New York City's Christie's held a very important sale of Great American Painters and Sculptors on the 4th of December 2008 whose results could very well herald the conditions of the market for 2009.
The auction house was offering a very strong collection of 186 lots of paintings and sculptures by the best American artists of the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth centuries. Disappointment was present at the end of the auction when 59 lots went unsold (31%) and only 25 reached their higher estimate. More disturbing still 20 lots achieved very bad results recording a huge gap between the realized price and the higher estimate.
For instance a pretty Night Pigs made by Jamie Wyeth (1946-) belonging to the Island Weiss Gallery, New York, estimated at $350,000 painfully realized $146,500 ; but more painful was the fate of four Frederic Remington's sculptures that literally were snubbed by the bidders : his Outlaw went for $662,500 vs. a higher estimate of $800,000, his Mountain man went for $146,500 vs. an estimate of $250,000, his Broncho Buster for 542,500 vs. 700,000 and his Cheyenne fetched $362,000 vs. an estimate of $500,000. Some collectors may have picked up good bargains.
Other big disappointments were caused by the works of Stuart Davis whose Study for Pochade #1 reached only $182,500 vs. a higher estimate of 300,000 ; of Milton Avery whose Harbour sold by Knoedler Gallery in NYC reached $194,500 vs. 300,000 ; of Frederik Carl Frieseke whose Landscape of Giverny failed to attract bidders beyond $122,500 whereas Christies had pinned hopes of 300,000.
A colossal disappointer was Childe Hassam with his Fifth Avenue Eveving (picture on top) -property from the Estates of psychiatrist Gerard Fountain (1917-2008) - whose estimate had propulsed it to 1 million and from where like a bungee jumper it fell down to a less exciting $902,000 ; the Two Schooners of James E. Buttersworth failed to reach their estimate of $500,000 to navigate in the quieter waters of $302,500 while the poor George Bellows had to be satisfied from his grave with his Hold'Em reaching $362,500 vs. an inflated 500,000.
The more worrying in this collection of bad data is that we can not imagine that given the current economic conditions Christie 's would have unrealistically set the prices of the higher estimates. On the bright side of the results, one must mention however the heights reached by some works like Suspended forms by Charles Scheeler that fetched $290,500 vs. a best estimate of $120,000 ; or by Study for Februaryby Grant Wood that made $1,05 million vs. 600,000 ; or by the Massasoit sculpture by Cyrus E.Dallin that more than doubled its higher estimate at $266,500 ; a Florida sunset by Hermann Herzog and a River Westphalia by Albert Bierstadt did as well very well at $230,500 and $338,500.
Nevertheless the mood was not euphoric at the end of the evening considering the important number of lots that did not trigger any serious bidding and the number of unsold lots.