June 12, 2020, 6:30 a.m. EDT

Sotheby’s Offers Online Sale for Old Masters and 19th Century Works

Sotheby’s will be hosting an online sale of Old Masters and 19th century works in the collections of 39 dealers beginning on June 18. 

Titled “The Dealer’s Eye London and New York,” the dual, simultaneously offered sales will feature more than 100 works from among the best dealers in the world, with each dealer offering three for sale. 

The idea for the first-of-its-kind sale came from Otto Naumann , a client development director at Sotheby’s, who closed his own Old Masters gallery in New York two years ago, and wanted to support dealers who may be struggling from having to shutter their galleries in response to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Not only have these galleries not been able to hold exhibitions, Tefaf Maastricht, a wide-ranging art fair held annually in the Netherlands that features Old Masters, closed early, and other art fairs, that are a steady source of funds for galleries, have been canceled. 

“I know what situation I would be in if this happened to me—I would really be in trouble,” Naumann says. 

Another big factor in his thinking, he says, was the success of Sotheby’s recent online auction dedicated to a single dealer—London-based gallery Rafael Valls , which specializes in Western European paintings from the 16th to the 20th centuries. The April auction of more than 100 works, also a first, achieved £1.6 million (US$2 million), triple its pre-sale estimate. 

While online sales haven’t replaced, in value, what can be raised in live auctions, Sotheby’s has embraced various digital formats, replacing live auctions with online offerings, and creating wholly new sales. So far this year, Sotheby’s has sold works totaling US$150 million in more than 80 online auctions. 

Naumann finds the online auction experience to actually be “superior” to live auctions, as it allows for far more detail on each work to be included in the catalog entries, and it offers the ability to look closely at an individual work. “You can zoom in on the cracks,” he says. 

That said, Sotheby’s will be returning to a live auction format in London on July 28, in a cross-category sale that will feature a Rembrandt self-portrait—one of only three in private hands—as well as contemporary, modern, and British modern works. Rembrandt ’s Self-portrait, wearing a ruff and black hat, 1632, carries an estimate between £12 million and £16 million

“The Dealers Eye: London” will feature 66 lots from 22 galleries, while “The Dealers Eye: New York” will feature 51 works by 17 galleries. 

Prices for the works will range higher than in any previous Old Masters sale, Naumann says. That includes a work he is particularly excited about— Thomas Patch ’s View of the River Arno with the Ponte Alle Grazie, with an estimate between £200,000 and £300,000, which is being offered by Robilant Fine Art. The 16th-century painting achieved an auction record of US$433,000 for the artist in 2008 at Sotheby’s in New York. 

The price range in the London sale ranges from Patch’s painting to an estimate between £8,000 and £12,000 for Tommaso Ruiz ’s Vesuvius erupting at Night , which is being sold by Charles Beddington

In the New York sale, there are two works at the high end, with estimates between US$150,000 and US$200,000: Govaert Flinck ’s Portrait of a lady in a turban, half-length , offered by the Koetser Gallery; and Paul Bril ’s Coastal Landscape with the Calling of Saint Peter , offered from Galerie Sanct Lucas , Vienna. The least expensive work is Hector Hanoteau’s Portrait of a man with a mustache , carrying an estimate between US$2,000 and US$3,000, and offered by Ambrose Naumann Fine Art. 

While Naumann originally intended the sale to focus on Old Masters only, several dealers began submitting 19th century works for consideration, and the specialists sifting through the images and catalog notes for each were accepting them. 

“Time is moving, and the 19th century is getting older and older,” Naumann says. Auction houses have resisted combining these categories in part because some 19th-century works feature saccharine subjects, like kittens, that didn’t quite fit with the aura of the Old Masters. 

But many dealers are moving in this direction, such as Jack Kilgore in New York, who slowly sold off his Old Masters to move toward the 19th and early 20th centuries. Kilgore’s gallery will be represented in the sale. 

Another innovation of the sale is each named gallery will have a page on Sotheby’s linked to their works for sale. The pages will include the dealer’s biography, a photo of their gallery’s interior, and his or her photograph, as well as contact information.

“That means anyone who is interested in a lot can contact the owner of that lot,” Naumann says. “That’s a kind of transparency on the part of Sotheby’s that’s never been done before.”

In Naumann’s view, the arrangement benefits both dealers and the auction house, which will build a relationship with the galleries and with their clients. 

Each painting will also include a catalog entry written by the gallery in addition to a comment by a Sotheby’s specialist explaining why they liked the work and wanted it in the sale. 

Dealers who participate in the sale, which runs until June 25, will receive the full price minus the buyer’s premium, and won’t be obligated to pay the ancillary costs that go along with selling at auction, including photography and insurance. 

“They only have to pay to get it where it’s going to be sold,” Naumann says. “Anyone who's sold at auction knows there are a lot of tiny things that add up. I wanted all that erased.”

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