In March 2016, a US auction gallery sold an Old Master oil painting (a sketch of an old woman) for $27,000. The sale price was nearly double the high auction estimate of 15,000.  However, when the same painting was recently sold by Sotheby’s London in a July 2017 sale as an authentic Peter Paul Rubens, it achieved a hammer of £416,750 (close to $550,000 USD), which is nearly 20 times the original purchase price.

It has been reported that the appraisers at Sotheby’s London relied on certain clues to authenticate painting and attribute to Peter Paul Rubens himself. For example, Rubens had painted this old lady before, and there were examples of Rubens work with the old women at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and the Lichtenstein museum.  Interestingly, the work was consigned to Sotheby’s after it had been properly cleaned and restored. The restoration work revealed that the sketch had been overpainted, and this overpainting is likely the reason why the work was not properly attributed in the first place.   Importantly, this is not the first time an authentic Rubens was late discovered. In 2015, a portrait deaccessed by the Metropolitan Museum of Art was later determined to be an authentic Rubens and fetched $626,500 at auction (over 20 times its original high estimate of $30,000).

As the Washington Post reports, authentic Rubens are valuable – even if they are mere sketches and not final oil portraits. Rubens value has increased. For example, last year a Rubens painting, Lot and his Daughters, set a new record for an Old Masters sale fetching £44.8 million ($58.1 million USD).

Unfortunately, the value and popularity of Rubens make his Old Master works a prime target for forgery. This heightened concern can move an appraiser to conservatively attribute paintings to “school/student/studio of” an Old Master rather than the Old Master himself.  This recent Rubens auction sale demonstrates that sometimes the caveat emptor/buyer beware mantra can benefit the buyer in more ways than one. In this case, taking the extra step to invest in restoration and cleaning paid off exponentially for the original auction buyer.

In recent art world news, earlier this month the Castello di Rivoli Museum of Contemporary Art of Turin, Italy announced an agreement with the Fondazione Francesco Federico Cerruti per l’Arte to maintain and display the impressive but largely unknown private collection of the late Francesco Federico Cerruti of 13th– to 20th-century treasures.  Cerruti was a reclusive Italian art collector and entrepreneur whose collection was regarded as one of the best in Europe.

The collection has been valued at $570 million to $600 million by Sotheby’s in 2015 and includes masterworks by Francis Bacon, Giorgio de Chirico and Jacopo Pontormo.  The collection is on permanent loan to the museum and is planned to be the centerpiece of a museum expansion scheduled to open to the public in January 2019.

Cerruti’s collection, amassed over seven decades, includes about 300 paintings and sculptures, 200 rare and ancient books, including fine hand-bound editions, and 300 pieces of furniture and other decorative works.  Cerruti owned some exceptional works, including Bacon’s canvas “Study for a Portrait IX” (1957), a postwar highlight, Amedeo Modigliani’s “Woman in a Yellow Dress (La Belle Espagnole)” (1918), and a group of five rare “Metaphysical” (1910) oil paintings by de Chirico.

When purchasing art in Italy, Cerruti benefited from “a Mussolini-vintage regulation prohibiting the permanent export of artworks more than 50 years old officially designated as having cultural interest.  These works could not be sold on the international market.”  The late Cerruti was from a generation that did not buy 21st-century art.

The Cerruti collection represents a “rare case of a contemporary-art museum incorporating an encyclopedic and historical art trove.”  The museum intends to integrate works from the collection into its changing displays of contemporary art instead of keeping old and new works separate.

 

A recent trial in the High Court in London has highlighted a few notable truths about doing business in the art world.

The trial centers around a commission allegedly owed to the famous Swiss auctioneer Simon de Pury, who claims to be owed a $10 million commission from the sale of Paul Gauguin’s 1892 oil painting “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry)?”   There was no written agreement for the alleged commission and the deal took two years to complete.

The painting sold for $210 million in 2014, but was initially reported to have been sold for $300 million.  Had the painting been sold for $300, it would have been the most expensive sale known for a piece of fine art.

Indeed, from these facts alone, we can glean certain truths about art transactions.

