I know that we are all wondering: how long can this market continue? Boy do I wish I could answer that question. What I can tell you is that in the realm of 19th century paintings, there is a dramatic decrease in the number of fine quality paintings coming to the market ... while on the other hand, there are many new people looking to acquire these works. The most recent sales in New York, this past month, attest to the serious lack of quality material appearing at public auction and the increase in interested buyers … many of whom seemed to care very little about the work’s quality or condition.
The two major sale rooms had their main fall 19th century sales in late October … and it appeared that, other than a few handfuls of nice works, they were scraping the sides and bottom of the barrel. These sales were filled with more overpriced, overcleaned, poor conditioned, late, and what I would characterize as ... "are you sure the artist actually painted that", works than one would care to view. There were over-cleaned Corots, Bouguereaus and Seignacs ... some of which carried ridiculous estimates. Paintings by Zampighi & Reggianini that I have a hard time believing were actually painted by those artists ... and if in fact they were ... the artist should have destroyed them!
This was a serious case of too few good, many more bad and as many ugly works … and buyers showed up and bought a tremendous amount of the offerings for, at times, what I would characterize as unbelievable prices.
Among the good were L’hermitte’s August … a wonderfully light and energetic pastel which carried and estimate of $40 - $60,000 and sold for $205,000 … worth every penny; William Bouguereau’s Jeunesse made $2.39 million, a reasonable price for such an important work, while his Glaneuse brought $1.83 million (against a $700 - $1 million estimate) … a big price for a very nice, but not major, work; Alexei Harlamoff’s small portrait of Sonia (est. $100 - $150,000) brought $385,000; Arthur von Ferraris’ The Blind Man, 1892 made a real impressive $937,000 … the interesting note here is that some 15 plus years ago we sold an 1889 version of this painting for less that $40,000 (if you search our site you can see an image of the painting). And top honors for the series of sales went to Gustave Courbet for his well painted Le veau blanc … a side view of a white calf … estimated at $320 - $380,000 - the new owner forked over $2.505 million for that side of veal!
Among the bad, and there were many to choose from, were Corot’s overcleaned Les Saules a la Pointe de L’ile – estimated at $250,000-$350,000 – that someone actually paid $397,000 for; his seriously brown colored Les Vacheres a la Fontaine – estimated at $600 - $800,000 - luckily did not find a buyer; however his rather thin Fontainebleau, les chenes de Mont Ussy estimated at $180,000 - $220,000 made $217,000. There was a really poor conditioned (extensive pigment separation) Henry J. Boddington that found a buyer at $25,000; Bouguereau’s condition issued Le voeu a Sainte-Anne-d’Auray carried an extremely optimistic (in my opinion) estimate of $700 - $900,000 and made a ridiculous $1.83 million!!! Guess that shows you what I know … or maybe what the buyer did not know?
As for the ugly … a seriously ugly conditioned John Linnell (flattened in the relining process) carried and estimate of $125 - $175,000 (come on) and thankfully did not sell; a real late, and ugly, Zampighi – estimate $20 - $30,000 – brought $28,000; while V. Reggianini’s horrible, yes horrible, The Piano Recital carried an estimate of $150,000 - $200,000 and I am sad to report, found a buyer at $169,000; and Fred Morgan’s dreadful See-Saw, estimate $200 - $300,000, happily found no takers.
When all was said and done, almost $39 million worth of 19th century art changed hands (about the price of a really nice Monet or a pretty good Picasso). Of the 555 works offered 346 found new homes. Quite an impressive total if one takes into account the problems with the works that were offered. In my opinion, the unsold rate of 37% (or 209 works) should have been much higher. People … doesn’t condition and quality count for something!?
To Sell or Not to Sell, That is the Question.
As I recently mentioned, we have received a number of interesting questions from our readers and I will begin addressing them here. First up: When should you sell? When the market is hot, or when one is “tired” of a painting?
Actually, the time to sell is when you are in those twilight years of life and each of your kids wants the one good painting you have … then you should sell and go on a nice long vacation! And for those of you who are still in the early years of life, my advice is the same it has always been …if you enjoy a work and do not need to sell, then don’t. As Mr. E., a big Contemporary art collector, once stated to me … “once you sell a work, you are out of the game.” Today, the art market has proven itself to be a viable arena for one to diversify their assets. As the number of quality works diminishes and the number of people looking to purchase increases, the long term outlook is a positive one and while not every work you buy will increase in value at the same percentage rate, over a long enough period, it is our belief that most quality works will bring their owners great financial rewards ... not to mention the joy you receive from looking and owning the works. And if we look at what just happened in the New York sales … even some of those poor condition works will do well.
Getting back to the question at hand … if you are in the art market strictly to make money, then when the market is hot is the time to sell … you will probably see your biggest short term gain at that point. However, if you are buying works of art because you enjoy them, then the time to sell is when you tire of them; let’s face it, unless you are in it just for the money, what is the point of owning a work of art that you no longer want to look at?
The key to buying correctly in the art world is seeking the advice of truly knowledgeable people and buying works that not only speak to you, but those you want to live with and enjoy for a long period of time.
You Mean I Have to Pay for that Painting?
The next question asked was: How do you arrange payment for a work of art? This really depends on where you are buying the piece. If you are purchasing directly from an artist or from a private individual, you are probably going to have to pay for it before they will release the item to you … and in many instances they may want the funds to have cleared their account. If you are buying from an auction room, and do not have a line of credit with them, the same terms will most likely apply. The best way to accomplish this is making your payment via bank transfer.
When buying from a gallery or dealer, there is usually a bit more flexibility. Ideally, everyone likes to be paid at the time the transaction is consummated. And in many instances galleries will also want to have cleared funds before they release an item … especially if it is your first purchase. But, galleries are also happy to work with clients in order to make the purchase of a work more comfortable and many will go out of their way to arrange a payment schedule that fits your needs … many don’t charge extra for this.
It always pays to ask the gallery if they can extend some level of credit … especially if purchasing a work you really want goes beyond your comfort level or stretches your currently available funds. We often have both young and seasoned collectors who want something that might normally be out of their reach, in terms of price … this could be a painting for as little as $2,000 or as high as $1 million. However, by allowing them to pay for it over time they can more comfortably afford it.
It is also important to remember that most galleries, unlike auction rooms, will allow you to view the work in your home (some may want payment before doing this) and if, for some reason, the work does not look right, will give you a complete refund (usually minus any shipping costs). But be sure to check this out before you finish your transaction … there are galleries who will only give you a ‘store credit’, even if you only had the painting in your home for a day or two.
Gallery Updates: This month we will be exhibiting at the ART20 exhibition at the 67th Street Armory in New York City. The show runs from November 9 – 12 and we will be featuring exciting works by Ugo Giannini, Barry Oretsky, Sally Swatland, Allan Banks, John Kuhn, Holly Banks, Cortès and Blanchard.
This month works by the following artists have made their way through the gallery: Julien Dupré, Eugene Boudin, Edouard Cortès, Antoine Blanchard, Alfred de Breanski, Sally Swatland, and Gregory F. Harris.
Web Site Updates:We have added, or will be adding, works by the following artists to our web site this month: Jean B.C. Corot, Eugene Galien-Laloue, Daniel Ridgway Knight, Edouard Cortès, Antoine Blanchard, Sally Swatland, and John Kuhn.
Next month:I will continue my Art Market Updates and tackle more reader’s questions.