Today’s blog post is written by Louis Salerno, the owner of Questroyal Fine Art, LLC of the upper east side; a gallery that specializes in fine American paintings from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Fittingly enough, Salerno has chosen to discuss the American Art auction results from this past auction season. Enjoy!
Recent American art auctions in New York confirmed the market’s accelerating recovery. Critics may point out disappointing lots, but as an eager buyer I can assure you that it was exceedingly difficult to acquire the most desirable work. This is a market that consists of well-informed collectors, determined to purchase paintings that represent the best efforts by important artists. We must be careful not to judge the market by the lots that sold poorly or failed to sell. At present, the market is expanding at a sustainable and sensible rate. Collectors are primarily interested in securing the best and most easily-perceived quality, but as the positive progression continues so will their desire to consider less popular examples and this shift, in conjunction with the ultimate participation of new collectors, will augment the depth of the market and produce more uniformly positive results.
John George Brown, Newsboy, oil on canvas, 24 1/4 x 16 3/16 inches
Results and highlights:
Christie’s offered 135 lots: 68% sold within or above the estimate and only 6% sold below the low estimate. The buy-in rate was about 26%.
Sotheby’s offered 62 lots: 82% sold within or above the estimate and only one painting sold below the estimate. The buy-in rate was just 16%.
Bidding was extremely competitive for two sensational works by Edward Hopper: His oil, Blackwell’s Island, realized $19.1 million and his watercolor, Kelly Jenness House, brought $4.1 million.
I was determined to buy a Norman Rockwell and had my sights set on either He’s Going to be Taller than Dad or The Veterinarian, both offered at Sotheby’s. I watched each one soar beyond its high estimate: the first, estimated at $500,000–$700,000, sold for over $2.6 million! The second, estimated at $300,000–$500,000, realized $905,000.
I was again unsuccessful in attempting to buy works by Fairfield Porter and Guy Pène du Bois—in fact, I bid on three Porters without success.
The auction market is imperfect and, as a result, I was able to secure a few remarkable works. I remain interested in modernist Charles Burchfield; lot 4 at Christie’s, Three Ringed Moon, was a fine acquisition at $25,000, and its early position in the sale worked to my advantage. Later in the same sale, Burchfield’s Long House, North of Wyoming Village, estimated at $150,000–$250,000, caught my attention; I was stunned to be the winning bidder at $123,750. Sometimes there is no explanation as to why a painting sells below its value. Buyers have only a matter of seconds to make a decision and it is often difficult to race against time.
Charles Burchfield, Long House, North of Wyoming Village, 1951, mixed media on paper laid down on board, 29 7/8 x 40 5/16 inches
Fate smiled upon me again later at Christie’s; lot 126, John Breck’s stunning Early Snow, which established the artist’s auction record of $337,000 in 2007, was presented with a seemingly conservative estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. The painting had a great deal of “buzz” and I had little hope of acquiring it. But many collectors assume that they will be unable to acquire well-received paintings and consequently focus their attention elsewhere. I believe that this was the case with this piece and it hammered to me at just $195,750.
John Breck, Early Snow, 1894, oil on canvas, 18 1/4 x 22 inches
There were a few other paintings that I managed to acquire for inventory with which I’m quite pleased. In the days following the sales, the consensus is that the market is moving and interest is rising. My best advice is to seriously consider dealer inventory—it’s there that the best buys may be found.
—Louis Salerno, Owner, Questroyal Fine Art, LLC