By David Dallas, Old Master Specialist
Although the pandemic has had a negative impact on the way the auction rooms in London gather consignment, prices were strong and the sell-through rate was very acceptable. Traditionally, the majority of lots tend to journey in from Continental Europe but with specialists unable to travel, all inspections have had to be done on-line. There is only so much you can determine from a jpeg and unfortunately an accurate or definitive idea of condition is almost impossible to establish.
As numbers of lots are down, turnover is too. Christie’s offered 44 lots in their evening sale and Sotheby’s a meagre 27, compared to a normal year when 50+ would have been offered. The total for Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams in December was £39.2, just over 1/3 of the total for 2018.
However, prices were strong and the sell-through rate was very acceptable. The top lots at Christie’s was a sumptuous banquet still-life by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, which sold for £4.8M (hammer), a record for the artist and a record for any still-life by an Old Master. Another record price was the £1.8m (hammer) paid for a beautiful Salvator Mundi painted by Michelangelo’s master Domenico Ghirlandaio, which was in pristine condition. Sotheby’s sold a massive canvas measuring 4’ 8” x 8’ 9” of a wine harvest by David Teniers the Younger for £3M (hammer). This picture had not been seen in public for 140 years and proves that freshness to the market adds a premium of its own.
This year has got off to a challenging start in the art auction world, with Old Master specialists suffering from travelling restrictions, but if 2020 is anything to go by, there will be a healthy appetite for whatever they can glean and garner.