Service of Dashed Hopes: Don’t Count Your Chickens

July 7th, 2016

Categories: Art, Auctions

Dont count your chickens

Here’s a true story of a man who thought he had a pretty painting to sell at auction that turned out to be the work of a master. Envision his dreams of what to do with his new found treasure when he learned that the pre-sale estimate might bring as much as $1,180,000 more than was first thought.

A retired NYC antiques dealer, who chose to be anonymous, brought “Les Fleurs d’Été Dans un Gobelet,” [1885], a pleasing 13 x 9¾-inch picture of summer flowers in a goblet that he’d bought 30 years ago, to Litchfield County Auctions in Conn. It was originally pegged at $20,000.

Gauguin on Auction Website turnedBut after research the auction staff, according to Missy Sullivan, gave it an estimate of $800,000 to $1.2 million. The title of her Wall Street Journal article, “Gauguin Painting is Rediscovered,” makes clear the reason for the dramatic estimate jump. A Gauguin scholar in Paris, with 40 years of study behind her, who also worked on a catalogue raisonné for this artist, matched a color photo of the picture with a black and white one she had and confirmed its legitimacy, wrote Sullivan.

Artnet’s database, added Sullivan, reported a similar Gauguin sold 16 years ago for $346,750.

In addition to the Journal article, the auction house listed on its website editorial coverage that ran about the found Gauguin in many of the right places: Art Newspaper; Art Fix Daily; Live Auctioneers; The Observer; Art Net News; Blouin Art Info; Scoop and Antiques Trade Gazette.

In spite of this, according to the results posted on the Litchfield County Auctions website [photo above–Gauguin in gold frame] , the picture didn’t sell nor did it receive any bids. Plenty of lots received no bids and yet many of these were nevertheless marked “sold.” There may be hope for this jewel yet.

It wasn’t a typical Gauguin featuring Tahitian life that Sullivan wrote previously brought $300 million, but this fact was reflected in the estimate. Meanwhile imagine the disappointment. Interesting to conjecture what might have happened. Any ideas? Have you ever bought something and later learned it was far more important than you thought?


Femmes de Tahiti by Paul Gauguin Photo:

Femmes de Tahiti by Paul Gauguin Photo:


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6 Responses to “Service of Dashed Hopes: Don’t Count Your Chickens”

  1. hb Said:

    Your post identifies one of the unchanging truths about the art markets. The provenance and authenticity of a piece are not necessarily what causes it to be marketable. It is far more complicated than that.

    The great Spanish artist, Diego Velázquez, was not prolific; he produced not more than 100 or so canvasses which can be attributed to him with any degree certainty, and very few of those remain in private hands. Yet within the past ten years, three “new” Velázquez’s have surfaced, one in England, one at the Met in New York and one in the basement of the Yale Gallery in New Haven.

    The first of these, the UK picture, a small portrait, which I have not seen, but which has strong documentation backing the likelihood of the attribution, sold at auction in London in 2011 for only three million pounds.

    The New York one, the figure of a man, before it was cleaned was previously attributed to his studio. Now after the cleaning, it is superb. I love it and to my mind, it’s got to be the real thing.

    The Yale one, which I spent some time looking at last summer, is less convincing and its attribution less well documented. While its subject, “The Virgin Mary Being Taught to Read,” is appealing, it is, at best, an early work by a young artist.

    Why did the U.K. picture, arguably by one of the top five or ten greatest artists in the history of painting sell for so little? My bet is that it was small; it was not “sexy” or “hot;” people don’t collect Velázquez’s, and major museums were not in the market for it. I also suspect that the Met picture would have brought upwards of ten times that, and the Yale one, perhaps even less.

    What does this have to go with the Gauguin? It was also “newly discovered” except that there are an awful lot of Gauguins in the world, many of which are fakes; there’s no absolute assurance this one is “right,” and it is not of a “cookie cutter” Gauguin subject. The fact that it may be well done, and of an appealing image, is not important. (There are lots of nice pictures around.)

    But then, when it comes to auctions, the best of them often get it wrong. I could be wrong also.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    We’re talking art here, not science. Your Velázquez example is superb. It would have made for a perfect post by itself.

    The people who buy art change as the demographics of wealthy people change. I think it has always been true that some wealthy people love art and enjoy collecting it and others see it as another form of investment and hire so-called experts to buy for them. They feel secure in what is costly.

    When I was with Art & Antiques Magazine one of my hats was to write a marketing column. In covering the latest hot name, one of the longtime collectors/boutique owners who sold the work of this artisan was unhappy about the meteoric spike in prices. He said people who couldn’t care less about the works bought it at exorbitant prices therefore knocking out of the running the true collectors and making it impossible for him to replace his inventory. He couldn’t afford to. Had someone bought these pieces at that time, they wouldn’t get back a fraction of the value, if they could sell it at all. The trick is to enjoy what you’ve bought and hope you never need to sell.

  3. Lucrezia Said:

    Is it possible that Gauguin isn’t in style these days, or worse yet (for him & collectors) is slipping out of favor?

    If endowed with means and collecting, I can think of a number of costlier works I would prefer. Perhaps I have company.

    Another possibility, making equal if not better sense, is the fact this might not be the best time of year to be selling.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    Valid reasons all.

    However time of year didn’t affect the record that Sarah Cascone covered today in “Peter Paul Rubens Sets New Record With $58 Million Old Masters Sale.” She wrote: “It was a successful Old Masters sale at Christie’s London on July 7, with Peter Paul Rubens‘s Lot and His Daughters (circa 1613–14) setting a new record in the category for the house with its £44.8 million ($58.1 million) sales price.”

    Yet to support your point, the impact of Brexit made many investors nervous and this might have impacted the sale of a picture in an atypical style of a well known artist.

    The art collecting world can be finicky which, considering the huge $s some fork out, it is entitled to be!

  5. dmanzaluni Said:

    I am with hb.

    I wouldn’t trust the word of some two bit country auction house which I don’t know and which may or may not even be a consignment auction house.i have often had dealings with tiny sale rooms like Doyle and wondered whether I was bidding against the chandelier for something owned and pumped up by the auctioneer

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    You may have a point but this auction house’s staff did a crackerjack job of research. I have no idea what the minimum was but imagine that after sending in your own art beagles you determined that this was a Gauguin, if an atypical one, you could still place an acceptable offer somewhere around the minimum set for the lot by the owner so maybe the chapter isn’t yet closed.

    There are thousands of excellent doctors who prefer the country life and therefore don’t practice in big cities where the best teaching hospitals are and many of the world’s most remarkable doctors hang their hats. It is likely also true of auction house owners and staff. I noticed that the Litchfield house was selling some of Joan Rivers’ things and a cannier business woman [and hard worker] you’d have a hard time finding.

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