Ellsworth and Asia Week

2015’s Asia Week has proved itself to be one of the most lucrative and exciting art events of the year. A barrage of gallery and museum shows, lectures, and auctions litter the art scene in celebration of artwork from multiple nations. High predictions of sales were reported to be around the $250 million dollar range, in large part owing to the excitement over the Robert Hatfield Ellsworth sale at Christies.

Auction catalogs from four of the Ellsworth auctions via Christie's

Auction catalogs from four of the Ellsworth auctions via Christie's

Ellsworth’s prestigious collection contained Indian, Himalayan, Southeast Asian, Chinese, and Japanese art and is one of the largest of estates Asian art ever to come to auction. Considering that all 57 lots sold in Part I, it appears that this estimate may have been correct - including buyer’s premium this part of the collection totaled $61,107,500.

Gilt Bronze figure of a Seated Bear from China created in the Western Han Dynasty (200 BC – 8 AD)   courtesy of Christie's

Gilt Bronze figure of a Seated Bear from China created in the Western Han Dynasty (200 BC – 8 AD)  courtesy of Christie's

Part I – Masterworks Including Indian, Himalayan & Southeast Asian Works of Art, Chinese & Japanese Works of Art, had the highest selling works of the entire collection. The most expensive of which was the set of four 17th Century Huanghulai Horseshoe-back arm chairs that sold for over $9 million (estimate of $800,000 – $1.2 million). Another work which defied its estimate was the Gilt Bronze figure of a Seated Bear from China created in the Western Han Dynasty (200 BC – 8 AD) which was estimated to sell for between $200,000 to $300,000 and sold for $2.8 million. According to our Asian art specialist collectors were enamored by this small totem - its rare pose and subtle characterization.

However, it was not just Chinese art that did well in the sale. The second highest price was for a large gilt bronze sculpture of Avalokiteshvara from 13th Century Nepal which sold for $8.2 million (estimate of $2-3 million). A “rare and important” bronze figure of a seated Yogi, possibly Padampa Sangye sold for $4.8 million, a little more than $3 million over the high estimate.

Part II, which included Chinese furniture, scholar’s objects, and Chinese paintings, still reached high prices and totaled $39,137,625. Part III – Chinese Works of Art: Qing Ceramics, Glass & Jade totaled $8,189,875, Part IV – Chinese Works of Art: Metal, Sculpture & Early Ceramics $15,840,625, Part V – European Decorative Arts, Carpets, Old Master Paintings & Asian Works of Art $6,207,688 and Part VI – The Library $1,176,875. The extraordinary results of these sales pay tribute to Ellsworth’s genius in the field of Asian art - something for which OTE can attest, as over the years he advised our firms president on the Asian market and, in particular, the estate of C.C. Wang.

The Ellsworth sale has amounted $132 million at auction, no doubt in large part because of the incredible provenance of his collection. As the Asian art market is becoming more overheated and frenzied, provenance is becoming increasingly more important in legitimizing extraordinarily high prices for classical Chinese art.

Although they were arguable overshadowed by the Ellsworth sale at Christie’s, Sotheby’s Asia week sales also did well. Their most successful sale appears to be Fine Classical Chinese Paintings & Calligraphy which netted them $41,441,375.

However Asia week is not just about big sales, it is also an amazing time to learn more about the art history and development of countries throughout Asia. A lecture I attended at the Korean Society, ‘Adoption, Assimilation, Transformation,’ with Robert D. Mowry discussed some of the most important developments in Korea’s art history and its relationship with China.

Geumgang Jeondo (금강전도 金剛全圖) by Jeong Seon

Geumgang Jeondo (금강전도 金剛全圖) by Jeong Seon

During the lecture Mr. Mowry spoke about the distinctly Korean style of landscape paintings typified by the painter Jeong Seon 정선 / 鄭敾 (1676–1759), whose pen name Gyeomjae meant humble study. He lived during the Joseon Dynasty and is one of the few known Korean painters to move away from traditional Chinese styles. Another, Shin Yun-bok (1758-early 19th C), paintings of people reveal a humor that is also uniquely Korean. Their paintings present a contextual history for some of Korea’s modern painters such as An Jung-sik (안중식, 1861-1919).

Scenery on Dano day (단오풍정 端午風情) by Shin Yun-bok , in the Gansong Art Museum in Seoul, South Korea

Scenery on Dano day (단오풍정 端午風情) by Shin Yun-bok , in the Gansong Art Museum in Seoul, South Korea

Overall it was a great week to experience some of the world’s most beautiful art and culture.



Best in Show: Auction House Previews

Vintage Diamond Ring tried on at a Christie's jewelry preview

Vintage Diamond Ring tried on at a Christie's jewelry preview

Auction previews happen all the time in New York City, but who goes? Well intrepid collectors, obviously, looking for their next big purchase and art world insiders. At any time the top auction houses: Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Phillip’s and Bonham’s, have a rotation of artwork, furniture or jewelry (just to name a few) on view. What is not widely known is that these previews are open free to the public. What is so exciting about this is that much of what is on view will go from private collections back into private collections. For some of these artworks and objects this is the only time they will be viewed by the public.

