The Art Auction House Sin Files –

The Art Auction House Sin Files –

Where does it all end? When will people realise that although the questionable practices exhibited by some auction houses are legal, they should not be tolerated? How far will art auction houses be able to go before someone steps in and says ENOUGH IS ENOUGH !! Let’s take a look at the history of sins committed, and those allegedly committed, by the big three art auction houses.

The most famous art auction house scandal took place in 2000 when Christie’s and Sotheby’s were dragged through the mud because of allegations that they had formed a “cartel” and were agreeing in advance to fix commission rates. The price-fixing scheme violated federal antitrust law by eliminating competitive choice and cost customers millions of dollars. Christie’s dobbed on Sotheby’s and were given immunity from prosecution for their information. Sotheby’s ended up taking most of the flak with several senior members getting the boot and two senior managers, A. Alfred Taubman and Dede Brooks, both getting jail sentences. Sotheby’s, Christie’s and their owners also paid a civil lawsuit settlement of $512 million.

In September of 2004, Forbes magazine reported that Christie’s were allegedly withholding information regarding the authenticity of objects from clients. These allegations were made by Canadian newspaper heiress Taylor Lynne Thomson who went on to sue Christie’s. According to Forbes magazine: “Thomson sued and British courts ruled in May that Christie’s had been too lax in its catalog description, leaving out qualifications to its classification of the urns as being “Louis XV.” The judge highlighted the auction specialists’ decision to remove the qualifying words “possibly Italian,” which would’ve raised the possibility of the urns being far less valuable 19th-century copies.”

Christie’s controversial purchase of the highly regarded gallery Haunch of Venison in 2007 caused a flurry of opinions, many of called the sale a conflict of interest and accused Christie’s of blurring the lines between what galleries and auction houses offer. Christie’s wasn’t the first auction house to purchase a gallery though as Sothebys also made a foray into the gallery world by purchasing Noortman Master Paintings in 2006.

In 2008, CNet founder Halsey Minor sued Sotheby’s for allegedly failing to fully declare when they had an ownership stake in works that they were selling. Sotheby’s won the case and were awarded $6.64 million in outstanding debts. Minor can appeal but, as far as I know, has yet to do so.

In February of this year Christie’s allegedly settled with a brother and sister who sued Christie’s for allegedly failing to identify a painting that they consigned to the auction house as being by Titian. The painting was sold for £8,000 by Christie’s in 1993 as a painting ‘from the school of Titian’. It was determined after the painting had been sold by Christie’s that it was in fact a genuine Titian which was worth in the region of 4 million pounds. The siblings claimed that Christie’s failed to competently research and advise on the painting’s value when it was sold in 1993.

In May of this year (2010), Jeanne Marchig, a Swiss animal philanthropist, launched a law suit against Christie’s for failing to identify a painting owned by Marchig, which was sold by Christie’s for $19,500 in 1998, as a painting by Leonardo worth upwards of 100 million pounds. Christie’s sold the painting as a mere ‘19th century German’ work for which Marchig is suing Christie’s for ‘wilful refusal and failure to investigate the plaintiff’s believed attribution, to comply with its fiduciary obligations, negligence, breach of warrant to attribute the drawing correctly, and making false statements in connection with the auction and sale’. Christie’s disagrees with the claims that the painting is a Leonardo. Reaching an outcome with this case is likely to take quite a while.

The most recent art auction scandal involves auction house Phillips de Pury and their ‘Carte Blanche’ sale which took place on November the 8th (2010). So many issues have been raised in relation to this auction that it would take a series of posts to explain them all so I will only mention the most serious allegations. To begin with, the so called “curator” of the auction, Philippe Ségalot, not only was directly responsible for negotiating and organising the consignment of works for the sale, but he also advised some of the buyers – a situation that could be seen as a serious conflict of interest. If this wasn’t enough of a conflict of interest, Segalot is reported to have bid on works himself presumably on behalf of his clients. There have also been several reports that the auctioneer on the night, Simon de Pury, failed to make it clear to the audience when works failed to sell, which auctioneers are legally required to do. By failing to announce the failure of a work to sell the auctioneer could be seen to be attempting to deceive the audience by inducing a false sense of success and excitement.

