BERLIN—Though still small when compared with auction markets in the U.K. and the U.S., Germany’s is undoubtedly on the the rise. The large auction houses—Lempertz, Cologne; Villa Grisebach, Berlin; Nagel, Stuttgart; and Neumeister, Munich—posted second-quarter figures with increases up to 50 percent above the same period in 2006.
In the most recent round of sales from April through July, Van Ham of Cologne, a comparatively small auction house, was the first to step into the ring with a sale of Alte Kunst (Old Masters) from April 19-21. The auctioneer boasted the discovery of a tondo, or round painting, depicting The Holy Family, by Piero de Cosimo, hitherto unknown to the art world. It was modestly estimated at €150,000 ($200,000) but hammered down for just €140,000 ($190,000) to an Italian dealer. An auction record was set for the painter Friedrich Nerly (1807-1878). His view of Venice, estimated to fetch €80,000 ($110,000), took €400,000 ($540,000).
Lempertz saw an unusually high number of phone bidders at its May 19 sale of Old Masters. In Germany this is a new trend, according to Henrik Hanstein, owner and CEO of Lempertz. Another trend that he notes: the rise of 19th-century painting. A landscape by one of the most important Dutch 19th-century landscape painters, Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, who spent most of his career in Germany, estimated at a maximum of €100,000 ($135,000), was hammered down for €200,000 ($270,000).
Modern and contemporary art at Lempertz also fared well. A watercolor by Marc Chagall, of a woman mowing a field, made €600,000 ($810,000), way above its €500,000 high estimate. The sale reflected Chagall’s return to prominence on the international market, notably in Switzerland.
Two plaster models by Alberto Giacometti (place and monument of Gabriel Peri) sold for €1.3 million ($1.75 million), mainly because of their extreme rarity. A record for a robot-like work by Nam June Paik was set when his video sculpture with monitors, Miss Rheingold (with reference to composer Richard Wagner) was sold for €210,000, or $283,500 (estimate: €110,000/140,000).
At Villa Grisebach, a work by a New Leipzig School star, Eberhard Havekost, painted in 2002, fetched €200,000 ($270,000) against a high estimate of €150,000—a record for the artist. “Absolutely unusual,” said Bernd Schultz, co-owner of Villa Grisebach, remarking on the strength of the sale.
A 1913 landscape by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner took €2 million ($2.7 million); and a 1937 evening seascape by Emil Nolde, a painter popular with German collectors, won €1.8 million ($2.43 million). Another Nolde work, a 1946 portrait of a girl with sunflowers, took €1.9 million ($2.6 million), nearly doubling the low estimate.
Munich also saw strong spring and summer auctions: At Neumeister’s a work by Bridget Riley fetched €1.3 million ($1.75 million) from a Greek collector. At Ketterer a rediscovered 1919 portrait of a woman, Nadja, by Nolde, sold for €2.15 million($2.9 million), well above the high estimate of €1.8 million. And at Hampel’s a painting by Ivan Aivazovsky—Sunset, 1856—took x260,000 ($350,000) from a collector out of Southern Germany.