Subscribe to our RSS feed:

RSS Feed Button

Art Market Watch


by Jessica Mizrachi
Share |

The 19th-century French pompier William Adolphe Bouguereau, once again beloved after falling out of favor in the modernist era, came out on top at Sotheby’s New York auction of 19th-century European art on May 4, 2012 (just as he had at Christie’s New York sale the week before).

Bouguereau’s L'Orientale a la Grenade (1875), a simple 24 x 18 in. portrait of a turbaned young woman peeling a pomegranate -- an Orientalist subject likely inspired by artifacts and second-hand reports, since the artist never traveled to the Middle East -- sold for $2.3 million, considerably more than its $700,000 presale high estimate. The picture was once in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago (from 1900 to 1907) and most recently hung on loan on the walls of the Portland (Ore.) Art Museum.

Another highlight -- in fact, it was the sale’s top lot in terms of presale estimate -- was a flowery canvas by James-Jacques Tissot from the estate of European artistocrat Monique Uzielli (nee de Gunzburg) that sold for $1.9 million, just under the $2 million presale low estimate.

Overall, the sale totaled $20.6 million, with 71 of 110 lots selling, or 65 percent by lot. A Belle Epoque portrait by Giovanni Boldini of Mrs. Howard Johnston, a Scottish beauty who married into French aristocracy after the death of her first husband, sold for $1.8 million. The lot required little by way of new cataloging, since it had previously sold in 2005, also at Sotheby’s, for $1 million.

A newly discovered painting by John William Godward set an auction record for the artist, fetching $1.5 million, about double the high estimate. It shows a rosy-complexioned young woman (possibly the artist’s mistress) in a sort of toga getup, fixing her coiffure against a colorfully patterned marble wall. A second classicizing portrait by Godward, The Quiet Pet, depicting a rather apathetic looking woman lounging on a lion pelt while offering cherries to a small turtle, was also among the top lots, selling for $572,500.

Paintings of pretty ladies commanded the highest prices, but the top ten lots were rounded off with a pair of canvases each showing a pack of dogs and inscribed on the verso with the hounds’ names (Witchcraft and Stately among them). Though the commissioner of the portraits is unknown, the artist, John Emms, originally gave the paintings to a pub owner to settle a bar tab. The two roundels fetched $554,500, well above the presale high estimate of $300,000.

Bidders passed on works by some of the darlings of auctions past. A still life by Arnoldus Bloemers (1786-1844), whose auction record was set at Christie’s last month with the sale of a larger painting of the same subject for $218,500, was bought in against a presale estimate of $40,000-$60,000. The star of last spring’s 19th-century sale at Sotheby’s, Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema (whose The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra sold for a near-record $29 million), failed to entice bidders this round, as his An Eloquent Silence (1890) (est. $400,000-600,000) was bought in. The picture also failed to sell at auction in 2008, with about the same estimate.

*     *     *
Celebrity lawyer Alan Dershowitz isn’t often discussed in art circles, but in the last few weeks the high-profile lawyer’s name has come up in art-related news on two separate occasions.

Best known for his involvement in the Claus von Bulow and OJ Simpson cases, as well as for his staunch support of Israel, Dershowitz was one of a chorus of voices that called upon the Metropolitan Museum of Art to acknowledge Gertrude Stein’s Vichy sympathies in its “The Steins Collect,” Feb. 28-June 3, 2012. In an article for the Huffington Post titled “Suppressing Ugly Truth for Beautiful Art,” he accused the museum of glossing over the fact that Stein, a Jew, was able to live unscathed in France during the Second World War. “Gertrude Stein was herself a major collaborator with the Vichy regime and a supporter of its pro-Nazi leadership,” he wrote. Almost immediately, the museum announced plans to adjust the wall text to reflect this history, and also to offer Barbara Will’s book on the subject, Unlikely Collaboration: Gertrude Stein, Bernard Fäy, and the Vichy Dilemma, in the museum store.

In his own 1991 book, Chutzpah, Dershowitz included Edgar Degas on his list of anti-Semites, due to his stance as an “anti-Dreyfusard” in the notorious 19th-century French scandal. Paul Cézanne and Pierre-Auguste Renoir also numbered among anti-Dreyfusard Impressionists, so it was interesting to notice a canvas by Renoir from the collection of Alan Dershowitz and his wife, Carolyn Cohen, in Christie’s New York day sale of Impressionist and modern art on May 2. The rather disturbing but still signature nude from 1910, titled Femme nue assise au linge, was bought in against a $120,000-$160,000 presale estimate. The couple had purchased the painting in a 2000 sale at Christie’s London for about $74,000.

The Dershowtiz/Cohen collection also included works by Jewish painters, such as Chaim Soutine (a portrait of a young man stretched diagonally across the canvas, which was bought in), Moise Kisling (Provence, sold for $98,500), Marc Chagall ($362500) and Emmanuel Mane-Katz ($22,500).

The catalogue features a short essay by Dershowitz about his collecting, which he began as a child with baseball cards, stamps and coins. “I never threw anything away, much to my mother’s chagrin,” he writes. He goes on to recall his first purchase of “real art,” a Wassily Kandinsy lithograph for $25 in 1965, and the moment in 1986 when he married Cohen, moved in to a large house and became a “serious” collector.

The autobiographical snippet is also included in the catalogues for other sales that feature property from the Dershowitz/Cohen collection, including the the June 8 antiquities sale and the May 9 post-war and contemporary art morning session, where their Jean Dubuffet sculpture sold for $120,100, just above the presale low estimate.

Prices given here include the auction-house commission of 25 percent of the first $50,000, 20 percent of the next $50,000 to $1,000,000, and 12 percent of the rest.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

JESSICA MIZRACHI is a decorative arts specialist who writes on the art market.