These are only a few of the more serious scandals that have arisen as a result of some questionable tactics and practices adopted by the world’s top art auction houses. Are these the sort of businesses that you want to business with? Would you trust such a company to treat you fairly and honestly? I have made it my mission to make art collectors and investors more aware of what is happening in the art auction world and hopefully at the same time encourage the art auction houses to be more honest, ethical and transparent. Stay tuned, there is more to come………

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications


2010 Art Market Predictions –

2010 Art Market Predictions –

Adriaen Coorte "Still life of strawberries in an earthenware bowl, on a stone ledge"

I have been watching the art market very closely over the last year and have to say that I was actually quite pleased with what I saw. The more scholarly and connoisseurial approach to fine art that emerged in 2009 has temporarily re-focused people’s attention on the historical, cultural and artistic value of art as opposed to the social and financial values that dominated the contemporary driven market of the boom period. I say temporarily, because although the glitz and glamour of the contemporary art market has taken a huge hit, and there is no doubt in my mind that the phenomenon that is contemporary art will shortly return to the position of power that has made it a force to be reckoned with in the past. Perhaps sooner than we may think!!

The scholarly and connoisseurial trend of 2009 still has a bit of juice in the tank and should continue to play a major role in the 2010 market. Take for the instance, the work of the rather mysterious Dutch Baroque still life painter Adriaen Coorte, whose work is little known outside the scholarly world and went largely unrecognized until he was rediscovered by a Dutch art historian in the 1950s. Works by Coorte rarely comes to market so when two small paintings came up for auction at Sotheby’s on the 2nd of December of 2009, it was predicted that there would be considerable interest, but not anywhere as much interest as there ended up being. The first painting, a still life of strawberries in an earthenware bowl was fought over by six bidders who pushed the sale price to 1,520,750 Euro which was not only more than ten times the 150,000 euro high estimate but was also a new auction record for the artist. Next on the block was the second work by Coorte which broke the auction record set by the previous painting when it sold for 1,576,750 Euro against the same estimate of 100,000-150,000 Euro. Both paintings were acquired by the same European collector.

Marcus Aurelius Root, Anthony Pritchard, 1850, quarter-plate daguerreotype

Another artist whose work is little known outside the scholarly world is that of Marcus Aurelius Root. An early work by the renowned Philadelphia daguerreotypist of Anthony Pritchard was a feature of the October 8 Miller-Plummer Collection of Photographs sale and reached the astonishing world auction record price for the artist of US$350,500 against an estimate of $20,000 – $30,000. The sale of this work by Root is another example of the current trend that has seen connoisseurs and scholars drive up the demand for works of cultural and historical significance. Root’s photo of Anthony Pritchard is not the only example of antique/vintage photography that has exceeded price expectations; the whole market for antique/vintage photography has experienced a continuing surge of interest as the importance of photography in an art historical context is further realised. 2010 should see a continuation of the interest in antique/vintage photography as collectors and museums vie for the top works in a niche that is still in it’s infancy, and that still presents opportunities for collectors and connoisseurs to acquire works of major cultural and art historical significance at potentially bargain prices.

As a result of the reduction in the demand for contemporary art, emerging markets such as South Africa, Indonesia, Turkey, Poland, Singapore, Iran, Greece, etc. have become a focus of dealers and auction houses in an attempt to generate new revenue streams. A deciding factor in the decision of which emerging market to penetrate has been whether or not there is a strong enough force of wealthy European/Western expats to fuel demand for souvenirs of their temporarily adopted homeland. Former expats of emerging markets are also being targeted by market forces in an attempt to encourage a sense of nostalgia that will result in the purchase of a memento of their time abroad. 2009 saw a concerted new ground being broken with region specific auctions, particularly with those of emerging markets such as Greece and Turkey – a trend that I predict will continue gaining momentum in 2009.

With owners of what are considered to be the most desirable and valuable works of art tending to sit on their assets while the art market bottoms out I predict that 2010 will see the slow return of those modern and contemporary works that tend to send the market into a flurry of excitement. Another prediction I will make is that art investment will continue to gain credibility and new avenues to invest in art will open up. A sign of the continuing acceptance of art as a viable alternative asset is the fact that Israeli billionaire Arnon Milchan recently told Forbes magazine that art is the best investment to own. In his words “If you have triple-A art, I’ve never seen it really go down. Great art is the best thing to own. We’ve seen recently the art market picking up fast. The last Sotheby sale broke records.”

Wishing everyone a great 2010 !!

