In the New York Times Art section of March 16, 2012, Souren Melikian, longtime art editor of The International Herald Tribune, reports on recent auction sales of art by the old masters at prices many times their estimates. He points out that “[t]he factor underlying the phenomenon is the unprecedented popularization of art. As art supplies shrink, those who are naturally attracted to art and could in the past train their eyes on a host of objects available for sale, thus turning into true connoisseurs, are no longer in a position to do so. When the ranks of connoisseurs become thinner, they give way to newcomers guided by abstract considerations — the fame of an artist, the place that a work of art has in history. The effect on Old Master auctions has been spectacular.”
Melikian cites several examples of the phenomenon. One case is a drawing which
Then there is the case of the “Virgin and Child With Saint John the Baptist”, ascribed to “Botticelli andappeared at Sotheby’s Old Master Drawings sale this last January 25, which in 1964had featured at Sotheby’s London as “Paduan School third quarter of the fifteenth century and very close to Marco Zoppo,” and had sold for £6,050, roughly $17,000 at the time. In the January 2012 sale, the experts listed the drawing as “attributed to Piero Del Pollaiuolo.” This time, the Getty museum paid just under $1.4 million, more than three times its current estimate.
Studio” when first seen at Sotheby’s London in 1980. It realized a paltry £6,050, or roughly $17,000. The tondo appeared again this year at Sotheby’s January 26 sale of Old Master Paintings, again as “Botticelli and Studio.” But in the current market, even a partial contribution by the master was enough to garner $4.56 million, roughly two-and-a-half times the high estimate.
Here is Melikian’s full report.
Images are the property of Sotheby’s.