Preview: Old Masters Week Sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s

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The Rothschild Prayer Book, A Book of Hours, Use of Rome, in Latin, Illuminated Manuscript on Vellum (c. 1505-1510)

“Maybe I’m in cloud cuckoo crazy land and I’m crazy, but I think most people are buying because they love the art and they plan to hold on to it,” said Christopher Apostle, head of Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s. “Certainly people don’t want to make silly purchases, but I don’t think people are so motivated by investment as they are about the love of the art.” 

It’s a refreshing sentiment given the motivations of many contemporary-art collectors, and another reason to enjoy the fanfare of Old Masters Week at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. The sales start on Jan. 29, including the second Renaissance auction at Christie’s, which includes tapestry, terracotta, decorative art and furniture in addition to painting and sculpture.  Read More


‘Rendered Speechless’: Brett Gorvy Has a Lot to Say About This Week’s Auctions

Gorvy with a work by Paul McCarthy.

Folks, there is effusiveness, and then there is Brett Gorvy.

Christie’s head of postwar and contemporary art has gotten rather, shall we say, excited about the artworks the house is auctioning this season. So excited that he had to tell the world—well, the art world—about it. His poetic musings took the form of two letters, one (“Speechless from New York – A Note From Brett Gorvy”) that landed in inboxes last week, just before the Impressionist-modern auction and another (“Final Thoughts on Tomorrow’s Sale”) that arrived today, on the eve of tomorrow’s big postwar and contemporary sale. Yes, there is practical stuff in these letters (“We have encouraged our consignors to set consciously conservative estimates”). But it is leavened with such romantic sentiments as “It is easy in this profession to fall in love with the objects over which we are brief guardians.” Never in our history of covering the art market (and, dear reader, we are pretty old) have we read such reverential outpourings from an auction house professional. The cynic in us wants to say, “Snap out of it, Brett!” But there is another, very real part that wants other specialists to, you know, speak from the yearnings in their hearts or whatever. Read the highlights of Mr. Gorvy’s letters below, and swoon with us. Read More


Top Lots Fail at Christie’s Disappointing $144.3 M. Imp-Mod Sale

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Sold: $12.6 million | Wassily Kandinsky, Schwarz und Violett, 1923

Christie’s kicked off the official start of the fall auction season Tuesday night with a lackluster Impressionist and modern sale that saw 12 of the 46 lots on offer fail to sell, among them a number of high-profile and high-estimate pieces. It earned a total of $144.3 million that, while respectable, failed to meet the house’s low estimate of $188.8 million (which is calculated without the approximately 12 percent buyer’s premium), to say nothing of its $277.7 million high estimate. Read More

Kenny Schachter

Previewing the London Auctions With Kenny Schachter

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Sotheby's has two Wool lots as well, estimated at £700,000–£900,000 ($1,118,740 - $1,438,380) and £200,000 - £300,000  ($319,640 - $479,460)

Presented here is a selection of slides from Observer contributor Kenny Schachter’s recent lecture at the University of Zurich, “X-Rated: Art of Pricing, Fall 2013.” Taken together, they serve as a mini preview of the upcoming London auctions. All caption information pertains to the postwar and contemporary art evening sales at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Read More

auction woes

Christie’s, Philips Withdraw ‘Suspicious’ Works From Latin American Sales

Untitled (1957), a painting attributed to Ivan Serpa that was one of ten works withdrawn from the Christie's sale. (Courtesy The Art Newspaper)

Within a week of one another, Christie’s and Phillips pulled works from their Latin American sales after doubts were cast on their provenance and authenticity, The Art Newspaper reports. Christie’s withdrew 10 pieces by Brazilian artists from its sale (which took place on May 29 and 30) after various outside authorities on the artists’ estates expressed concern about the legitimacy of the works, which all stemmed from the Rio de Janeiro-based collection of Ralph Santos Oliveira. According to Mr. Santos Oliviera, he was selling on behalf of his grandmother, who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease and cannot remember where she purchased the pieces in question. Phillips removed a work by Alfredo Volpi from its Latin American sale on May 23. Read More


He Had Their Attention: Leonardo DiCaprio Charity Auction at Christie’s Hammers in $31.7 M., 13 Artist Records

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DiCaprio at Christie's.

Last night Christie’s hammered an impressive $31.7 million across 33 contemporary works in a charity auction organized by Leonardo DiCaprio. Thirteen new artist records were set, with many works doubling their pre-sale high estimates. The night had a total high estimate of just $18 million and most of the proceeds from the auction, titled the Read More


Christie’s Planning Major Auction With Leonardo DiCaprio

(Courtesy Patrick McMullan)

Christie’s has planned a major philanthropic auction with the actor Leonardo DiCaprio and his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation that is estimated to raise between $15 and $20 million to benefit what a leaked promotional item called “compelling environmental projects selected by [the foundation] and Christie’s.” Early talks had the auction scheduled for May 8 and a source close to the auction said it will reportedly feature work by Mark Grotjahn, Carol Bove, John Currin and Elizabeth Peyton, among others. (Visitors to Ms. Peyton’s recently opened exhibition at Gavin Brown’s Enterprise may have noticed a portrait of Mr. DiCaprio in the show.) Read More


In With the Old: Preview Christie’s and Sotheby’s Old Masters Week Sales

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Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691-1765), An Extensive Landscape With Villas and Figures, Including the Artist Himself, Dining Beneath a Pergola in the Foreground, estimated $2,000,000 - $3,000,000

Christie’s and Sotheby’s kick off Old Masters Week tonight, each with a relatively modest single-owner auction that will be followed by several big-ticket sales in the coming days. Christie’s is opening with Albrecht Durer: Masterpieces from a Private Collection, which includes a rare first edition print of the engraver’s iconic, crustacean-like Rhinoceros and even more valuable works like Knight, Death and the Devil (estimated from $500,000 to $700,000). Sotheby’s will start its series of sales with Property from the Estate of Giancarlo Baroni, an eclectic collection topped by The Entombment of Christ, a dramatic early panel by El Greco estimated from $1 million to $1.5 million (look for the artist’s mentor, Titian, painted in among the spectators). Read More