Not to mention, if you are a jewelry lover like me and want to try on $100,000+ rings, necklaces and earrings this is your chance! All one has to do is walk in and ask what floor the preview is and then you are good to go. But this is not the only reason you should go to a preview. Much like a museum or gallery these exhibitions are often curated and will offer a different perspective on the work at hand. An upcoming auction at Sotheby’s, The New York Sale, looks like a good prospect. According to Sotheby’s this is a curated auction of “items from, inspired by and celebrating New York City.”  This inaugural New York Sale includes Print, Photographs, Paintings, Sculpture, Silver, Books, Jewelry and iconic New York Memorabilia.

Auctions are often themed and scheduled to coincide with other events in New York. Right now Bonhams has an exhibition called Dogs in Show and Field for an auction featuring only canine focused fine art, a perfect match for the annual Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, also in New York. The auction is happening tomorrow February 18th in New York beginning at 10am, so don’t worry dog lovers you still have time to hit both events.

Seeing auction previews and the auctions themselves is a great way to get a feel for what’s in the market at the moment, the prices and conditions of what is available. Plus, it can be a great way to spend an afternoon.

Here are some interesting auction previews and exhibitions that are coming up:

·         Rockefeller Center and the Rise of Modernism in the Metropolis, Christie’s Private Selling Exhibition, New York

    • On view: 17 January – 25 February 2015

·         Dogs in Show and Field, Bonham’s New York

    • On view: Today, February 17th 10AM-6PM
    • Auction: February 18th 10AM

·         Under the Influence, Phillips New York

    • 23 February – 3 March, 10am-6pm (Sundays 12pm-6pm)
    • Auction: March 4th 11am

·         The New York Sale, Sotheby’s New York

    • On view: 26 March - 31 March, 10AM - 01PM
    • Auction: April 1st, 7PM 

 

 

What to Look for When Collecting Photographs (part I)

"A True Photograph need not be explained, nor can it be contained in words" - Ansel Adams

While this holds true in the visual appreciation of a photo, when purchasing at auction you may want to be a little more loquacious. At a lecture in conjunction with Heritage’s October photography auction in New York City, OTE staff picked up some tips for collecting photographs. Rachel Peart, Heritage Director of Photography and Alice Sachs, the President of Art + Business Partners and an avid collector of photography, stressed a number of elements important for buyers to evaluate, whether purchasing from an auction or private sale.

The market for photography has remained relative stable over the last couple of years and as of June of this year ArtTactic reported the overall confidence in the market increased by 9 percent. Sales at auction have also increased. The Modern Photography market saw a 22 percent increase and the Vintage photography market had a particularly large increase of 125 percent, while the market for Contemporary photography remained the same from 2012 to 2013 (ArtTactic Photography Market Report January 2014). However, it is the Contemporary market that continues to drive sales at the top end. Prices for iconic photographers (i.e. Man Ray and Alfred Stieglitz) can get into the hundreds of thousands of dollars while a large percentage of sales are affordable, under $10,000.

The photography market is a tricky one. Collecting is often motivated by rarity and personal aesthetics, which makes paying attention to a photograph’s catalog description key.  This may seem basic, but interpreting how a photograph’s print date and the print type relate to an artist’s market is more confusing than it looks.  In a typical description of a photographic lot at auction there is the artist’s name followed by the italicized title and a date (in red in the example). This represents the 'negative date' – the date when the photographer took the image. 

Example of a catalog description from the Heritage October 16, 2014 Photographic Auction

Example of a catalog description from the Heritage October 16, 2014 Photographic Auction

Example of a catalog description from the Heritage October 16, 2014 Photographic Auction

Example of a catalog description from the Heritage October 16, 2014 Photographic Auction

The actual date when the photography was printed is usually found either next to or as a part of the type of print (gold star above). For the Bernice Abbott photograph above “Vintage” is the only indication of when the photograph was printed. Some photographs, like the Cindy Sherman photograph on the right, are accompanied by the exact printing date (also in red). The print date informs a collector about how the specific photograph fits into the timeline of an artist’s body of work. The context of a photograph produced significantly later than the negative date is different than one printed close to when the photograph was originally taken and is a variable to be taken into account when purchasing.

Here is a guide to non-specific print date references:

  • Vintage Print: printed within five years of the negative.
  • Early Print: printed within ten years of the negative.
  • Later Print: printed at least ten years after the negative.
  • Modern Print- printed many years after the negative.
  • Posthumous Print: printed after the death of the artist.
  • Contemporary Print: currently being printed.

How much the date of printing matters in the valuation of a photograph depends on the artist. Bill Brandt’s (British, 1904-1983) later prints are darker and are valued differently than his early prints. Some descriptions will specify the person who printed them. If someone other than the artist printed the photograph it can have a strong impact on value; positive or negative, depending on their relationship with the artist. Photographs by Ed Weston (American, 1886-1958) printed by his sons are considered valuable because they were trained by him and followed his methods, but if the photographs were printed by another party this would likely not be the case. The type of photograph (the process used to create the print) is a variable that should not be overlooked.

The most common types of photographs seen at auction are:

  • Gelatin Silver: a black and white print made from 1870s to the 20th century.
  • Chromogenic prints: (also referred to as C-prints) color prints made since 1940.
  • Dye Transfer: color prints made since 1928.
  • Digital prints: (also called Digital Inkjet prints) a printing process developed recently.

In looking at the type of print it is helpful to know an artist’s typical practice. While rarity is often a positive attribute, this is not true in all instances. Ansel Adams is well known for his gelatin silver photographs in black and white and though his color photographs are rarer they are not as well received at auction. Aesthetic considerations aside, successful purchasing decisions are often based on understanding what specifically to pay attention to for an individual artist.

This blog referenced information from: