NEW YORK—Eclipsed by the shadow of an unfathomably ballooning modern and contemporary art market, some of the finest art of the 19th century is quietly, without fanfare, selling for well below its deserved value.
The collectors at the Nov. 1 auction of 19th Century European Art at Christie’s, New York, are in tune with what is classic, true art—art that will be truly valuable in the long run.
Some of the best examples of Barbizon, academic, Orientalist, Victorian, and wildlife paintings were offered at the auction. Leading the 94-lot sale was “Marchande de grenades,” a rare piece of William-Adolphe Bouguereau’s Orientalist work, which sold at the low end of its pre-sale estimate, for $2,658,500.
The sale total, including the buyer’s premium, was a mere $9,300,575. Not all the lots sold. Only 60 of the 94 works are on the website with announced sale results.
The sale was expected to realize over $13 million. That’s still peanuts when compared with the $508 million total achieved at Christie’s two-day sales series devoted to postwar and contemporary art: $412 million for the evening sale, and $96 million for the following day sale.
The evening sale offered 73 lots, and of the 67 that sold, “11 works sold for over $10 million, 16 for over $5 million, and 56 for over $1 million,” according to the press release. Mind boggling.
The art market is dizzyingly unbalanced.
The works of the painters in the 19th century sale, such as Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema, Wilhelm Kuhnert, Frederick Arthur Bridgman, or Raffaello Sorbi, exquisitely exemplify concepts of love and hope.
They celebrate humanity, the beauty and raw power of nature, ideals, veneration for the divine, and the dreams of human beings in a way that can be immediately understood, felt, and appreciated by the viewer. They accomplished that with extraordinary technique and inner vision.
A new renaissance is inevitable, when contemporary artists will look back on the great academic artists of the 19th century for technical guidance and inspiration, which is lacking in modern art. Just as we scoff at those who thought the world was flat, people will one day scoff at those modern works of art now being sold for tens of millions.
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