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Art Market Watch


by Jessica Mizrachi
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As the big spring sales of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art approach in early May, Christie’s New York tuned up with a small, 82-lot sale of 19th-century European art on Apr. 23, 2012. Though this sector of the market has slowed down in recent years, at this auction all top ten lots exceeded their high estimates. The overall total was $6,277,000 (with premium), with 57 lots selling, or 71 percent.

The top lot was an idealized family portrait by William Adolphe Bouguereau billed as “long lost,” turning up in an unnamed California collection, where it had landed since being sold by Hammer Galleries in 1951. Titled Idylle: famille antique, the slightly comical scene includes a classically attired young couple adoring their naked child, who is attended as well by a playful goat. The picture sold for $782,500, above its $600,000 presale estimate. A smaller version of the painting is in the collection of the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, Conn.

Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema’s The Education of the Children of Clotilde and Clovis (1868), which shows a lively young Frankish prince practicing his axe throwing (Queen Clotilde sits stock-still, as befits a future Catholic saint), was also expected to sell in the half-million dollar range but was bought in.

A second Bouguereau, Pifferaro (1870), a portrait of a young peasant musician holding his instrument -- the piffaro, a sort of oboe -- was among the top five, selling for $458,500 (est. $250,000-$350,000). Both paintings went to European buyers.

Two auction records were set during the session. Rue Royale, Paris, a busy street scene by Louis Marie de Schryver (1862-1942) illustrating the fashionable avenue at the turn of the century, sold for $662,500 (est. $250,000-$450,000), and a still life of a glorious bouquet with glassy grapes by Arnoldus Bloemers sold for $218,500 ($140,000-$180,000).

The sale’s major landscapes had a mixed reception. Of the three paintings offered by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, two were bought in and one, Camagne de Naples -- highlighted by a peasant with a single goat -- sold for $182,500, within its presale estimates. 

Similarly, a stormy Gustave Courbet river scene from around 1874 did not find a buyer (est. $120,000-$180,000), while a sunnier one did ($122,500). A glowing seascape of Istanbul by Felix Ziem from the collection of the late Marquita Maytag, an ambassador to Nepal under President Gerald Ford, was bid up to $170,500, well above its presale high estimate of $20,000.

As for Sotheby’s, the firm is holding its sale of 19th-century European art on May 4, following the Impressionist and modern sales. That session is led by James Jacques Tissot’s The Morning Ride from the estate of Monique Uzielli, whose Fifth Avenue penthouse hit the market earlier this year with an asking price of $29.5 million. The Tissot is estimated to bring between $2 million-$3 million.

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.