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|Art Market Watch
by Caroline Krockow
|This fall, Christie's held its sale of 19th-century European paintings on Oct. 18, while Sotheby's waited two weeks till Oct. 31 to present its version -- somewhat of an inconvenience for out-of-town collectors. Are the two big auction houses not even allowed to coordinate sales since the price-fixing scandal?
Whatever the reason for the unfortunate timing, the result seems to have been that art buyers left the city before Sotheby's sale!
Christie's offered 121 lots and 72 sold -- 60 percent -- fetching a total of $8,434,475. Sotheby's auction achieved a similar total of $8,809,575, but did so by offering 276 lots in two sessions, more than double the amount. Only 144 of the lots sold, or 52 percent.
Though $8.8 million is nothing to sniff at, 52 percent is an unusually low rate of sale. Polly Sartori, the new head of Sotheby's 19th-century European paintings department in New York, declined to comment.
According to Christie's specialists, Christie's auction did an average of $117,000 per lot, while Sotheby's only sold $61,000 per lot on average.
In any case, this is a market that gives collectors serious opportunities to revel in sentiment with a capital "S." At Christie's the top lots were all about puppies, kittens and kids. Golden Hours (1908) by Arthur John Elsley, which depicts a child's first pony ride fetched $831,000 (est. $600,000-$800,000). The Elsley market seems to be soaring, at least since last May when Good Night! (1905), a picture of a young girl and some puppies, sold exceedingly well for $291,750 ($125,000-$175,000).
While the kids did okay, Henriette Ronner-Knip's trademark felines were bought in. Artful Play, showing a couple of kittens with a painter's palette on a cupboard, failed to meet its reserve price (est. $350,000-$450,000). Ronner-Knip's Kittens (Study) (1898), showing 11 new-borns on a soft blanket, fetched $237,000 in May (est. $20,000-$30,000).
Christie's 19th-century European art expert Wendy Goldsmith noted that "in the 19th-century art market, buyers often focus on specific lots, frequently carrying the price above estimate." After all, she said, "11 new world records were established during this morning's sale, despite selective bidding."
The top record was set for Rudolph Ernst, whose Orientalist The Flower Maidens (ca. 1900) -- depicting two women and a man spreading rose petals in a Hindu temple -- sold for $391,000, (est. $350,000-$450,000). The former record for a work by Ernst, set in 1998, was $255,500.
The second-highest record was set when The Birthday (ca. 1885), a painting by Vittorio Reggianini of a luxuriously dressed girl in a Rococo parlor, who offers rose petals to two ladies, sold for $292,000 (est. $120,000-$180,000). Again with the rose petals! Reggianini's former record was $145,500, set in 1997.
Also drawing a top price was an Orientalist work by Jean-Leon Gerome. Femme nue (ca.1889), a demure scene of two women in a Turkish bath, fetched $435,000 (est. $150,000-$200,000).
The Corot market seems to be coming back. Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's Le cantonnier et sa femme (ca. 1855-60), a melancholy French landscape with two farmers, drawn with heavy brushstrokes, was knocked down for $424,000, the third highest price in the sale (est. $300,000-$400,000).
At Sotheby's, one woeful surprise was that paintings of Parisian life in the Belle époque by Jean Béraud and James Jacques Tissot failed to sell. Sotheby's expected high prices for these works, and had sent them on tour to Los Angeles, London and Paris for viewing in addition to exhibiting them in New York.
Nevertheless, the sale's most expensive lot, Béraud's Boulevard des Capucines, (1893), which was also depicted on the catalogue cover, was bought in (est. $1,750,000-$2,250,000). One of Beraud's most ambitious works, the painting is a snapshot of Paris in the 1880s. In 1998 Sotheby's sold the artist's Casino at Monte Carlo (Rien ne va plus!) for $1,597,500.
Also bought in was Tissot's Study for Le Sphinx (ca. 1883-85), a painting that depicts the mythological creature as a seemingly harmless woman -- the only sign of danger is the hat that may be from one of her victims. It's estimate was $1,250,000-$1,750,000.
Tissot's Sans Dot, which shows an elegant woman in a park caring for an elderly lady but obviously eyeing the passing gentleman as well, also passed (est. $1,500,000-$2,000,000). In 1994, Tissot's Le banc de jardin, a painting of three children with their mother on a luxurious couch in a garden, sold for a record $5,282,500.
Sotheby's had a bit more luck with pictures of the countryside. William Adolphe Bouguereau's Le goutêr (1895), a full-length portrait of his young model Yvonne mischievously glancing at the viewer over her bowl of milk porridge, fetched $720,750 (est. $400,000-$600,000). Bouguereau frequently used Yvonne to pose for his pictures, as he did in Les Prunes, where he depicts her a couple of years younger, proudly presenting a basket of fruits to the viewer. Les Prunes was the third highest lot in the auction, selling for $555,750 (est.$300,000-$400,000).
Sotheby's second highest lot, Leon-Augustin L'Hermitte's The little Goose Girl of Mézy (1892), also a picture of a young girl in the French countryside, sold for $621,750 to an American dealer. (est. $350,000-$550,000).
CAROLINE KROCKOW is an editorial assistant at Artnet Magazine.