First, art transactions are often done under a cloak of privacy, and the information that the public receives about the price of art may be incorrect.  With the disclosures made in the lawsuit, we now know that the sale of the Gauguin would rank third – not first —  in the highest grossing sales of art ever, behind Willem de Kooning’s 1955 painting “Interchanged” with a reported sale price of $300 million in 2016, and Cézanne’s “Card Players” with a reported sale price of $250 million in 2011, according to the New York Times.

Second, many transactions and the lucrative commissions that accompany them are often done on a handshake.  While this may be surprising to those who are unfamiliar with such transactions, the art world continues to operate on an old-fashioned, familiar basis.

Third, art transactions are often complex.  The two year time frame of this transaction reflects what was likely significant due diligence by the parties to the transaction, not surprising when one considers the amount of money at stake.

A Jackson Pollock painting possibly worth over $15 Million was found in a garage in Arizona among other knick-knacks and memorabilia. The painting was located because the homeowner was downsizing and moving to a retirement facility. During the move, a friend spotted a signed L.A. Lakers poster believed to be of value, which prompted review of other items in the garage. The sports poster was determined to be only worth $300 (actually not a bad value for a modern-day poster, which generally does not retain value). In contrast to the poster, the Pollack was taken back to the auction gallery for further examination. After feverishly researching the provenance in an effort to determine how the Pollack could end up in Arizona (where regional southwestern art is king), the appraiser/auctioneer involved, Josh Levin of J. Levine Auction & Appraisal, found a link from the Arizona owner to his half-sister, Jenifer Gordon Cosgriff, who was a New York Socialite.  After tireless research, it has been determined that the painting is a missing Pollack gouache. In regard to authentication, the auction gallery indicates that the forensic report states that “no pigments or binding media introduced in the late 1950s and 1960s have been detected.” Reports indicate that since  the painting was removed from storage it has been restored.  The painting will go to the auction block next week in Scottsdale, AZ with a reported starting bid of $5 Million.

In recent art world news, Christie’s in New York announced this week that it will auction off 2,000 items from the estate of the late David Rockefeller, who was the last living grandson of American industrialist John D. Rockefeller until his passing earlier this year at 101, and his late wife, Peggy Rockefeller, who passed away in 1996.

Rockefeller was a passionate supporter of the arts throughout his long life and possessed a keen eye for art.  He bought a Mark Rothko painting in 1960 for $10,000 that was later sold at auction in 2007 for $72 million.

The Rockefeller estate may break the record for most valuable collection ever sold at auction with estimates in the $700 million range.  The collection of the late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Bergé, set the previous record when it was sold at Christie’s in Paris in 2009 for nearly $500 million.

The auction of the Rockefeller estate will benefit various charities long supported by the Rockefellers, including the Museum of Modern Art, Harvard University, the Council on Foreign Relations, and the Rockefeller Fund.

Christie’s will auction off the estate in Spring 2018 in a number of auctions to be announced at a later date.  The estate includes American decorative arts, Chinese export porcelain, European ceramics, furniture, Impressionist and modern works, and silver.

 

In recent art world news, a prized painting, “La Punta Della Dogana e San Giorgio Maggiore” (1739-40) by the artist Michele Marieschi, has become the focus of a 70-year restitution effort by the Graf family and its heirs that is now being resolved on an ambivalent note.

Back in 1937, Vienna, a couple named Heinrich and Anna Maria Graf purchased a scenic 18th-century oil painting of the Grand Canal in Venice with the Punta Della Dogana in the background.  The Graf family considered the prized painting to be the highlight of their treasured art collection.  The next year, after Austria was annexed by Germany, the Grafs along with their young twin daughters, Erika and Eva, fled the country.  In 1942, by the time the family settled in New York, all the family’s possessions had been looted by the Nazis.

The prized painting will be part of an upcoming old masters auction in July at Sotheby’s in London as a restitution settlement reached between the heirs and a trust on behalf of the now deceased owner.  Sotheby’s has estimated the painting’s value in the range of $650,000 to $905,000.  Though treasured by the Graf family, the painting is not widely considered to be a significant work.

