On 16 June, the Financial Times quoted Harry Smith, Chairman and Managing Director at Gurr Johns, in their article on recent Old Master auctions.
The ups and downs of the Old Masters market could be exemplified by a handful of recently unsold works offered by investor and occasional actor Jacqui Safra at Sotheby’s on July 5. One of these, a Vanvitelli view of Rome (after 1707), was bought by Safra in 1993 for £375,500 (including fees) and came back to market at Sotheby’s, New York with an estimate of $1m-$2m in 2016 — a level at which it didn’t sell. This time, the work sold within its lower estimate for £350,000 (£428,750 with fees), leaving the seller out of pocket, even without taking 24 years of inflation into account.
Still to find its price level is Safra’s huge “Venus and Adonis” by Jacopo Amigoni (1682-1752), bought for $605,000 in 1991 then offered for $1.5m-$2.5m in 2011, when it didn’t sell. This season’s estimate of £600,000-£800,000 (the equivalent of $775,000-$1m) was not yet low enough and the work again went unsold.
Harry Smith, chairman and managing director of art advisers Gurr Johns, says this isn’t necessarily a blueprint for the field as Safra bought “very aggressively” in the early 1990s.
“If you pay top dollar, even for good works, it will take time to get your money back, particularly when you take the auction houses’ fees into account,” Smith says.