EXPERT ADVICE FOR SELLERS
Hiding in plain site
In 2016 I was approached by someone in my town who said her elderly mother in law had a ‘print’ and they wanted to find out if it had any value. I encouraged her to send me pictures and when I opened the image I was immediately aware this was something special. A few emails and a visit confirmed it was not a print, but an original drawing by an Austrian artist Oscar Kokoschka. Kokoschka was a true starving artist and could only afford to draw on brown butcher’s paper, as was the case with this work. Kokoschka was the contemporary of Egon Schiele and the influence behind the raw emotionalism displayed in contemporary work of Lucian Freud.
My research showed that Bonham’s (an auction house in Manhattan on Madison and 56thstreet) had achieved the highest price to date for a Kokoschka drawing . We made an appointment and brought the drawing in. As soon as it was unwrapped the specialist’s eyes popped. The image was of a bearded man sitting bare chested with his arms crossed in front of him. The intensity of the image would not let you take your eyes off of it.
The story of how it came to the US and was in this woman’s apartment added to the provenance of the piece: The owners’ brother in law dabbled in dealing in art in Germany in the 40’s and gave it to his brother and sister in law as a wedding gift. Painted on brown paper, the vision of this powerful but unkempt man was not perhaps the usual gift to wish a young couple well on their journey. They always joked that the brother didn’t like it and gave it to them as a way to get rid of it. Regardless, it hung on their apartment wall in a simple wood frame and no one paid any attention to it until 2016.
The estimate Bonham’s put on the drawing was $70,000-90,000. On auction day it sold for $360,000! I was told it went to an important institution.
SOLD FOR $325,000
An acquaintance mentioned they had a strand of jade beads that had been part of a 3 strand necklace their mother had purchased in the 50’s. At some point she separated the necklace and gave one each to her two daughters and daughter –in-law.
Years later they all confided that they never wore them and might as well sell them together. In the 80’s the mother had an informal appraisal done at a jewelry shop in Manhattan that told her they were worth around $40,000. We don’t know if that was FMV or Insurance. The necklace was Chinese and there was a beautiful pearl clasp. I consulted Lark Mason, a colleague who specializes in Chinese and Asian art and now has an online auction business. We had worked together at Sotheby’s and often went on appraisals together.
He recognized it immediately as an Imperial Mandarin necklace due to the superior quality of the jade beads. In China such a necklace has important cultural value as in China a young woman who wore such a necklace would be immediately recognized as someone from ‘the right kind of family’ and hence very important to be able to get her married to the right husband. I asked if we should have the three strands restrung. His advice was to leave it as is since the Chinese would understand that in America no one would have appreciated the importance of it being together and it showed it had been in private hands and not from a jewelry dealer. The necklace was estimated $70-90,000. It sold for $325,000.
English Regency Consoles
Several years ago I took on the sale of a near pair of English Regency consoles. They appealed to me because they had dog form supports which I found charming and thought in spite of their ‘brown’ mahogany construction would appeal to the country house crowd.
They were shipped to New York from the Palm Beach estate of the owner’s grandmother and he remembered them fondly from his youth when he would hide under them. Alas, they did not fit in his Manhattan apartment and he needed to figure out what to do with them. In their condition they would not find a private buyer and a competitive price so I suggested we begin by restoring them.
Once ready I showed them to a variety of people from private clients to New York and Ct dealers. New York City auction houses would only offer them at $3000-5000 estimate, which meant they could sell very low on a bad day. A dealer connection of mine saw their charm and took them to a variety of antique shows he was participating in that season with no subsequent sale. Months later there was no resolution to how to sell them in a way that would provide enough guaranteed proceeds to cover the trucking and restoration work.
Christie’s had a curated auction with a cross section of nice quality furnishings and I was able to convince the specialist to estimate them at $8000-12,000. On sale day they achieved a hammer price of $16,000!
The owner was delighted with the result.
Finding the Right Market for an Important Maillol Bronze
I assisted an executrix in Manhattan in her sister’s estate. The estate contained a large collection of important European and American art.
In the collection was a life size bronze by the artist Aristede Maillol that has an interesting story. The bronze of a woman was classical in form with a beautiful face and an armless body. Her face had a timeless gaze and the monumental feel of a Picasso portrait. The cast was from a great period in the artist’s career and was signed and marked with the Alexis Rudier foundry.
Dina Vierny, the model and muse for Maillol was still alive at the time. Periodically she comes to New York to authenticate works by Maillol and we made an appointment for her to see it. Her approval is important as in most high value art, fakes can appear on the market.
The highest price paid at that time for a life size female figure by Maillol was $800,000 and yet two major international auction houses both agreed $400,000-600,000 was the right estimate for this piece. The reason they stated was that ‘armless’ Maillols sold for less than the ones with arms. At auction we were at risk for a bad day and it possibly selling in the $400,000/500,000 range plus all the inherent selling costs; negotiated commissions, trucking fees, etc. I briefly explored the auction house private sale route which held no upside for the client.
I spoke to a well-established dealer in New York who specializes in this period of art and asked her opinion of what she thought she could get for it. She was more enthusiastic about what she believed she could realize for it in her retail environment. By consigning it to her she could put a much larger price on it and if successful, even after paying her commission, my client would come out ahead.
If it didn’t sell after a few months I could always pop it in an auction in the future. This can backfire as it could be seen as ‘burned’ inventory by the trade but it seemed like the right choice for this piece. Several months later the dealer called to confirm she had sold the bronze. We got $100,000 over the auction estimate net of selling and trucking fees.
In this instance working with a top dealer was the right way to secure a strong price without the uncertainty of auction.