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Art Market Watch
Jan. 27, 2006 

Wall Street’s "lore from the floor" suggests that if stocks do well in January, they’ll perform nicely for the rest of the year -- a theory that has been right 92.5 percent of the time, according to Does the "January barometer" apply to the art market as well? The art world hopes so -- January 2006 was a great month for art and antiques auctions in New York. Some highlights (prices given here include the auction-house commission of 20 percent of the first $200,000 of the hammer price and 12 percent of the rest):

* The three days of Americana Week sales at Christie’s New York totaled $41,887,990, a record for such an event. The stand-out lot, George Washington at Princeton (1779) by Charles Willson Peale, sold for $21,296,000 (est. $10,000,000-$15,000,000), a record for an American portrait at auction. The buyer was C.L. Prickett Antiques, headquartered in Bucks County, Pa.

Among the other records was the $1,080,000 paid for a gilt molded goddess liberty weathervane, bought by Boston antiques dealer Stephen Score.

* Americana Week at Sotheby’s New York totaled an impressive $24,693,680, with the collection of Diane and Norman Bernstein bringing in $6,485,080 and the British pottery from the Harriet Carlton Goldweitz collection totaling $1,980,780. Edward HicksThe Peaceable Kingdom (ca. 1846-47) sold for $3,152,000, above the top end of its presale estimate of $2,000,000-$3,000,000. The buyer here was also C.L. Prickett Antiques.

A set of six Queen Anne figured maple rush seat side chairs from ca. 1760 sold for $2,144,000, nearly ten times the presale high estimate of $250,000. Other record-setting furniture lots included a Simon Willard painted Lighthouse Clock, ca. 1823, that went for $744,000 (est. $200,000-$500,000), and a Chippendale carved mahogany side chair from the DeWolf Family of Boston, ca. 1770, that sold for $464,000 (est. $420,000-$40,000). The set of six side chairs was bought by the Pricketts, while the clock was purchased by New York dealer Leigh Keno.

* Christie’s New York’s sale of Old Masters and 19th-century drawings on Jan. 24 totaled $2,409,740, with 141 of 181 lots selling, or 78 percent. The most valuable drawing in the auction, Michelangelo’s rather sketchy Study of a Male Torso, failed to find a buyer; though estimated at $4 million, it clearly was no prize. An anonymous European dealer did purchase Rembrandt’s tiny (ca. 5 x 4 in.) and quick black-chalk sketch of A Seated Man Leaning Forward for $251,200, above the presale high estimate of $200,000. 

* The sale of Old Master drawings at Sotheby’s New York on Jan. 25 totaled $4,835,340, above the presale high estimate of $4,400,000, with 131 of 185 lots finding buyers, or 70.8 percent. Top lot was William Blake’s charming watercolor of Shakespeare’s fairy royalty, Oberon and Titania on a Lily, which sold to San Francisco antiquarian bookseller (and William Blake expert) John Windle.

* Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s New York on the morning of Jan. 26 totaled $57,150,000, within the presale estimate of $43,000,000-$60,000,000, with 233 of 335 lots finding buyers, or 69 percent. Top lot was a luxurious oil on panel Flowers in a Terracotta Vase by Jan van Huysum, the greatest of 18th-century Dutch still life painters, which sold for $7,296,000 (est. $6,000,000-$8,000,000) to Robert Noortman of Noortman Master Paintings in Maastricht. 

The deep-pocketed Kimball Art Museum snagged the 32-inch-tall Donatello terracotta relief of a Madonna and Child (ca. 1450) for $4,440,000 (est. $4,000,000-$6,000,000). The lot seems to have been among the vast trove of artworks owned by Dutch art dealer Jacques Goudstikker, whose collection was looted by Reichmarshall Hermann Göring, as it is listed as being "sold in cooperation with the heir of Jacques Goudstikker." Goudstikker’s daughter-in-law and sole heir, Marei von Saher, has been waging a long and global battle to recover works from her family collection.

And the rediscovered Rembrandt Study of an Elderly Woman in a White Cap – which had hung in a downtown Fort Worth office since being purchased by Mary D. and F. Howard Walsh Sr. in 1971, and was being auctioned by the late couple’s family -- sold to a private collector in New York for $4,272,000. Four bidders vied for the painting, according Sotheby’s vp George Wachter. The same anonymous buyer bought Jan Steen’s lively A Country Wedding (ca. 1662-66) for $632,000 ($200,000-$300,000) and Gerrit Dou’s pious A Bearded Old Man (ca. 1665-70) for $1,248,000 (est. $600,000-$800,000), according to the New York Times.

Late in the sale, the Neapolitan painter Corrado Giaquinto’s The Penitent Magdalene (ca. 1750), a chiaroscuro rendering of Mary Magdalene’s epiphany, complete with angel and memento mori, sold for $1.3 million, more than double the presale high estimate. The work was purchased by New Jersey collector Mark Fisch as a gift for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in honor of Met curator Keith Christiansen, also according to the Times.

* "The Dealer’s Eye" sale at Sotheby’s New York on the afternoon of Jan. 26 was less of an unbridled success, totaling $5,021,599 (est. $7,000,000-$10,000,000) with 37 of 73 lots finding buyers, or just under 51 percent. Though Sotheby’s professed itself "satisfied with the results of this new endeavor" -- a sale constituted entirely by property consigned by dealers -- it would seem that when there are art dealers on both side of the auction transaction, the action is considerably more cautious than usual.

Top lot was a hunting scene by Philips Wouwerman, An Italianate Landscape with a Hawking Party (ca. 1650s), which was consigned by Noortman. It sold for $553,600 (est. $400,000-$600,000) to a "European private collector," suggesting that the work had made a not-altogether-necessary trip across the Atlantic.

Sotheby’s Old Master sales totaled $79,669,380, just at the presale high estimate of $79,000,000, and a new record for a series of Old Master sales.

The $7-million corporate photography collection belonging to the bankrupt commodities brokerage Refco, Inc., is being consigned to Christie’s New York for sale. According to the plan, under consideration by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of New York -- Refco has debts estimated at $16.8 billion -- the collection of more than 500 photos would go on the block in a series of four sales, to be held Apr. 25, May 5, May 10 and in June.

The collection includes most of the top names in photographic artworks, ranging from Marina Abramovic, Vito Acconci and Janine Antoni to James Welling, Francesca Woodman and Miwa Yanagi. It was assembled beginning in 1975 by Frances Dittmer, wife of former Refco head Thomas Dittmer. A substantial coffee-table book of the collection was published in 2003, titled Subjective Realities and containing essays by Dave Hickey and Judith Russi Kirshner, with individual entries written by a range of notable contributors, including Lynne Cooke, Vicki Goldberg, A.M. Homes, Glenn O’Brien, David Pagel, David Rimanelli, Luc Sante, Katy Siegel and Linda Yablonsky.

Dittmer sold the firm in 1998 to Philip Bennett, who is credited with leading Refco into bankruptcy.

Phillips, de Pury & Company
has announced a series of what it calls "selling shows," featuring works top designers, photographers and artists installed in the auctioneer’s Chelsea gallery space on West 15th Street. Phillips is starting hot, with an exhibition of 36 photographs by Mario Testino, Jan. 28-Feb. 17, 2006, known for his high-key erotica as well as his celebrity portraits. For an illustrated catalogue (with no prices), see

Also on the slate for Phillips’ new gallery operation is an exhibition of works by the Italian designer Ettore Sottsass, Mar. 4-17, 2006, organized in collaboration with Barry Friedman Ltd. Next on the schedule is a show of designs by Zaha Hadid, scheduled for Nov. 6-Dec. 6, 2006, and organized with Established and Sons, London.

The American Kennel Club and Bonhams New York are collaborating on "Barkfest at Bonhams," a charity brunch and presale viewing of dog art on Sunday, Feb. 12, 2006, at Bonhams’ salesroom on the sixth floor of the Fuller Building at Madison Avenue and 57th Street. Entry requires a $50 charitable donation to DOGNY, the AKC’s program for search and rescue dogs. Bonham’s auction of dog art, which includes consignments of works by John Emms and Maud Earl, is slated for Feb. 14. For further details, see

In the annual race for first place between the two big auction houses, Christie’s seems to have come out ahead in 2005. Sotheby’s annual sales total was about $2.7 billion, while Christie’s claims more than $3 billion in 2005. Sotheby’s was ahead in 2004.

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