Nic Forrest

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications

Australian Art Market 08 Review Part 2 –

Australian Art Market 08 Review Part 2 –

bonhams-and-goodmanBy the last round of auctions for 2008 in November and December it was obvious that the auction industry was still coming to terms with the art market correction taking place despite the fact that signs of a cooling market had been evident for several months prior. It appears that some auction houses had taken the opportunity to adjust their sales to reflect the leaner times but it also appeared that some of the auction houses had not been so savvy and either were being pressured by their vendors to work with higher estimates or had just not made the correct revisions. The bargains that people are bound to be seeking as the art market undergoes a correction had just begun to appear at the November/December sales prompting some of the more confident buyers to take advantage. Overall, however, the end of year sales continued to reflect the softening market albeit with some scattered positive results brightening that light at the end of the tunnel. What needs to be understood is that the results for 2008 were no where near as bad as many people made out. Taking all things into consideration the Australian art market appeared to have held up rather well by the end of 2008 with the effects of the financial crisis seemingly not affecting the Australian market as much as certain international markets.

One auction in particular stole the end of year show achieving results well up on the other auction houses and in the process. That auction was the November 26 Deutscher-Hackett sale which took in a total of $3,127,260 (including buyers premium) and sold 73% of works by value and 72% by volume. In comparison, the combined Deutscher-Menzies and Lawson-Menzies November sale achieved 62% by value and 70% by volume, the Sotheby’s November sale achieved 67.4% by value and 60.8% by volume and the Bonhams and Goodman sale achieved 61% by value and 59% by volume. One of the smaller auction houses, Leski Auctions, held their first dedicated art auction on the 2nd of December and managed to sell a quite respectable 61% by value and 62% by volume for a total of $510,048 (data from

Overall the Australian art market took a significant step backwards in 2008 compared to 2007 with auction sales dropping from a $175.6 million record year in 2007 to $114.5 million. Although the figures for 2008 look particularly bleak when compared with those of 2007 the bigger picture is not quite as bad with 2008 auction sales total well up on the 2006 auction sales total of AU$104 million. One of the most interesting statistics from 2008 comes from the Australian art auction sales database, the Australian Art Sales Digest (, who calculated that the overall art auction clearance rate (percent sold by number) decreased from 71.9% in 2007 to 65.6% in 2008.  Importantly, the drop in the clearance rate is not as big as many people would have predicted.

To be continued…..

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.

Australian Art Market 08 Review Part 1 –

Australian Art Market 08 Review Part 1 –

drysdale2008 was a rather interesting year for the Australian art market with results for the first half of the year giving the impression that, for the time being at least, the market for art in Australia was set to continue it’s bull run albeit at a less frenzied pace.  One of the most celebrated (and over-rated) sales of the year took place in June when the Sydney based auction house Deutscher-Menzies sold Picasso’s “Sylvette” for AU$6.9 million which was the most expensive painting ever sold at auction in Australia.  The identity or location of the overseas buyer was not made public but is rumored to have been a collector from Russia or another European country. Menzies was quoted as saying “It’s a historic day for Australia in the sense that a very significant international picture by the greatest artist of the 20th Century was sold at an Australian auction for a record price”.

Had “Sylvette” been purchased by an Australian (in Australia) buyer I might have been impressed but all the sale of “Sylvette” proves is that Deutscher-Menzies were willing to spend plenty of money on marketing the work ($20,000 apparently). The previous record for a work of art sold at auction in Australia was Australian artist Brett Whiteley’s “The Olgas for Ernest Giles” which sold for AU$3.48 million in 2007. The top price paid for a work of art by a non-Aboriginal Australian artist in 2008 was $1,890,000 for Russel Drysdale’s “Rocky McCormack” which was sold by Sotheby’s in August.  The top price paid for an Aboriginal work of art in 2008 was $360,000 for Emily Kngwarreye’s “Earth’s Creation II 1995” sold by Deutscher Menzies in December.

Although some evidence of a slightly more cautious art buying public began to appear as early as March the Australian art market appeared to be in relatively good health until about August when things began to take a turn for the worst.  The August round of auctions were particularly bad leaving no doubt that the Australian art market was beginning to experience a correction.  Clearance rates for the August sales were extremely disappointing with Sotheby’s only able to muster a clearance rates of 50% and Bonhams and Goodman only able to manage 49%.  A few positive sales and some new auction records for several artists did, however, provide some optimism heading into the end of the year.  If only that optimism could have been converted into sales.

to be continued…..

iamge: Rocky McCormack by Russell Drysdale

**Nicholas Forrest is an art market analyst, art critic and journalist based in Sydney, Australia. He is the founder of, writes the art column for the magazine Antiques and Collectibles for Pleasure and Profit and contributes to many other publications.