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Christie’s: High Guarantees Fall Hard

At Christie’s, expectations were high for a group of Dutch and Flemish paintings from the collection of Dr. Anton Philips (1874-1951), a founder of the Netherlands-based Philips electronics company.

At Christie’s, expectations were high for a group of Dutch and Flemish paintings from the collection of Dr. Anton Philips (1874-1951), a founder of the Netherlands-based Philips electronics company.

Estimated to bring more than £8 million ($16.2 million), the works were guaranteed by Christie’s. But because rival auctioneers had competed for the collection, Christie’s was forced into the highest bid to secure it; unfortunately the quote proved too high for the market. Five of the works did not sell, and the collection fetched just £6.4 million ($12.8 million).

A Rubens Leads at $3.8 Million

The top price was a record £3.8 million ($7.7 million) for an oil on panel by Sir Peter Paul Rubens—Two Studies of a Man, Head and Shoulders, circa 1615-17—but, as with most of the other lots sold from the Philips collection, the price fell below the £4/6 million estimate.

Commented Johan Bosch Van Rosenthal, a Philips family spokesman who had negotiated the deal with Christie’s: “I don’t like to see anyone lose money, but for the family the guarantees were a good deal.”

The auction was rescued by some superb paintings from other sources. A portrait of an old man holding a skull, by Rembrandt contemporary Jan Lievens, came from the Earl of St. Germans, who is refurbishing his estate in Cornwall.

The work, which had been owned by the family for more than 200 years, sold for a record £2.1 million ($4.3 million) to Van Haeften.

A Caravaggesque painting of the Madonna and Child, by Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), from the collection of Johnson & Johnson heiress Barbara Piasecka Johnson, was acquired by art adviser Anthony Crichton-Stuart for £2 million ($4.1 million). And Dancing the Minuet, by Venetian painter Giandomenico Tiepolo (1727-1804), earned a record £1.3 million ($2.6 million), comfortably above the $800,000 high estimate, from London dealer Luca Baroni.

While conceding that bidding was “selective,” Richard Knight, Christie’s international director of Old Master and British pictures, and Paul Raison, head of the Old Master department in London, noted “strong results for exceptional works which were fresh to the market.”

Still, these were not enough to lift Christie’s from the gloom of a sale in which nearly half of the 70 lots did not sell. Rather than reflecting the turmoil of the financial markets today, however, the result shows how important it is not to overestimate demand in such a discriminating market.

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