This painful and circuitous history reflects how looted artworks that have been in private hands for decades are coming to market after settlement agreements with the rightful owners, in a way that tries to address their tainted past.  These agreements may not result in the return of the paintings to the heirs, but the compromise does provide at least a form of resolution and some compensation to the heirs, and brings the artworks out of hiding.”

The heirs of the Graf family were not able to have the painting returned to them because the deceased owner and the trust declined to return the artwork.  Instead, an agreement was reached between the parties that includes sharing of the proceeds from the Sotheby’s sale.

The Graf family had been actively searching for the painting since 1946 around the time Heinrich Graf submitted a claim for the work in Austria.  Decades later, in 1998, the two daughters with the assistance of the Art Loss Register, a database of lost and stolen art that also offers search services, posted an ad in The Art Newspaper seeking information on the painting.

In 2013, after the death of the owner of the painting, the artwork fell into a trust.  In 2015, the trust reached out to Art Recovery International, which specializes in the mediation of restitution claims.  It was around this time that negotiations with the Graf heirs began.  The estate of the deceased owner and the Graf family reached the restitution agreement in December.

For further information on this intriguing story, see “After Decades, A ‘Bittersweet’ Resolution Over Lost Art[,]” published online by The New York Times on May 28, 2017.

In recent art news, a vibrant painting of a skull, “Untitled” (1982), by the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat sold for $110.5 million at Sotheby’s last Thursday evening and earned the distinction of becoming the sixth most expensive work ever sold at auction.  With last week’s sale, only ten other works have surpassed the $100 million mark.

The buyer of the Basquiat painting was Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa who identified himself as the successful bidder through a recent post on his social media account.  In his post, Maezawa said “I am happy to announce that I just won this masterpiece” and added “[w]hen I first encountered this painting, I was struck with so much excitement and gratitude for my love of art.  I want to share that experience with as many people as possible.”

Incidentally, it was Maezawa who set the previous auction high for Basquiat in which he paid $57.3 million for the late artist’s 1982 painting of a horned devil at Christie’s last year.

This latest Basquiat acquisition by Maezawa is intended for a planned museum in his hometown of Chiba, Japan.  Maezawa said in a statement that “[b]ut before then I wish to loan this piece—which has been unseen by the public for more than 30 years—to institutions and exhibitions around the world.”

It remains to be seen as to whether one art collector makes a market as it will take another significant Basquiat work to test the sustainability of this $100 million level.

It was reported that Basquiat’s “Untitled” painting set a number of records last Thursday night at Sotheby’s postwar and contemporary auction of which include “for a work by any American artist, for a work by an African-American artist[,] and as the first work created since 1980 to make over $100 million.”

Last year, according to Artprice, Basquiat became the highest-grossing American artist at auction, generating over $170 million in sales from 80 works, and the artist’s auction high has increased an impressive tenfold in the last 15 years.

Sotheby’s auction last week fetched a total of $319 million against a low estimate of $211 million with 96 percent of the 50 lots sold in which 60 percent of the lots reached prices above their estimates.  Contributing to its success, Sotheby’s had a number of works in the “middle range around $5 million to $10 million” that were attractive to the market.

 

 

U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management, will host a panel discussion at the JAMES A. MICHENER ART MUSEUM in Doylestown, PA on “Effectively Managing A Fine Art Collection” on May 17, 2017 from 5:30 P.M. to 7:30 P.M.

The panel will be hosted by ERIC J. ABEL, Private Client Advisor at U.S. Trust and feature EVAN BEARD, National Art Services Executive, U.S. Trust; RAMSAY H. SLUGG, National Wealth Planning Strategist, U.S. Trust; and CINDY CHARLESTON-ROSENBERG, Founder and President, Art Appraisal Firm, LLC. The panelists will provide updates on trends in the art industry, the importance of appraisals and proper planning for collections, and how to address issues related to conservation and restoration of fine art.

The event is by invitation only. Interested parties should contact Eric Abel at 610-567-4735 or at eric.abel@ustrust.com.

