An Artist’s Recent Auction Results:
Do They Paint a Full & Accurate Picture?
I have been thinking about this topic for many months and was unable to figure out a way to illustrate the point until one day in February (this would have been the March Newsletter, but I wanted to finish my Catalogue Raisonné thoughts) …
I was sitting at my desk working on the Dupré catalogue raisonné - yes, I do work on it from time to timeJ - when I heard that distinctive click of an incoming e-mail. I opened my mailbox and saw a request, from a client, for the price of a Julien Dupré painting. I quickly answered the note and went back to work … a few minutes later I heard another click and this was their reply … Ouch...why are so many recent auction records for this artist so low? I was immediately puzzled by this, knowing that we recently purchased one for over $265,000 and that his current ‘auction record’, which happened 10 years ago, was $398,500 … so I decided to investigate the matter.
I looked up recent sales for the artist and was amazed at what it showed. Of the last twenty paintings that came up for sale at public auction (which spanned a period of 27 months) here is what I found:
Eight of the twenty were not by Julien Dupré, some appeared more than once and one actually sold! While we were not contacted by the auction room for our opinion on these works, we were offered one of the paintings by the owner and told them we did not believe it was painted by Julien Dupré (1851 – 1910).
One painting in the records of recent sales was actually by Jules Dupré, but catalogued by the auction room as being a work by Julien Dupré.
Six were done after 1900. While there are some very good examples from this period, the ones offered at sale were not amongst them … most were pretty rough and would be classified as not very attractive, therefore, they would not command the same price as a work prior to 1900.
Two of the paintings were not illustrated, and since we were never contacted by the auction rooms for our opinion, I cannot make any comments on their quality, condition, etc.
One was a nice, small, portrait of a cow (not very interesting) that sold for $11,000 … a good price for that subject.
One was a nice haying scene from the 1890s – a good period for the artist and a very nice subject. The painting measured approximately 21 x 28 inches and sold for $185,500.
The last work was a fairly large (36 x 51 inches) and very important painting, his Salon entry of 1880 – great period for the artist and a great subject – we bought this one for $265,000.
I have always tried to stress to collectors and buyers that one of the worst things they can do is rely on what they read in a listing of recent auction results. The main problem is that these auction records simply list the sale price and neglect to tell you the following, more significant, information … Were the paintings offered good examples from the ‘right’ period? Were they in good condition? Were they of the ‘right’ quality? Was the subject attractive? And most important, were they actually by the artist?
In the case of the most recent Dupré paintings offered at ‘public auction’, almost half were wrong – giving you roughly a 50-50 shot at buying a fake. Of those remaining, only two had the ‘right subject matter’; were from the ‘right periods’; and were in the ‘right condition’ – giving you more or less a 1 in 10 shot of buying the ‘right painting’ at auction!
You need to keep in mind that result books only contain auction results from certain auctions, and these results can paint the wrong picture for the desirability of an artist’s work if only minor or ‘fake’ paintings have appeared at those auctions in recent years. Normally, auctioneers do not pick the works they want to sell - they sell what they are offered! By contrast, good dealers pick what they want to sell and will select the finest works they can find – leaving those they feel are not among the artist’s best for others to deal with.
Now, during this same 27 month period Rehs Galleries bought and sold seven really good quality Dupré paintings from the 1880s & 1890s - the artist’s prime periods … included among those works were three of his Paris Salon paintings - Glaneuses (1880), La rentrée au village (1895) & A Bord de la Mare (1899). We also bought and sold one beautiful study for a work we sold many years ago; and currently have three nice examples of Dupré’s work in our inventory.
Of the eight works we sold all had the ‘right subject matter’; were in the ‘right condition’ and were from the ‘right period’ … giving you a 100% chance of buying the ‘right’ Dupré from us!
So, to answer my question: do recent auction results paint a full and accurate picture? I would answer No! There is so much that goes into the price of a work of art and these results should only be used, if need be, as one small piece of this very large puzzle … as they say, don’t believe everything you read!
On a related side note, you should know that I do feel badly for the buyer of that ‘wrong’ painting and I am sure that once our catalogue raisonné is published, I will hear from the new owners. It will be interesting to see what happens at that time since most auction rooms offer little protection, or at best only limited guarantees, to the buyer.
Sally Swatland & the Copley Society
Early this month, Sally called to tell us that the committee of the Copley Society of art had just informed her that she was accepted as an Associate Member. Of all the artists who apply to the Society each year, less than 15% are accepted and this was Sally's first time applying.
As stated on the Copley Society's web site: "The Society is the oldest nonprofit art association in America and its origins date back to the 1870s. ... Today, the Copley Society of art continues to play a vital role in the Boston art community. With over 600 artist members participating in as many as 15 exhibitions each year, Co|So is uniquely positioned to provide aspiring artists with an entry into the mainstream art world, and more established artists with a venue for exhibiting their work in Boston. Artist membership is based on competitive review; juried exhibitions and a professional credentialing system offer artists the opportunity for further distinction.
Once an artist member is accepted into at least five juried exhibitions at The Copley Society, he or she earns the distinction of Copley Artist, and may use the credential, CA, after his or her name. Once a Copley Artist has won three major awards in The Society's juried exhibitions, she or he earns the distinction of Copley Master and may use the credential, CM, after his or her name."
This is just the beginning and we truly believe that this is going to be one of the most important years for Sally in terms of recognition by her peers; which, in turn, will benefit all of you who have been fans and supporters of her art in the past.
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York City –May 2004
Gallery Updates: Since our last update we have added works by a number of artists to our web site, including an important Barbizon landscape by Jean B.C. Corot, a wonderful figure painting by Henry John Yeend King, a fine genre piece by Charles Bertrand d' Entraygues, a beautiful still life by Pierre Garnier, a rare hunting scene by John F. Herring, Jr. and of course, exciting works by Édouard Cortès, Eugene Galien-Laloue, Antoine Blanchard, Sally Swatland, and John Kuhn.
Virtual Exhibitions: We have been hard at work updating the biographical section of our site and now there are more than 140 active biographies. In order to make them a little more enjoyable we have begun to add not only an image of the artist’s work but, when possible, an image of the artist -- only a few are currently complete (Cazin, Dupré, Ridgway Knight, Aston Knight, Munier, Cortes …). We will continue revising them as photos become available.
Since our last update we have sold a number of paintings by many of our favorite artists including Sally Swatland, Johann Berthelsen, Antoine Blanchard and Edouard Cortès. Images of most of these works have been added to their respective Virtual Exhibitions.
Next Month: an update on the art market – what’s hot and what’s not!