LONDON – It was conceived as a provisional appeal enforced by Covid. But is seeing an auctioneer on a screen really what “live” art sales will be from now on?
On Tuesday night, Sotheby’s held a live auction of 65 seven-century works of art that replaced its traditional summer tent sales of antique, impressionist, modern and contemporary art in the British capital.
Titled “Rembrandt to Richter”, this historical combination was technically the first major live offering in London since the coronavirus blockade. However, continued travel and congregation restrictions meant that the auctioneer, Oliver Barker, was once again facing the camera in an empty sales room, receiving offers from colleagues on screens around the world, just as he had been. He was at Sotheby’s $ 363.2 million “global multicamera livestream” sale last month. The ever-exuberant Mr. Barker was on the rostrum for just over three hours.
“It’s slow,” said Philip Hoffman, founder and CEO of Fine Art Group, a London-based consulting firm. “But there is no audience to attend, and the auction house is making huge cost savings on catalogs, travel, and entertainment.”
Sotheby’s selection of cross-categories, obtained during the shutdown, reflected collectors’ current reluctance to offer multi-million dollar works of art at public auction, unless they have to. If the trophies appear, they are usually guaranteed by Sotheby’s or a third party that they will be sold for a hefty minimum price.
If the works do not attract pre-sale interest, they can simply be withdrawn to avoid the stigma of not selling. Francis Bacon’s “Study for a Portrait of John Edwards” in 1986, valued at at least £ 12 million, or about $ 15 million, was one of six works withdrawn from this sale.
Joan Miro’s surreal masterpiece in 1927, “Peinture (femme au chapeau rouge)”, one of a series of acclaimed “Dream” paintings made in Paris in the 1920s, surely sold for at least £ 20 million. Formerly owned by sculptor Alexander Calder, it was entered by an American private collector identified by Bloomberg News as Ronald Perelman, the billionaire owner of the Revlon cosmetic company, whose profits have plummeted in recent years. The sale of the painting took 11 minutes. It eventually fell to a New York offer at £ 22.3 million with fees, or around $ 28.7 million, the highest price of the night.
“Some things look great online,” said Hugo Nathan, a partner at London-based consulting firm Beaumont Nathan. “Some don’t. The images in bold flourish, ”added Mr. Nathan, who was among a select group of 30 clients who attended the auction in person in a socially remote auxiliary room.
Rembrandt’s small 1632 sketch panel painting, “Self-Portrait, Wearing a Ruff and Black Hat,” was a less obvious candidate for success in a high-tech “click-and-brick” auction. One of Rembrandt’s three self-portraits left in private hands, however, was chased by six bidders at £ 14.5 million, or around $ 18.7 million, against a low estimate of £ 12 million.
“If you take the artists out of the old master field, they appeal to buyers who aren’t bogged down by the insightful things that the old master crowd cares about,” said Mr. Nathan.
The same could apply to the rare panel painting, “Battle on the Banks of a River,” by pioneering 15th-century Florentine artist Paolo Uccello, recently returned to the heirs of Amsterdam-based collector Fritz Gutmann, who died in a rally. He camped in 1944. This attracted bids from 20th century art collectors, selling for £ 2.4 million, or about $ 3.1 million, four times the low estimate and an auction record for the artist.
But apart from such selected and occasionally prominent modern British old masters, such as Scottish painter Samuel John Peploe’s 1923 canvas “Still Life with Tulips and Fan” at £ 675,000, or about $ 870,000, the most significant prices were generated . by the usual names of modern and contemporary auctions at night. The top estimate of £ 12.2 million, or $ 15.6 million given for Fernand Leger’s 1914 cubist painting, “Nature Morte,” seemed almost routine.
Banksy is now also one of these first class names. The Bristol-born graffiti artist cunningly used the weight of the sale’s global marketing by including his triptych, “Mediterranean Sea View 2017,” which shows the life jackets of refugees dumped in kitsch 19th-century beach scenes, to fund facilities. at the Arab Bethlehem Society for Rehabilitation, a non-profit hospital. The paintings had been hung nearby at his Walled Off hotel in Bethlehem. A wave of London-based phone deals resulted in a price tag of £ 2.2 million, or about $ 2.9 million, against a low estimate of £ 800,000.
“I love when they are competing against each other in London,” said Mr. Barker, assiduously promoting the new format as he presented the offers. See it on split screens. The future of auctions “.
Overall, Sotheby’s “Rembrandt to Richter” sale raised £ 149.7 million, or about $ 192.7 million, from 65 lots. Last night’s equivalent London evening sales of Old Masters, Impressionist, Modern and Contemporary art fetched around $ 283 million.
Profits may have declined, but so were expenses. Sotheby’s owner, Franco-Israeli telecom tycoon Patrick Drahi borrowed $ 1.1 billion to finance the auction house acquisition in 2019 and these global live streaming sales are part of a high-tech development strategy and low cost that could well be the future of auctions. Sotheby’s said at the post-sale press conference that 150,000 people had tuned into the live stream “Rembrandt to Richter.”
“Another extraordinarily stylish production from Sotheby’s, with the results to match,” said Wendy Goldsmith, a London-based art consultant who was watching the Sotheby’s auction online. “These tent sales are now the public face of the entire art market.”