Emile Munier’s poor conditioned La Jatte de Lait made an amazing $252,000 (with this artist, it appears that the market just does not care about condition); Rosa Bonheur’s rather dull and thin Royal Tiger Marching ($40-$60,000) made an equally amazing $156,000; J.B.C. Corot’s Le Monastere … which had many areas of restoration … found a taker at $262,000; and William Bouguereau’s bad subject (in my opinion) Le Jour des Morts (two women, dressed in black, by a grave) found a buyer at $240,000 … this same work sold in 1996 for $101,000 and again in 2004 for $176,000 … humm, maybe graveyard scenes aren’t so bad?
Finally there were The Ugly (these are normally those works that have ugly estimates, or the image itself, in my humble opinion, is UGLY!). Mihaly Munkacsy’s The Little Sugar Thief, which featured a rather ugly little girl, found a taker at just over $600,000; Jean Meissonier’s tiny (9 x 12 inch) Diamanche à Poissy, which carried a rather ugly estimate of $350 - $450,000, failed to find a new home; E.L. Weeks’ A View on the Nile, a works whose quality left a lot to be desired (est $400 - $600,000) was returned to its owner; Jean B.C. Corot’s small Ville d’Avray (an ugly landscape with an added signature) sold for $72,000, while his Femme assise tenant une mandoline, an unfinished and rather ugly woman, failed to find a new home; and John W. Waterhouse’s Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May (which still carried a rather ugly estimate of $1.75-$2.5 million) did not sell the second time around … last time it carried an even uglier £2 - £3 million ($4 - $6 million) estimate.
When all was said and done, about $32 million worth of 19th century art changed hands. Of the 500 items offered, 372 found buyers ... about 74%. These are very respectable numbers in the 19th century world, but one that does not hold a candle to many of the other markets where 1 painting can sell for what 372 paintings sold for.
This past month only confirmed what many of us already know: the number of good quality works, in good condition, is diminishing and those that are prime examples will command strong prices. We are also seeing ‘new’ people entering the 19th century arena and it is our belief that if the market continues to move in the same direction it has been for the last 6 or 7 years, we are in store for even more impressive prices. Brook Mason recently reported in The New York Sun that: Once disparaged as kitsch, 19th century European art is finally having its day, as prices climb, specialty sales increase, and buyers cross over from other categories of art long recognized as having high value.
As we always say, it is so important to be careful when buying works from this period. You want to be certain that the painting you acquire is a good quality piece in good condition, and from the right periods. While the market is hot, almost anything will sell, but when it finally cools down those people holding works with condition issues or from the wrong period might find them very difficult to sell.
Art Market Inefficiency
Over the years I have mentioned many times that works of art will sell in another city or country and then be sent to New York where they make even more money. Here are a few additional examples of the art market’s inefficiency. In December 2006 a work by Carlo Bossoli sold in a London sale for about $9,900 … the same painting was offered in the April sales in New York and sold for $26,400; Vincenzo Marinelli’s A Game of Dice in the Temple of King Seti I also sold in London this past December for about $15,300 and just 4 months later made $33,600; Tadeusz Ajdukiewicz’s The Road to Bizerte, Tunisia sold in Canada last May for just over $25,000 … 11 months later it brought $150,000. You need to keep in mind that the reverse can happen as well … especially when unknowledgeable buyers get caught up in the auction fever … William Didier-Pouget’s rather average Le Matin, Gruyères en Fleurs sold for a rather robust $21,600 in New York in October 2006 … this time around (April 2007) it made a more palatable $14,400.
More Interesting Results
Now I am sure many of you are wondering, is this continued strength only in the ‘art market’ … and I can happily say no. Over the past few months we have seen similar results in many other markets; below are some highlights.
Most of you probably heard about this first one … the ever reappearing Honus Wagner baseball card that was once owned by Wayne Gretzky and Bruce McNall (they purchased it in 1991 for just over $450,000). In the past 20 years this card, considered the finest in existence, has sold 4 times. Its last appearance was in 2000, when it made $1.265 million … this time around, the new owner had to fork over $2.35 million. They estimate that fewer than 60 Wagner cards have surfaced … might be time to check those old boxes in your attic! In the world of daily cartoon strips, a wonderful “Peanuts” that featured Snoopy as the “Flying Ace”, from 1989, brought a record shattering $65,247. Rock memorabilia also saw continued strength when Paul McCartney’s working lyrics for Maxwell’s Silver Hammer brought $192,000, and a 1968 Fender Stratocaster once owned by Jim Hendrix fetched $168,000. Western Americana also saw some interesting action – a wonderful 1930s Bohlin Hollywood saddle made almost $75,000 while an important Sherman Loomis horse saddle, c.1870, found a new home at $109,250. However, the highlight of the offerings was an 1880s Main & Winchester three-quarter skirt California saddle which broke all records when it made $230,000. And let’s not fail to mention that a Stetson hat belonging to John Wayne found its way to the market … and the new owner had to part with $86,250 to own it.
Gallery Updates: Among the many works passing through the gallery this month were Edgar Payne’s Concarneau Harbor; two paintings by Daniel Ridgway Knight - The Signal and Watching; Louis Aston Knight’s Diane’s Cottage and Chaumiere, a bord de l'eau; Antoine Barye’s Tigre Marchant; Eugene Galien Laloue’s Place de la Concorde; Edouard Cortes’ Rue de la Paix, Place Vendôme; Antoine Blanchard’s Champs Elysees, Arch de Triomphe (13 x 18), Champs Elysees, Arch de Triomphe (18 x 21), Place de la Republique and Rue Tronchet, La Madeleine; Henry John Yeend King’s The Letter; and Ugo Giannini’s Still Life with Shell.
Web Site Updates: New works by the following artists have been, or will be, added to the web site: Bouguereau, Seignac, Munier, Herring, Dupré, Corot, Levis, Galien Laloue, Cortes, Blanchard, Banks, Swatland, and Harris.