3 MAY 1975, Page 23


The art market

The auction season

Stanley Clark

The 1974-75 season at Sotheby's began in an atmosphere of uncertainty as to what effect inflation would have on the art market throughout the world. Indeed the period October to December 1974' was characterised more by a hesitancy to sell than by an unwillingness to buy."People apparently had decided to hold on to their fine art and Sotheby's reported a 25 per cent fall in turnover.

During those first three months of the new season the main qoubts were centred on the Impressionist and Modern picture and the Chinese porcelain fields. Both had experienced years of unprecedented boom. And a sale of Impressionist and Modern pictures at Sotheby Parke Bernet in New York on October 23 appeared to the watching world to suggest that the boom had ended. The failure to sell Modigliani's 'Portrait of Thora Klinckowstrom' at a figure in excess of £134,800 (although it was sold privately soon after the sale ended for £130,000) was taken as proof that the market had seriously declined. No one in feet recorded that the same picture had been bought in London less than two years before for E105,000. And no one among the critics appeared to notice that Modern pictures in the sale had done exceedingly well. Jean Dubuffet's 'Echange de Vues' sold for £148,000, three times the previous record for the artist; Henri Matisse's `Michaela' fetched £102,500 and Dali's 'Battle Around a Dandelion' made £42,750.

Chinese porcelain prices were certainly in the doldrums during the first three months of the season. They were competing against prices made in the 1973 and early 1974 period which had never been seen in the salerooms before. An important sale in Hong Kong in November revealed prices about 20 per cent down on the high point of 1973. But the fact that the sale was held at the high point of a typhoon warning was overlooked by most observers. So too was the fact that prices were still more, and sometimes double, what had been fetched by the same or similar pieces three years ago.

There were some hopeful signs during those first three months. A sale of French furniture and clocks on December 13 produced £901,160 and a Louis VXI library table and matching cartonnier fetched £240,000, a world record for any piece of furniture. In the same sale a Louis XV mantel clock sold for E38,000, a new record for a clock.

In a sale of antique firearms on December 17 which produced £137,614, a pair of English Royal flintlock holster pistols sent for sale by Anne, Duchess of Westminster, sold for £78,000, a record for a pair of pistols. • During January there was a considerable increase in the quantity of goods sent for sale and the turnover for the month was marginally better than January 1974. February showed that buying generally was on the increase and that foreign buyers were coming in in greater numbers, perhaps encouraged by the depreciation in the value of the pound sterling. Activity increased still further in March. There was a sale of Italian Maiolica which made £266,010, more than double the estimate. Firearms from the Renwick collection fetched £147,310 making the total for the collection to date £1,342,987. • Of particular interest was the sale of Chinese ceramics on March 25. There was considerable speculation as to whether prices would compare with those of 1973. At the end of the sale the total was £841,440 and it was agreed that, generally, prices were back to the best. A fourteenth century blue and White jar with a lotus-leaf cover sold for £160,000, three times the pre-sale estimate.

Oriental manuscripts, miniatures and paintings on April 7 and 8 made £509,540. A large Qajar painting c. 1815 of the 15 sons and grandsons of Fath 'Ali Shah sold for £200,000, a new record for a Persian work of art.

Gothic wood carvings on April 10 brought in £89,870 of which a pair of fourteenth century Westphalian reliefs made £36,000 when sold to the Landesmuseum, Munster, an auction record for a wood carving.

On April 21 Egyptian scarabs and seals from the collection of the Duke of Northumberland and Middle East antiquities from the collection of the late Colonel Colville sold for £14,000.

The first seven months ot the new season have not given any fully reliable pointer to what may happen in the months ahead. It is Possible that foreign buying will continue to increase but there is no definite indication that foreign selling is on the decline. Indeed Sotheby's, who have opened a branch in Monaco, will hold a sale there on May 25 and 26 which is from the collection of Baron de Rede in the Hotel Lambert, Paris, one of the French capital's most famous private houses, and the Château de Ferrieres of Baron Guy de Rothschild, Magnificent French furniture, German and French gold and hardstone boxes, Continental and English gold, silver and silver-gilt and a wide variety of works of art make up the sale which is the most important of its type held by Sotheby's for many Years.

And it is announced just this Week that Sotheby's are opening an office in Teheran to supply Iranian collectors with a service of sales information and advice. Altogether, the situation — especially internationally — is more conducive to buoyancy than to despondency.