Sloans and Kenyon in Chevy Chase, MD set the Washington-area auction record this October when they sold an 18th-century unsigned oil painting of Venice’s Grand Canal (estimated at $6,000 – $8,000) for $687,125 (price includes buyer’s premium).
From the “school of” (a work by a pupil or follower of the artist, in his style) the 18th-century artist Giovanni Antonio Canaletto.
An 18th-century painting of Venice's Grand Canal is believed to be the most expensive painting ever sold at an auction in the Washington, D.C., area. (Courtesy Sloans & Kenyon)
There was a nice article in The Post, but since I personally use and trust Sloans & Kenyon, I asked my friend and specialist Lisa Jones for some insider information about the exciting sale:
Lisa L. Jones, Director of Silver & Decorative Arts at Sloans & Kenyon
Specullector: What kind of condition was the painting in, presumably it hadn’t been restored if it had been hung or stored by a Bethesda woman all this time?
Lisa: There was a small amount of prior restoration including some minor in-painting but overall the condition of the painting was very good.
S: Specialists make frequent trips to people’s home valuing works for resale, was the employee on this call instantly struck when they saw the work or was there a certain point when someone at the auction house, some secondary viewer said, ” I think we’ve got something…”?
L: I think a bit of both was involved with this painting. The quality of the painting is evident upon the first glance. After we started our research and marketing it became evident to both the art department and our buying audience that this painting was outstanding.
S: What was the vibe in the auction house once it came into inventory?
L: There was a very optimistic attitude among the staff concerning the painting. We knew it would achieve a handsome price at auction but we still had to rely on the current market to confirm our expectations.
S: The Grand Tour story is every valuer’s best and worst case provenance, were their other supporting documents that added value, say letters or journal entries recounting its purchase or her trip to Italy?
L: In this case because there were no supporting paper documents concerning the sale, we had to rely upon family history. It was common knowledge that the consignor’s grandmother took a Grand Tour through Italy.
S: Though the seller remained anonymous, was she present in the auction room and did you guys at least offer her a tea to calm her nerves?
L: The consignor was not present on the gallery floor when the painting was auctioned. Many consignors are too nervous to be present when their items sell. The consignor was contacted immediately after the sale and was absolutely floored at the selling price.
S: 6-8k is a very low estimate (sometimes auction houses use low estimates to create a buzz among collectors and build a bigger audience of those “looking for a deal”), like a very low estimate, was this your team’s strategy?
L: A conservative estimate is definitely a strategic move. We wanted to reach a cross-section of collectors and potential buyers. Today’s art market is not yesterday’s market. The pricing structure is different to reflect the changing buying atmosphere.
S: I was thinking that if Charles Beddington was an advisor to one of the bidders (and luckily for the British, they don’t need an export license to get a work out of the US like everyone else needs for the UK), I’m thinking it will be restored, repriced and returned to where it was first acquired. Maybe to one of our favorite Bond Street windows, Mr. Colnaghi or Mr. Green perhaps? Or maybe we’ll see it again at TEFAF. What are you thoughts on my speculation?
L: Any thoughts would be pure speculation but we know the painting is going to London. We feel sure the painting will be re-priced and will appear at some point on the market. It will most likely not be restored.
S. Lastly, a “sleeper” in the Old Master market is every auction house and dealer’s dream, thus I assume there was a lot of excitement and even a little eccentricity. Were there any funny back stories or anecdotes that happened during the auction process you can share?
L: Luckily in this case nothing too crazy occurred. We had a bit of a commotion trying to reach a dozen international phone bidders (some in foreign languages). We had some shouting and in the end we provided the audience with some great excitement. It was a pure adrenalin rush.