Before beginning, we wish all of our friends and readers a very happy, healthy and prosperous New Year … may 2007 be a fabulous year for all! Volume 73 marks the beginning of our 7th year and we trust that the thousands of people who receive this newsletter each month are still enjoying it.
During the past 6 years the art market has seen dramatic increases in both the prices achieved for works of art and the number of people who are not only beginning to appreciate them, but want to own them. This same period has also witnessed significant changes in opinions on art as an alternate asset class. Just a few short years ago, your financial advisor would inform you that while art is nice to own, it is typically a difficult asset to liquidate quickly. However, as many of us have witnessed, and some of you have experienced, that has been changing. Those of you who are on our Art Update Lists (our e-mail offerings for specific artist’s works) have seen many instances where works have come into the gallery and are sold within hours of being offered … there have even been times when works sold in as little as 5 minutes. On top of this, the recent sales in New York have demonstrated that works purchased just a few years ago can be placed back on the market and, in many instances, substantial profits can be realized. Now I am not suggesting that art is as liquid as stocks, but we are definitely seeing a change … one that I believe will continue as new, and even wealthier, buyers continue to enter the market.
Please keep in mind that regardless of your specific areas of interest it is extremely important that you buy what you love, buy the best you can afford, and most of all … enjoy the hunt!
This month I will begin by wrapping up my Art Market Update and then start to explore the questions that one veteran art collector asked last month; among them: what is a masterpiece? Can an artist have more than one masterpiece?
The Art Market Update Continued
The end of November saw numerous offerings in the American Paintings market … and like the other markets, there were some real fireworks.
The highlight of that week’s offerings was Edward Hopper’s Hotel Window that was owned by actor Steve Martin and expected to bring $10 - $15 million (one of the stories circulating through the art world was that Martin paid $12 million for the painting and would probably take a loss). However, after the bidding war was over, Martin had the last laugh … the painting sold for a record $26.89 million. About 15 lots earlier Norman Rockwell’s Breaking Home Ties, a work with a rather interesting history, was offered with an estimate of $4 - $6 million. In 1960 the artist Donald Trachet, a neighbor of Rockwell, bought the painting for $900 (oh, if we only knew); then in the 1970s Trachet painted a copy of the work and hid the original in a secret room behind a movable wall in his home … he was in the midst of a divorce at the time. The copy, which was thought to be the original, was exhibited through the years, however many experts were puzzled by slight differences between the painting and the actual Saturday Evening Post cover image (some assumed that the painting had suffered from being over-cleaned). Trachet passed away last year and one of his sons noticed an odd space in one of the wood panels in his home. The boys pushed the wall and it slid open, revealing the original Rockwell painting … sounds like a scene from a Hollywood movie. Well, when the bidding was over, a new auction record for a Rockwell painting was established -- $15.416 million.
Among the other stars of the week were John Singer Sargent’s Mildred Carter which brought $3.93 million; Mary Cassatt’s Antoinette Holding Her Child by Both Hands bringing $3.48 million and her Children Playing with a Cat that made $3.37 million, N.C. Wyeth’s Stand and Deliver fetching $2.032 million (an auction record); Maurice Prendergast’s West Church, Boston and Albert Bierstadt’s Autumn each brought $1.92 million; and rounding out the top ten were two additional Rockwell paintings: Lincoln the Railsplitter and Back to Civvies selling for $1.8 million and $1.69 million respectively. One other painting of note was Grandma Moses’s Sugaring Off which made an impressive $1.36 million.
When the week was over, 309 of the 387 works offered found buyers for a grand total of $120,989,200. As always, there were a number of losers … 78 to be exact, or about 20% of the items offered. However, these results continue to illustrate the strength of the American Market and that when great works of art appear anything is possible.
A Few Other Results
While reading the various trade papers and magazines I came across these interesting results. At the end of November an Eighteenth Century Chinese bowl from the Qianlong Period (1736-1795) brought an auction record $19.67 million. In a sale that took place in Easton, Maryland a record price was established for a bird decoy when an A.E. Crowell black bellied plover in spring plumage sold for an incredible $830,000; in the same sale record prices were also established for a Nathan Cobb decoy, $390,000 and a Thomas Gelston decoy $450,500. In the music world a Stradivarius violin brought $1.436 million in Boston while a Gibson 1958/63 Explorer guitar made $611,000 – the highest price ever paid at auction for a non-celebrity-owned American made musical instrument. A Breguet Silver Carriage Clock brought $1.069 million. There were also a few interesting results in the sports memorabilia market: Babe Ruth’s 1933 All-Star game jersey brought $657,250 while a signed 1954 photograph of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe set a record for a postwar signed photograph when it made $89,625. We should not forget the Americana market … here a Philadelphia Queen Anne armchair brought a record $2.256 million, while an Indian weathervane made an incredible $5.84 million.
