Auctions France

Auctions on holiday

While most of Paris shuts down in August, regional centres profit from the mass evacuation from the capital by holding annual art sales

For nearly 20 years, Jean-Pierre Besch has held a fine art sale at the Hotel Martinez in Cannes on 15 August

FRANCE. August isn’t a popular time for auctions. Paris in particular is well known for its almost complete shutdown over the month as many of its residents go to the French coast for their holidays.

Several French auction houses have found a way to capitalise on this annual evacuation by following their clients and holding major auctions out of town during August.

Artcurial, which holds a total 40 sales per year, opened its branch in Deauville in 2006 when its owner, the Dassault group, bought shares in Arqana, an auction business specialising in thoroughbred horses that has the Aga Khan as its majority shareholder. The Deauville operation, run by James Fattoni, was set up as the fine art arm of Arqana and held its first sale in March 2007. August is peak season for high-end works, and is timed to coincide with the Ventes de Deauville, one of the biggest auctions of yearlings in the world, which attracts the seriously wealthy to the resort every year. The first art auction was of modern and contemporary works on 15 August, which made a total €575,000, said by the auction house to be within estimate. The highest price was €53,700 (est €8,000-€12,000) for the erotic oil on canvas Adam and Eve, around 1980, by Greek artist Alecos Fassianos.

Fattoni was delighted about the recent new law that enabled French auctioneers to conduct private treaty sales (see The Art Newspaper’s September print edition). “These changes are good for us and everyone, as they will give us better control of our market, but they will take two years for the effects to filter through.”

The change stands as the latest incarnation of anti-protectionist legislation in the French art world that began with the July 2000 ruling removing the 450-year-old requirement that auctioneers be civil servants appointed by the French Ministry of Justice, and thus allowing foreign competition on home soil and a new breed of commercial operators.

Many established auctioneers simply made the move from civil servant to commercial business and carried on as before. One was Jean-Pierre Besch of Besch Cannes Auctions, who has been a commissaire-priseur in the Riviera town since 1989. For nearly 20 years he has held a fine art sale at the Hotel Martinez on the same date—15 August—and this year was no different. “We do this because there are a lot of people around in Cannes at this time, and most other auction houses are closed”, he said simply. The top lot was Felix Ziem’s (1821-1911) View of San Giorgio (undated), which went for €64,700 (est. €50,000-60,000); the painting, #557 in Anne Burdin-Hellebranth’s 1998 catalogue raisonné (Vol. I), was sold at Christies Amsterdam for €44,200 in November 2010 as a night scene, but it appears to have been cleaned. Other strong prices were €58,600 (est €50,000) for Pendule at Jeu de Carte, 1977, by Bernard Buffet (1928-1999), and more than ten works in the €30,000 bracket.

The following day, on 16 August, Cuvreau auction house, which has offices in Paris and St Paul les Dax, inland from Biarritz, held a sale of mixed art and antiques at Ciboure further down the coast. Star of the show was a work by Louis Benjamin Floutier (1882-1936), who specialised in beach and marketplace scenes of the Biarritz area. Cowherd, Bidart Beach, depicting a heroic figure leading a pair of oxen and cart along the beach, which was exhibited at the Salon of 1932, sold for €60,000 (est €50,000-55,000). This came close to the previous record for Floutier of €62,500 set at Claude Aguttes at Drouot, Paris, in June 2010.

Alecos Fassianos' Adam and Eve sold for €53,700 (est €8,000-€12,000) at Artcurial's Deauville branch
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