Spring Canadian Art Auctions and Market Review

Predictable auction results confirm the advantages of private sales

One of our distinguished colleagues, Chris Varley, recently distributed summary of his observations regarding a trio of auction sales including many with which we agree.  I would also choose add a few comments of my own:

Essentially what we are seeing is a polarization of the market where there is enormous interest for what our distinguished client, friend and neighbour, investment guru Stephen Jarislowsky, refers to as “first quartile” works of art.  The evidence was the record price achieved for the exceptional Borduas and Brandtner at Sotheby’s, the Lemieux of “La plage Américaine”, the J.E.H. MacDonald, and one Emily Carr at Heffel, as well as Joyner’s resounding success with a most handsome Carmichael watercolour.  Although much more modest in value, I confess that Joyner’s solid price for his Emma Lake Dorothy Knowles was a surprise to me.  It is only so because I thought that it might have been lost, hidden almost at the end of a lengthy sale and that I could afford to purchase it for my home.  I think it also worth commenting that a few Krieghoffs in decent condition were lots consistently well supported this season. (It is about time!  This is actually a phenomenon we are seeing in other markets where prices for some contemporary fields are so hot that astute collectors and investors are looking at opportunities among the classics.).

When a market tightens up in terms of the number of participants as it has done in this economic condition the inundation of supply which the auction season brings in our small market results in a dilution of price except perhaps for the very best “first quartile” works being offered among all the sales.  If one is an auction buyer chances are one subscribes to all of the obvious catalogues.  If one is an auction seller I have no hesitation in saying that I do not subscribe to the popular opinion that one house will achieve a better price than another because of its marketing strategies or money spent on publicity.  Whichever has the best Borduas, Carr, Cullen, Krieghoff, Kurelek, Lemieux or whatever, it is that house that will achieve the highest auction price for the artist in that particular series of auction sales.

For those who are willing to assume the enormity of risk selling at auction my advice is simply to pick one which offers the most favorable terms.  “Enhanced hammer” is a term you should try to negotiate and I think these days entirely feasible.

Generally speaking this season’s auction results picture by picture should imply to a knowledgeable seller that to sell a precious work of art with a fixed price gallery is a highly preferable option to pursue.  Whereas Lemieux’s “La Plage Américaine” hammered at $1,550,000 if one is looking for the explanation for the incredibly modest hammer price of $325,000 for the outstanding and monumental Lemieux,”Le mois de juin” it is in my opinion because I think there were fouteen Lemieuxs being offered at auction within less than a couple of weeks. The quantity of supply dilutes prices, especially for the second best and less being offered during that auction season. Handled in a fixed price setting things would have been significantly more advantageous to the seller.   I don’t mind telling you that a Milne which hammered at $42,500 is the same one for which we offered directly to the owner $75,000. One sale alone had eleven Lawren Harris works, which undoubtedly explains why two pretty good ones, works that I think a year ago would have brought $100,000 plus, hammered at $55,000 each.  Although one Carr did bring a super and deserving price, I do not think anyone would argue with my observation that having a total of eight works by her in one sale alone did little to maintain her overall prices.  All the excitement about Marcelle Ferron brought four of her paintings to one sale alone where the best one did extremely well and the rest remained unsold.  Who would have imagined that six months ago?  Some of those unsold works by Ferron and others were pretty darn good.  Handled in a different context, that is a fixed price option, I speculate that they would have fared quite well.

Finally, I think it likely that the number of “buy ins” or unsold lots were at or close to record numbers at least for one auction house, a footprint for a work of that renders it unsalable in the medium term.

My comments and observations serve to underline the enormity of the risk one incurs selling a fine and precious work of art at auction. Should a fixed price gallery like ours be offering you what you are comfortable is the opportunity to achieve the highest price you should expect to receive for it, I have no doubt that the recent results confirm the advisability for one to leap at the offer.

We at Galerie Walter Klinkhoff are in preparation of a sale of important works of art to be shown on line from June 29. Already enthusiastic collectors active in the market are contacting us for a “head’s up” as to what we shall have available. For a confidential consultation, we encourage you to contact us without delay if you are considering the sale of a fine and important work of art.

Copyright © Galerie Walter Klinkhoff, 2012

2 Comments

  1. John Shearer says:

    Dear Alan
    Thanks for your insightful summation of the spring auctions. I would just like to add a few words on the results for Marcelle Ferron. The small 10.5 x 8.5in gem of 1960 sold for a solid price of $45,000, the other painting which was bought in at the same sale was not fresh to the market having appeared at auction in Montreal previously, and was incorrectly described and estimated this time round. A late watercolor lacking the essential element in great Ferrons namely colour, was also bought in. Perhaps the bargain of the season was the large museum quality 1959 Ferron, presented by the auction house in quarters unsuitable for large works, namely lack of space and decent lighting. I bought this piece in partnership with a colleague and would gladly have paid double.
    John Shearer, Toronto.

    Like

    • John, thank you for your reply and comments. We are the first to acknowledge that the quarters may not have been either optimum for showing or for selling work. Indeed, I recognize some of the work to be of an inferior quality and deserving of being BIs. Other work however tanks in my opinion because of that brief time of oversupply of “goods” by the artists, your astute purchase a case in point. Our problem is that for any number of reasons we are unable to purchase for resale those delicious bargains available at auction.
      Thank you again for your input. Congratulations for your outstanding purchase.
      Regards & best wishes,
      Alan

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: