Sotheby’s Teams Up With Old Master Dealers to Offer More Than 100 Artworks From Their Inventories in a Pair of Unorthodox Online Sales

The sales are part of an emerging lockdown-era trend of galleries joining forces with auction houses. 

Thomas Patch, View of the River Arno with the Ponte alle Grazie. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Art dealers have historically regarded auction houses with the skepticism of a family dog seeing the vet’s office through the windshield of what he thought was a fun car ride. During the lockdown era, however, the formerly strange bedfellows of galleries and auction houses have launched a series of new alliances. 

The latest is “The Dealer’s Eye,” a new collaboration between Sotheby’s and dozens of dealers across the US and Europe. The auction house is hosting two special online sales—one featuring New York dealers and another, London galleries—open for bidding from June 18 through 25. Combined, they will feature more than 100 paintings and drawings from 39 dealers.

The project was conceived by Otto Naumann, a veteran dealer who came out of retirement in 2018 to join Sotheby’s Old Master department, as a way to offer gallerists a larger platform for their wares while art fairs and swanky openings remain out of the question. 

“With exhibitions and art fairs currently on pause, it occurred to me that galleries might welcome the exposure and the sale of their works through Sotheby’s,” Naumann tells Artnet News. “I imagined myself in this situation, had I still been an active dealer, and I know I would have welcomed such an opportunity.”

“Auction houses have such a special and reciprocal relationship with dealers and galleries,” he continues, “and we truly want to empower them by giving them an opportunity to reach new clients and promote their artists and their extraordinary work to an international audience.”

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, <i>The Wood of Fontainbleau</i>. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, The Wood of Fontainbleau. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

The initiative, which came together in just three weeks, required extensive negotiations between the auction house and the dealers, who had their own specialists in the mix with strong opinions about estimates and other elements of the sale.

Participating galleries—including Colnaghi, Lawrence Steigrad Fine Art, and Richard L. Feigen & Co. in New York and Agnews Gallery, Charles Beddington, and Day & Faber in London—were invited to consign three works each. Sotheby’s waived vendors’ fees, according to a spokesperson, but will still receive its standard buyer’s premium on each lot. In what Naumann described to The Art Newspaper as “a first,” collectors will be able to correspond directly with the galleries through the Sotheby’s platform after the sale. None of the lots will carry a guarantee.

Among the highlights are Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun’s stately portrait Young Girl in Antique Costume, consigned by New York gallery Wildenstein & Co (estimate: $60,000–80,000); Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s The Wood of Fontainbleau, offered by Vienna’s Galerie Sanct Lucas ($70,000–90,000); and Thomas Patch’s View of the River Arno with the Ponte alle Grazie, on offer from London’s Robilant Fine Art ($250,000–376,000).

The collaboration “is particularly welcome during a period when online auctions of Old Master paintings are doing particularly well, confounding those inclined to see this as a field not particularly suited to selling online,” London-based dealer Charles Beddington said in a statement. “At the same time, Old Master dealers currently have limited access to their clients, and are bound to find particularly welcome the wide exposure provided by collaboration with Sotheby’s.”

Pseudo-Tommaso Salini, <i>Portrait of a Young Man as Bacchus</i>. Courtesy of Sotheby's.

Pseudo-Tommaso Salini, Portrait of a Young Man as Bacchus. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

“The Dealer’s Eye” is the latest example of an emerging trend. Though once positioned in competition for the same slices of art-market pie, auction houses and dealers have joined forces in the quarantine era, when houses are otherwise struggling to secure a steady stream of consignments. Old Master dealers, meanwhile, are experiencing a steep learning curve when it comes to the online marketplace, making a collaboration with an established brand with e-commerce capabilities all the more appealing. 

In the past few months, Sotheby’s has partnered with Old Master dealers twice. In April, the auction house’s sale of artworks from dealer Rafael Valls tripled its pre-sale estimate, bringing in $2 million. In May, an auction of items from the collection of dealer Danny Katz pulled in $2.8 million, according to Art Market Monitor. This spring, the company also launched its own Gallery Network, a digital marketplace for blue-chip galleries that takes a flat commission for each sale.  

Meanwhile, Christie’s announced last week its own plans to partner with La Biennale Paris, the fair dedicated to art and antiques, for a special online sale in September in lieu of its cancelled live edition.

“Dealers play such a vital role in the art market,” says Naumann. “I’d like to think that we will continue to see various collaborations formulate even after the quarantine is over.

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