ARTnewsletter Archive

19th-Century European Art: Bouguereau Stars Again

Sotheby’s sale of 19th-century European art on April 23 took in $13.3 million for 115 lots offered, slightly better than last year’s total of $10.8 million for roughly the same number of lots.

NEW YORK—Sotheby’s sale of 19th-century European art on April 23 took in $13.3million for 115 lots offered, slightly better than last year’s total of $10.8million for roughly the same number of lots. At this year’s sale, 73, or 63.5 percent, of the lots on offer found buyers. By value, the auction achieved a stronger sell-through of 84.5 percent.

The sale was led by L’Amour et Psyché, 1899, a painting by William Bouguereau, an artist who is typically a mainstay of these sales. The oil on canvas, which had been in the same private collection since 1978, sold for $2.2million, hitting the top end of its $1.8million/2.2million estimate.

Another work by Bouguereau was the sale’s third-highest lot. The oil painting Amour à l’affût, 1890, sold to a U.S. buyer for $794,500, near the high end of the $600,000/800,000 estimate.

Other top lots included A Frank Encampment in the Desert of Mount Sinai, 1842, an oil on panel by John Frederick Lewis (1805–76), which sold slightly above its $1million/1.5million estimate for $1.87million; Dolce Far Niente, 1897, a painting by John William Godward, which brought $746,500 on a $500,000/700,000 estimate; Femme endormie, ca. 1860s, an oil on canvas by Gustave Cour­bet, which sold for $710,500 against an estimate of $700,000/900,000, and Ascot, 1933, an oil on canvas by Alfred James Munnings, which sold for $578,500 on a $400,000/600,000 estimate. The Munnings had appeared at auction a handful of times in recent years; offered in a “Sporting Sale” at Sotheby’s in London in June 2006 with an estimate of £400,000/600,000 ($755,000/1.1million), it failed to find a buyer. Five years earlier, at a Sotheby’s London sale in June 2001, it sold for £333,500 ($458,608) on a £150,000/200,000 estimate. Les Parisiennes, 1873, an oil on panel by Giovanni Boldini (1842–1931), sold for $482,500 on an estimate of $400,000/600,000, and Outside the Mosque, by Rudolph Ernst, brought the same price, below its $500,000/700,000 estimate.

The range of buyers of the top lots, which included private U.S. collectors, Latin American buyers, and European dealers, pointed to broad geographical demand in the high end of the market. After the sale, Polly Sartori, Sotheby’s senior vice president and director of ­19th-century paintings, said, “What we saw from buyers was an enthusiastic demand for the very best examples of works,” and noted that nearly a quarter of the lots in the sale achieved prices of $100,000 or more.

Sartori added that Sotheby’s “ongoing commitment to this important collecting category was validated in today’s auction.” Rival auction house Christie’s announced last year that it would no longer hold dedicated sales of 19th-century European art (ANL, 5/12/09). The house initiated major changes to its auction schedule, sharply reducing the number of specialized auctions it holds and discontinuing stand-alone sales of Irish art, Scottish and sporting art, British art on paper and Old Master drawings. Its sales of 19th-century European art are now included in its Old Master auctions.

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