There were some additional works of art that found their way to the market this past month, including: From the Russian market, Alexei Harlamoff’s The Little Seamstress which sold for £540,000 (about $1.063 million) and Konstantin Somov’s 15 x 18 inch Pastorale russe brought £2.4 million ($4.73 million) … both auction record prices. Even the Modern British market saw some explosive results when L.S. Lowery’s 1947 A River Bank made an over-the-top price of £1.25 million (about $2.46 million) and David Bomberg’s 1934 Cuenca from Mount Socorro brought a record £900,000 ($1.77 million).
As I am sure you can surmise, great examples from any sector of the market are still bringing extremely strong prices.
That is the Question
The questions posed by one of our clients were: What is the definition of masterpiece? Can an artist have more than one? Can a masterpiece be early in the artist’s career or is it typically later? Does the artist declare something a masterpiece or the critics? I would like to know more about what determines if a work of art is considered a “masterpiece”, and I wouldn’t be surprised if others were curious as well. In a follow-up e-mail he added ...while you are at it would you consider articulating the difference between a minor piece, a major piece, and of course a masterpiece?
It appears that this topic will take more than one complete newsletter to explore, so I will start here with a definition of a masterpiece. Various dictionaries define the word thusly: a person's greatest piece of work, as in an art.; The greatest work, as of an artist. Also called masterwork.; The most outstanding work of a creative artist or craftsman; and Wikipedia defines it as such: Originally, the term masterpiece (or chef d'œuvre) referred to a piece of handcrafted art produced by a journeyman aspiring to become a master craftsman in the old European guild system, which is partially retained today in Germany and France. These were (or are) typically perfect pieces of handicraft art, admired for their beauty and elegance.
Nowadays this term mostly refers to any work of art that is considered extraordinary. In a stronger sense, it can refer to what is considered an artist's best piece of work. For example, Leonardo Da Vinci's Mona Lisa, Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo, or William Faulkner's The Sound and The Fury.
Can an artist have more than one? If you go by the strict definition, then the answer would be no, but we all know that there are exceptions to every rule. I do believe that when it comes to a general, run-of-the-mill, artist from any period there is probably a point in time when all the stars are in alignment and they create what would be described as their masterpiece … the single most important painting they every created; one that, more than any other work, captures the very essence and meaning of that artist and their work. However, when it comes to an artistic genius, an artist who is/was constantly challenging the barriers before them, then it is more than likely that they will create more than one masterpiece during their lifetime. And what about those artists who works in various mediums: Oil, Bronze, Collage, etc. wouldn’t they have masterpieces from each? I will pick this topic up next month, but if you think about artists like Michelangelo, Picasso and Matisse, you will see where I am headed.
Gallery Updates: During the last week of January (24th – 28th), the gallery will be participating in the Los Angeles Art Show which takes place at the Barker Hanger in Santa Monica, CA. If you are in the area, please stop by for a visit.
Among the works passing through the gallery this month were Ridgway Knight’s La Source; Aston Knight’s Risle Valley; Julien Dupré’s La Bergère; George Lance’s Still Life of Fruit; Emile Munier’s Playing with the Kittens; John F. Herring’s Outside the Barn and Preparing for the Hunt; Antoine Blanchard’s Porte St. Denis, Quai du Louvre, Rue de la Paix, Place Vendome; Edouard Cortes’ Place du Tertre, Quai de Montebello: in Winter , Place de la Madeleine; and John Kuhn’s Bell Peppers.
Web Site Updates: New works by the following artists have been added to the web site this month: Ridgway Knight, Daubigny, Boudin, Diaz de la Pena, Cortes, Blanchard, Banks, Swatland, Harris, and Kuhn.
Next Month: I will continue to answer the many questions surrounding the question – What is a masterpiece?