Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shake up in the Art World

19th Century European art is a bit, I think, like the mid-list author. In case you don't know, a mid-list author is rarely given the best placement in a bookshop or individual attention from publishing house reps for the new releases, or top dollar contracts. In fact, they are often dumped by a publisher without much thought for a series they be in the midst of, and all despite producing consistently good books.

Well, times they are a changing, or they are at least they are in the art world.

A few weeks ago there were a couple of auctions.  The first contained Modern and Impressionist, the darling of recent auctions, and another which was for 19th Century European art.  The former did well, 71% increase* over the last auction, with Amedeo Modigliani's nude as the star piece.  The painting was thought to go for $40 million, but instead went for just shy of $69 million - making it the 14th most expensive piece of art to sell at auction(1). 

Despite the great news, the latter auction was what interested me.  The second auction's category was considered so undesireable, one auction house abandoned holding them.  Thankfully a competitor held one and that auction earned a 521% increase* over the last one held.  Well, well, well, so no category is ever truly dead.  The star of the second auction was Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema and his piece called 'The Finding of Moses'.

Here's my disclaimer:  I happen to adore his work and, yes, it most likely stems from his use of Ancient Greece as the subject matter.

Anyway, you can read the's article on the auction, which is what caught my attention but it was the fiscal history of the painting which caused my mouth to drop open, and I'll share a bit of it here.

bought in 1904 for £5,250 [one of the most expensive ever sold in England]
sold in 1960 for £900 [for frame] and painting offered to many British museums for no cost, but not taken
sold in 1995 for $2.8 million [ in New York]
sold in 2010 for $36 million [$31 to $33 million over estimate]

So, does Alma-Tadema represent a shake up in the art world, or a freak event?  In my opinion it's a shake up because of supply and demand, although it also looks like art is a commodity which some people are willing to invest ever more money into.  Those who collect aren't selling and need to search for their treasures in other categories.

Thank you for consistently feeding my love for art news and for the picture of The Finding of Moses and ArtInfo for the Modigliani news and picture.

*=in both cases, the last auction held was this time last year.

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