Weak Masters Sales Further Cement Market Worries

Just ahead of the summer hiatus, last week both Christie’s and Sotheby’s held their Old Masters sales in London, as did Bonhams, with uninspiring results. While the Old Master segment is volatile by nature and less malleable by the market forces that shape the more recent categories, it can nevertheless be seen as the fringe representation of the art market’s movements. As such, Sotheby’s realized total of just $9.7 million, with a pre-sale low estimate of $23.5 million, does come as a bit of a shock in an already unstable and jittery environment.

Willem van de Velde II, The surrender of the Royal Prince during The Four Days’ Battle, 1666. Courtesy of Sotheby’s

However, the result is somewhat misleading, as the majority of artworks performed quite solidly. But the leading lot, Willem van de Velde II’s The surrender of the Royal Prince during The Four Days’ Battle, 1666, estimated at a high $5.4 million – $8.2 million, failed to sell, and the second-highest priced work, Pieter Jansz. Saenredam’s The interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Haarlem, looking north-west, 1658 ($1.6 million – $2.4 million), was withdrawn ahead of the sale. In turn, Ludolf Backhuysen I’s A States Yacht and other ships on the sea in stormy weather1675, and Jean-Honoré Fragonard’s The Fountain of Love fetched almost three times their expectation, selling for $992,687 and $975,572, respectively. Sotheby’s’ Old Masters Day Sale came in below estimate as well, whereas two Works on Paper sales did perform within, but closer to their lower ends.

Jean-Honoré Fragonard, The Fountain of Love. Courtesy of Sotheby’s

Christie’s Old Masters Evening Sale was more stable, achieving a total of $37.9 million, just above the $36.8 million low estimate. Lucas Cranach the Elder’s The Nymph of the Spring led the roster here, outdoing its estimate to sell for $12.8 million, while Antonio Canova’s Maddalena Giacente (Recumbent Magdalene), 1819-22, did not find a new buyer after having been priced at $6.8 million – $10.9 million. Jacob van Ruisdael performed splendidly, registering more than double the high estimate for A wooded landscape with a man and two dogs on a path, a cottage beyond1648, to go for $4.6 million.

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