Devil in the Details: Spring Auction Review

Auction market strong but erratic

We continue to be convinced that in most cases selling outstanding works of art by private treaty sales, that is with a fine art dealer gallery, you can minimize or even eliminate your financial risk. Just reviewing the results of three important auction sales that have taken place within the ten days prior to writing this, my conclusion is that what Canadian art auctioneers indisputably do better than any commercial art gallery I know of in Canada is write press releases. In the Canadian market when an auctioneer has a sale with a financial aggregate of $10,000,000 or $20,000,000 that is indeed a tremendous sale…for the auctioneer making the house millions of dollars for their efforts! His success however may mask the quality of financial reward reaped by the individual consigners. As the saying goes, “the devil is in the details”.

Look at the details. Arthur Lismer had a great auction season. Holgate deservedly shone. Robinson? Well I don’t think many art dealers would make a seller wait long to get him/her $500,000 for a spectacular Robinson canvas. The other Robinsons in the market did not fare well at all in my opinion. I would have similar comments about performance of paintings by Jean-Paul Lemieux this season as well as David Milne!  I cannot remember when I have seen so many excellent Milnes spurned by audiences (if I personally had $150,000 – $200,000 to buy something for my home…). With Lawren Harris, MacDonald, Casson, Fortin, and Jackson there were any number of real buys to be made. (Call me crazy but that Harris of the Montreal River I think was still inexpensive.)  Tom Thomson too came up short. One of the Thomsons showed the pitfall of resubmitting a previously unsold (burned) painting to an auction, even though this time around it had a considerably lower estimate.

In a casual chat with an art collector he was surprised when I commented that even a 2.8 million dollar Harris canvas I thought was relatively inexpensive for what it was. The same gentleman was also pleased because he then disclosed that he was its purchaser! I continued then by saying that, good news or bad news, he was lucky because there just aren’t many $3,000,000 buyers in the market right now.

One in a series of e-mail chats with a client he analytically surmised that it appeared that the results were weaker this year compared to last while the economy this year is stronger than May, June 2009. That took me back to something I have written about previously; an abundance of supply and sometime over supply that can happen during the auction season. This year for instance it is noteworthy that there were works of art from two estates being offered which, in my opinion, may be simply too many very good works of art, more than last year, to an audience the same size as last year. Plus for reasons I have outlined in previous newsletters the art dealers who before the easy retrieval of images and prices through the internet were quick to snap up “bargains” are now handicapped from taking advantage of these buying opportunities, resulting in some relatively low prices for excellent works of art.

At the gallery

For us here at Galerie Walter Klinkhoff we are in preparation of a selling show, mid August, already with some fine works under wraps for that presentation. If you are considering selling an important work of art we encourage you to contact us for a confidential consultation.

Then in September we have our annual retrospective, this year a tribute to John Fox an important Montreal based artist whose development and evolution we are confident you will find rather spectacular. Watch out for that show here in the Gallery and on line from September 11.

And finally, we are preparing an exhibition and sale of an important collection of Clarence Gagnon etchings, a collection we would prefer to sell in its entirety to one collector. This represents a lifetime of collecting for a Gagnon etching enthusiast! Details are not yet available. Stay tuned.

As with all of of our newsletters, we encourage your feedback and replies.

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