The James A. Michener Art Museum is located at 138 South Pine Street, Doylestown, PA 18901. This event is a great opportunity to learn about art connoisseurship while enjoying the Michener Art Museum and its wonderful collection of Bucks County gems.

In recent art world news, next week’s auction sales of Impressionist, modern and Surrealist art in London will test the strength of the international art market in this current climate of uncertainty.  The art world, of course, is hoping that it will be business as usual and perhaps even a strong market for investment-grade Guaguins and Magrittes.

The notable lot is expected to be Gustav Klimt’s vibrant flower painting “Bauerngarten (Blumengarten),” which was created in a garden near Lake Attersee in Austria during the summer of 1907.  The work is estimated to fetch well over 35 million pounds (about $44 million) at Sotheby’s on March 1, 2017.  The Klimt sale appears to be well timed as it was recently reported that American media magnate Oprah Winfrey had sold Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer II” (1912) last year for $150 million to a Chinese buyer in a private transaction.  Ms. Winfrey had purchased the painting in 2006 at Christie’s for nearly $88 million.

Despite the contraction in certain areas of the art market, the bankability of Klimt, whose $135 million ‘Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I’ was the world’s most expensive artwork in 2006, is reaching new heights.”

Klimt is recognized as a global brand, particularly since “[e]veryone knows ‘The Kiss,’ and, because of the film ‘Woman in Gold,’ more people know about the Bloch-Bauer portraits.  They’re super[-]icons[,]” according to Patrick Legant, a London-based art adviser who specializes in Impressionist and modern works.

According to the Artnet database of salesroom results, Klimt’s “Bauerngarten (Blumengarten)” is guaranteed to sell “courtesy of a third-party ‘irrevocable’ bidder, at an auction price yet to be seen for a landscape by the artist[.]”

Although the Klimt painting is described as being “property from an important private collection,” the deciphered hieroglyphic catalog symbols below the description reveal that Sotheby’s “owns the lot in whole or in part.”  It appears that Sotheby’s has proactively purchased the Klimt work at least in part.  The auction house is now “flipping” the painting at one of its own sales next week, where it will definitely find a buyer in view of the third-party irrevocable bid.

For further information on next week’s London auction sales, see “London Sales Will Gauge Art Market’s Health in Trump Era,” published online by the New York Times on February 24, 2017.

 

In recent art world news, on December 29, 2016, the Polish government signed an agreement with the privately owned Princes Czartoryski Foundation to purchase the Czartoryski art collection, which is recognized as one of Europe’s most significant private art collections.  The family foundation has administered the collection since its inception in 1991.

The Czartoryski art collection includes 250,000 historic manuscripts and documents, some of which were previously owned by Polish kings.  The treasured collection also includes 86,000 museum artifacts of which contain 593 precious artworks, most notably, Leonardo da Vinci’s “Lady With an Ermine” (1489-1490), Rembrandt’s “Landscape With the Good Samaritan” (1638), and sketches by Rembrandt, Auguste Renoir and Albrecht Dürer.

The purchase transaction only changes the status of the family art collection, which was set up more than 200 years ago by Princess Izabela Czartoryska.  It has been reported that the artworks will remain where they are today – most are housed and displayed in the National Museum in Krakow with the exception of “Lady With an Ermine”, which is displayed at the Wawel Royal Castle in Krakow.

The legal effort of Poland’s culture ministry “reflects a broader goal by the right-wing Law and Justice government, which since taking power more than a year ago has been striving to re-establish Polish heritage and history as a source of national identity and pride.”  Poland’s deputy prime minister and minister of culture, Piotr Glinski, who signed the agreement, has acknowledged that the $105 million paid for the collection by the Polish government is “way below the market price,” which is widely estimated at more than $2 billion, and the transaction can be viewed more as a “donation.”

Many artworks from the family art collection were looted during the war years, including Raphael’s masterpiece “Portrait of a Young Man” (1513-1514) and were never recovered.  The list of lost art work includes as many as 800 works.  The recently signed agreement “not only gives Poland the rights to the current collection, but also transfers the rights to any future claims to works of art that may be retrieved.”