Art market

Cautious sales in a buoyant French auction market

Good pickings for private collectors at Drouot auctions



Drouot salerooms may have seen none of the spectacular sales which are so good for promotion. But the first auctions to be held after the traditional annual Christmas and January economic freeze showed the market to be surprisingly buoyant. Estimates were cautiously low and there were good results for interesting, good quality works, many of which were well suited for private collectors.

Books, as ever in Paris, fared well: Eric Buffetaud auctioned off the eleventh part of the library of Colonel Daniel Sickles, an American who lived in France, collected nineteenth- and twentieth-century books and left 8,000 works valued at FFr200 million when he died four years ago. The two day sale netted FFr3,424,000 (£353,000; $611,000) with only FFr511,000 (£52,000; $91,000) bought in. Jean-Louis Picard’s sale of one hundred works from the collection of Cécile Eluard, the daughter of poet Paul Eluard and Gala, on 20 February, totalled FFr 2,598,500 (£265,100; $464,000) with only 11% (FFr289,000) bought in. A particularly fine and richly illustrated fifteenth-century prayer book sold for FFr650,000 (£66,300; $116,000).

The first important modern paintings sale of the year held by Guy Loudmer on 16 February contained nothing to compare with the outstanding works featured in his sales during the height of the speculative boom two or three years ago. Loudmer’s total earnings for 1991 plummeted to FFr 161,500,000, a tenth of those for 1990. Nothing sold for more than FFr500,000, and the sale netted FFr6,681,000 (£681,700; $1,193,000), with eighty-three of the 116 lots sold and FFr2,380,000 (£242,800; $425,000) worth bought in. Private French bidders, much in evidence, bought 75% of the works with ten foreign dealers accounting for the rest.

Loudmer fared extremely well meanwhile with a two day sale on 22-23 February featuring watches by Cartier and from the collection of sculptor Arman which totalled FFr 11,587,000 (£1,182,300; $2,069,100).

February was a particularly rich month for older, modest quality and easily affordable paintings. Pierre Cornette de Saint Cyr sold an unusual interior scene, “Le couronnement de la rosière” by the rarely found seventeenth-century French artist Jean Michelin for a mere FFr125,000 (£12,700; $22,300). Loudmer, anxious to diversify, also branched out into old paintings and netted FFr 2,410,000 (£245,900; $430,300) with FFr1,297,000 bought in at sale on 10 February. Competition for a charming winter scene with a vague attribution—”entourage de Lucas van Uden”—pushed bidding to FFr 55,000 (£5,600; $9,800), far above the top estimate of FFr 15,000.

Auctioneers Rieunier and Bailly-Pommery, whose sales are never spectacular but regularly of good quality, contained thirty-two old and modern paintings in a sale of 24 February which also offered musical instruments, furniture, carpets and sculpture—including a Bourdelle “Heraklès archer” dated January 1921 which sold for FFr800,000 (£81,600; $142,800), well above its estimate of FFr500,000. This sale proved yet again that religious art has difficulty finding bidders. A Baptism of Christ by sixteenth-century Venetian artist Carlotto Carliari sold for only FFr30,000 (£3,000; $5,300), within its estimate, a seventeenth-century oil on copper of the Holy Family attributed to the “entourage” of Sassoferrato went for FFr29,000 (£2,900; $5,100) and a Virgin and Child attributed to eighteenth-century French painter Jean Restout went under the hammer for FFr 22,000. A far more commercial decorative village scene by eighteenth-century Flemish painter Théobald Michau, on the other hand, reached FFr150,000 (£15,300; $26,700) while “La Mort de Getta”, by the French neo-classical painter Jacques-Augustin-Catherine Pajou sold for FFr 360,000 (£36,700; $64,200).

More modern works fared better: a sketchy pencil drawing by Toulouse-Lautrec almost doubled its estimate to reach FFr50,000 (£5,100; $8,900) and a small, late and unremarkable Renoir Provençal landscape raised FFr 1 million (£102,000; $178,500). But two Boudin oil paintings of ships at Le Havre and Deauville and a pastel of Trouville failed to sell.

French museums were aware of the quality going under the hammer, too. Paris’s medieval Musée de Cluny pre-empted a late fifteenth-century French oil on panel “Presentation in the Temple” prudently estimated at FFr 200-250,000 but pushed up to three times as much by competition between French and British dealers. And the Louvre pre-empted for FFr 1 million a painting from the mid-sixteenth-century Persian manuscript “Fâl-Nâme”, part of the collection of Garith Windsor sold by Audap Godeau and Solanet on 21 February.

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'Cautious sales in a buoyant market'