Sunday, July 17, 2011


What a crazy week!  Christies is at one end and Bonham's auction house at the other with Sotheby's in between, a walk too short for a taxi ride but a long schlep of around a mile from one end to the other.  This walk is not just done once a day but many times to view and to review.  Of course, there are dozens of galleries in this neighborhood and as I said last week there are exhibitions in many of them.

There is more than one art world, but most of those interested in old works of European art come for this week.  There are collectors, curators, foreign dealers and friends whom you run into continuously.  We greet each other every year complaining that there is nothing interesting and, after a while, admitting that we did see something here or there that we are considering, but not always saying what it is.

Of course, what interests one doesn't always interest the other, so a lot of material changes hands, though never as much as one hoped.  Usually the auction houses hand one third of the auction's works of art back to their original owners, while the dealers, who are not selling well, say there are lots of people interested in their wares.Master Paintings Week joined Master Drawings London giving us a list of just under 50 galleries to visit. Mercifully, many of these galleries participate in both shows making it fewer actual locations to go to.  One does not always wish to see all of them but there are enough to keep one on the go. I never want to miss the ones with the best titles such as “Senses and Sensibility: Intimate Depictions of French Society 1700 – 1900“ at Deborah Gage and  “Finding Van Dyck – Newly discovered and rarely seen works by Van Dyck and his followers“ at Philip Mould. 

The most important auctions are usually scheduled as evening sales and for some, one needs to book a ticket in advance.  This year the offerings seemed slim. Usually an evening sale has just the best of the best but this was not the case, so slightly under a third of the material went unsold at these sales as well.  Still there are always the exceptions that make the headlines like the large Francesco Guardi, Venice, A View from the Realto Bridge, which brought £26,697,250 including the buyer’s premium.  Of course, with the wide estimate of £15-25,000 this means the picture only brought close to the high estimate.

There were some special auctions too.  Sotheby’s came up with a clever title, “Treasures: Princely Taste”.  This was a mixture of furniture, objects, bronzes and other pieces suitable for royalty, if you will.  But huge estimates often dwarfed the quality of the pieces but again there were some prices that exceeded expectations such as a pair of Italian 18th century settees made for a palazzo in Genoa.  They were estimated at £3-500,000 and brought over £1,700,000.  I did not attend, but Christies did something similar and called it “The Exceptional Sale” which, for variety’s sake, even included an eighteenth century Spanish pistol estimated at £50-70,000 brought £55,250.  So not everything brought telephone numbers!

If it is variety and activity you are looking for it was a most exciting time in London.

As usual there were a number of excellent exhibitions on in the museums and next week I will tell you about the one I loved and could have seen earlier without a trans-Atlantic trip.

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