An Extensive International Legal Battle Gives Birth to the Most Expensive Work to Date
I am sure that many of you have already heard the news, but for those who missed it, The New York Times (June 19, 2006) reported that Ronald S. Lauder, heir to the fortune created by Estée Lauder and estimated to be worth in excess of $2.7 billion, privately purchased Gustav Klimt’s Adele Bloch-Bauer I for $135 million. To date, that appears to be the most expensive work of art sold in any forum.
Adele Bloch-Bauer I, along with four other Klimts, was seized by the Nazis in 1938. The Times reported that: “The portrait, of Adele Bloch-Bauer, the wife of a Jewish sugar industrialist and the hostess of a prominent Vienna salon, is considered one of the artist’s masterpieces. For years, it was the focus of a restitution battle between the Austrian government and the niece of Mrs. Bloch-Bauer who argued that it was seized along with four other Klimt paintings by the Nazis during World War II. In January all five paintings were awarded to the niece, Maria Altmann, now 90, who lives in Los Angeles, and other family members.”
All five paintings were on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art through June and will be traveling to New York for an exhibition at the Neue Galerie from July 18 – September 18; a museum founded by Mr. Lauder to display Austrian and German works of art.
The William Blake Story
This story has been developing for more than 5 years and a wonderful summary of the events was reported by Scott Reyburn in the June 10th edition of the Antiques Trade Gazette. Back in 2001 two Yorkshire, England, book dealers came across a portfolio at Caledonia Books that was inscribed Designs for Blair’s Grave. The dealers acquired the portfolio and in turn consigned it to a specialty book auctioneer in Swindon.
After further research it was determined that the portfolio actually contained 19 original watercolors that William Blake created in the early 1800s that had been lost to Blake scholars since 1836, when they were first sold. Once the pieces were authenticated, the Tate agreed to purchase the works from the book dealers for £4.2 million.
During the Tate’s fundraising campaign, Caledonia Books learned of the discovery and attempted to block the sale. By 2002 both the book dealers and Caledonia Books came to a settlement and then agreed to sell the portfolio to London dealer Libby Howie for £4.9 million (about $9 million). The Tate was still interested in acquiring the works at a higher price, but Howie was acting on behalf of a group of foreign investors who decided to wait.
Two years later Howie applied for an export license claiming that the works were now worth twice as much. The Export Reviewing Committee agreed and valued the works at £8.8 million (approximately $16.2 million). The Tate was no longer interested and Howie offered the set to other institutions, among them the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Getty … she found no takers.
Howie and her investors then decided to sell them individually in New York at an auction comprised of 20 lots … while there were only 19 watercolors, the red portfolio as offered as a separate lot … with a total estimated value of $17.2 million. In the end only 12 of the 20 lots sold, for a total value of $7.1 million ($6.2 million, or £3.35 million, hammer price, which is presumably what the sellers received). While this is less than what they paid, keep in mind that they still have 8 of the works. The Louvre paid the highest price … $1.58 million for Death of the Strong Wicked Man (8 x 10 inches) with The Reunion of the Soul & the Body (9 ¼ x 7 inches) coming in second at $1.02 million. Just in case you are wondering the red portfolio, estimated at $1,000 - $1,500, sold for $5,040.
Of course hindsight is 20/20, but these sellers should have realized that their best bet was to sell the entire collection intact. Breaking them up allowed potential buyers, of which there are a limited number, the ability to choose the best works that were being offered at the most realistic prices. However it is interesting to see that even today amazing finds are still out there just waiting to be discovered.
