Thursday, October 1, 2009

There Is Something Wrong With This Story

From the Washington Post today. Local readers know that I don't give Sloan and Kenyon's Auction House alot of free PR. This is why. How could a reputable house not have known what they had??

Look at my post about Weschler's. They had a nice Venetian oil and priced it accordingly and it went way up, but really, this one smells to high heaven. What is worse is that the Post along with all other former reputable papers simply print what is given them without question and they scream about us bloggers.

Art Auction Price May Be Local Record

By Robert Kyle
Special to The Washington Post.
Thursday, October 1, 2009

An 18th-century unsigned oil painting of the Grand Canal in Venice, estimated at a modest $6,000 to $8,000, sold for $687,125 Sunday afternoon at Sloans & Kenyon auction house in Chevy Chase. It is believed to be the most expensive painting ever sold at a Washington area auction.

Thirteen phone bidders competed against live bidders in the gallery for this work from the "school of" the 18th-century artist Giovanni Antonio Canaletto.

The auction company had received the piece from a Bethesda woman who has requested anonymity. The painting had been in the family since 1881, when her grandmother brought it back from Europe. The grandmother had embarked on what was known in the day as a "Grand Tour," an excursion designed to expose the traveler to enlightenment, adventure, art and culture.

Grand tourists, as the travelers were known, would typically return with artwork they acquired on the journey, which was considered an essential ritual for entry into British high society. "They didn't send postcards or bring back T-shirts," said Ellen Garrity, communications director at Sloans & Kenyon. "They brought back paintings."

And so it was that the consignor's grandmother, identified in the catalogue as Mrs. Charles Alexander, made her tour as a young American woman. She probably acquired the painting while in London; a label on the back is from the gallery of Dowdeswell & Dowdeswells Ltd. on New Bond Street.

And now?

"This appears to be the highest price ever obtained for a work of art sold at auction in the metropolitan Washington area," Garrity said.

The fresh-to-market find after nearly 130 years attracted nine phone bidders from Europe representing people in England, Italy, Scotland and Sweden. The first bid was $25,000. After a flurry of escalating offers, it sold to a floor bidder, an agent for a London buyer, for $575,000 plus a 19.5 percent buyer's premium.

"It is highly probable the painting is by Michele Marieschi," said London art dealer Charles Beddington, who was an adviser to the painting's runner-up, who stopped bidding at $550,000. Marieschi, another 18th-century artist, never signed his work and died young, Beddington said.

Sold just minutes before the three-day sale ended, Lot 1505 was described as "School of Giovanni Antonio 'Il Canale' Canaletto (Italian 1697-1768) Grand Canal, Venice, With a View of the Doge's Palace." Its framed size is 22 inches by 33 inches. It is not dated.

The Grand Canal in Venice was a favorite subject of Canaletto's and those who followed him. An original Canaletto is worth millions. Paintings by his associates, meanwhile, can fetch six figures. In 2007, Sotheby's in London sold an original Canaletto oil of the Grand Canal for $9.7 million. In 2008, Christie's in London sold another Grand Canal view for $6.6 million.

Sotheby's in London sold two other views of Venice painted in the style of Canaletto for $235,717 and $248,069 in 2007. Earlier this year, Sotheby's, New York, got $422,500 (hammer price, the price before taxes or commissions are added) for a view of Venice from the piazza from "the studio of" Canaletto.

The low presale estimate for Sunday's painting -- less than $10,000 -- proved irresistible. Sloans & Kenyon President Stephanie Kenyon explained why expectations were so modest: "With an unsigned painting of a high caliber, we estimate the work conservatively but expose it extensively and internationally, and then let the market decide."

Before Sunday's auction, the most expensive painting the company had sold had been "Hampstead Heath, Looking Towards London" by British landscape artist John Constable (1776-1837). It brought $442,500 in April 1999 when the company operated as C.G. Sloan & Co., and was also sold to a London bidder. Like the Canaletto-style work, the Constable had been hanging on a wall of a Maryland home for many years.

"It made pretty much what it should have," said Beddington of the painting sold Sunday. "It was a good result. The auction company should be happy."


columnist said...

Yes, I saw this picture and thought from its starting price and the estimate it could not be a Canaletto, (and indeed the style is at such variance), so not even "school of". But I also agree with you, some auction houses do seem to get their lots completely wrong, as in "Chinese" for "Japanese" etc, but I think that's where the oppotunities lie. I have recently blogged about pictures described as Reynolds and Romney, when even to my eye they are not close, or even "school of". Caveat emptor etc!

Off the List said...

But this is exactly what auction houses are for - to miss things that others spot - this is why there is an antiques trade that scans each and every sale catalogue they can get their paws on. Misattribution is why Philip Mould has been able to write an engaging bestseller on his finds over the years. This is why I was sent into a rage yesterday when a small sleeper I had discovered, researched and set aside funds for was withdrawn from a sale (see my blog).

I have seen and discussed this issue a number of times over the past year or so and we have determined each time that the main loser - even though they probably wouldn't agree - is the thoroughly surprised vendor. This vendor is probably still charged the selling rate of anywhere between 15 and 25% commission on the sale, which is entirely wrong. The auction house should waive these fees.

Anonymous said...

The auction house had an UNSIGNED painting- how could they know what they had when that painting was UNSIGNED?
Off the List - why do you see the vendor as a loser in this and similar cases?

Off the List said...

Anonymous - hoping you come back and see this:

If I agree to put a lot into a sale, I am able to negotiate the commission (everyone should), the photography costs, the insurance and the unsold charges. So, I am aware that I own a Marieschi and that it should make at least 200 - 300K at auction, I am also in the comfortable position of being able to tout my painting around three or four good salerooms each time lowering my commission rate each time. I opt for Off the List auctions as they charge me NO commission, NO photo fee's and a meer 1% insurance.

The painting sells for £600K and I essentially pocket the lot.

If I had not known the paintings true value (as in the case discussed) I would have been charged anywhere between 10 and 25% on my selling price. Therefore taking home only £450K of the 600K hammer price - thats a lotta lolly.

So you see they win but also lose.

Off the List said...

Oh, and the saleroom still makes their fees on the buyer commission.

Anonymous said...

This auction house also frequently offers fakes, and credits themselves for selling them at record prices. However the item is never picked up or paid for. This auction house is sought out by people who know that other more informed venues would reject their consignments. They used to have genuine professionals involved, but now-a-days, they prefer to use lower cost interns.