More Impressive Results
While we are on the theme of BIG prices, here are a few more from around the globe. Amedeo Modigliani’s Jeanne Hébuterne (Au Chapeau) brought £16.5 million (approximately $30 million); Edgar Degas’ pastel La Sortie du Bain made £6.72 million (about $12.4 million); a Ming porcelain vase was purchased by Steve Wynn for $10.2 million; Norman Rockwell’s Homecoming Marine recently sold for $9.2 million; Maxfield Parrish’s Daybreak brought $7.63 million (it is interesting to note that the same painting was the current record holder for a Parrish work … selling in 1996 for $4.3 million); Frida Kahlo’s Roots made $5.6 million; Andrew Wyeth’s South Cushing made $4.38 million; Ferdinand Hodler’s Am Genfersee made $4.05 million; Francisco Zúñiga’s Cuatro mujeres de pie made $3.7 million; Ansel Adams’s photograph titled Surf Sequence, San Mateo County Coast, California made a record $352,000; for our Rock & Roll memorabilia fans, Buddy Holly’s 14K white gold wristwatch recently changed hands for $155,350; and for our history buffs, one of the last and earliest surviving American Revolutionary War flags to be in private hands was recently offered for sale … it made a whopping $11 million.
This past month two clients asked me about lighting and while I did cover this topic a number of years ago, I thought it might be time to give a quick summary of what I feel is the best option.
Recently my wife and I renovated the living and dining rooms of our home. We took this opportunity to install recessed lighting in almost every location where a painting might hang some day; since we were making a big mess anyway, why not open the ceilings and do it right. In the living room we opted for low voltage fixtures made by WAC Lighting (www.waclighting.com). The style fixture we used was HR-D425 which allows for 80°adjustment from vertical and 350° rotation and offers two different housings, one for 50 watts bulbs and another for 75 watt bulbs. Unless your electrician advises otherwise, I would install the 75 watt version. Rarely will you need more than 50 watts in any individual fixture, but there is no harm in having the flexibility for the future … just in case you find one painting needs a little extra light.
Our dining room already had tradition style recessed lighting, we changed them to Eyeball trim and added a few more … these lights are similar to those made by HALO (420P Black Coilex Regressed Eyeball) or Lightolier (Style 1082). These fixtures also give you a great deal of flexibility when it comes to the type of bulb you can use … from 50 watts to 150 watts.
Since there are times when too much light will wash-out the colors of a painting, the final piece is to have all your lights on dimmer controls; giving you the ability to adjust just how much light is actually emitted from any group of fixtures. There are even whole-home lighting systems that will allow you to adjust each individual fixture … for those of you, who like myself, are serious control freaks.
Remember that artists painted in natural light and today's lighting options really do afford you the opportunity to replicate that kind of light. If you can add this type of lighting to your home, you will find that every work will look better. If you want to see the changes that will occur, just take one of the smaller works outside on a bright day and look at the difference; you will see things in the work you never saw before.
A Little More Personal PR
Fine Art Connoisseur magazine has once again surprised me by featuring one of my newsletters in their June issue – Water and Humidity: A Painting’s Worst Enemy. If you would like to see this version, a direct link to the page is shown below:
Howard L. Rehs
© Rehs Galleries, Inc., New York –July 2006
Gallery Updates: For the month of July, the gallery will be open Monday – Thursday 10am – 5:30 pm, and all other times by appointment.
We are very pleased to inform you that since our last sales update the following works are in various stages of being spoken for: William A. Bouguereau’s Yvonnette; Julien Dupré’s Milking Time; Emile Auguste Hublin’s Jeune mendiants du Finistère; Hippolyte Camille Delpy’s Les lavandieres au bord de l'Oise; Alfred de Breanski’s A Reach at the Thames Above Goring; Pierre Garnier’s Roses; Antoine Blanchard’s Place de la Republique; Edouard Cortes’ Champs-Elysees; Frank Moss Bennett’s A Matter for Consideration; Sally Swatland’s Summer Days; Gregory Franks Harris’ Peaceful Morning and Warm Summer Days; and Allan Banks’ Lilies of the Field.
Web Site Updates: New works by the following artists have been, or will be, added to the web site this month: Eugene Boudin, Antoine-Louis Barye, Daniel Ridgway Knight, Charles E. Frere, Paul D. Trouillebert, Louis Aston Knight, Edouard Cortes, Sally Swatland, Gregory Frank Harris, John Kuhn and Ugo O. Giannini.
Next Month: I am open to suggestions.