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La Salle Sales Shortfall: Two of Five 19th-Century Offerings Fail to Sell

More on this here.

Today’s auction at Christie’s of the first five of 46 deaccessions from the La Salle University Art Museum got off to an inauspicious start when the auction house’s earlier sales ran late, causing an hour’s delay in start time for the 19th-century European sale. “All registered clients for either sale were notified via email,” a Christie’s spokesperson assured me.

Also inauspicious, in an auction that has been widely criticized within the university and by museum professionals, was the failure of two of the five La Salle offerings to find buyers. The highest-estimated lot did manage to sell, but disappointed expectations with a hammer price of $550,000—below its $600,000-$1 million presale estimate:

Ingres, “Virgil Reading from the Aeneid,” 1864
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

Auctioneer James Hastie, seemed to struggle to eke out bids that would reach La Salle’s (undisclosed) minimum price for its star consignment:

Screenshot from the webcast of today’s sale

Also selling below estimate was a somber Corot, hammering at $60,000 against an estimate of $70,000-100,000. It was one of many religious-themed pictures among the 46 deaccessions by this Roman Catholic university.

Corot, “Jesus and Saint John (study for “The Baptism of Christ),” ca. 1844-45
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The only La Salle work that reached the level of its presale estimate was by a Philadelphian, Anna Lea Merritt, who settled in England (hence her inclusion in a European art sale). In light of her status as a successful female artist with a strong local connection, the Philadelphia university’s board should have understood that Merritt merited retention at La Salle.

Instead, her work hammered at $35,000, against a $30,000-50,000 estimate:

Anna Lea Merritt, “The Watchers of the Straight Gate,” 1894
Photo by Lee Rosenbaum

The two La Salle consignments left stranded on the auction block were Luigi Loir‘s “Fête Foraine” (unsold at $22,000 against a low estimate of $30,000) and Frits Thaulow‘s “Midnight Mass” (unsold at $55,000 against a $70,000 low estimate).

Some 23 works from La Salle are to be offered at tomorrow’s old masters sales (with additional paintings in future auctions).

When I visited the presale exhibition at Christie’s yesterday, I wondered whether the sale would actually take place. That’s because the Pennsylvania Attorney General’s Office hadn’t announced the result of its “review” as to whether there might be legal impediments to the disposals.

In response to my query, this message from the AG hit my inbox at 3:35 p.m., while I was still ogling (and live-tweeting about) La Salle’s permanent collection-turned-merchandise:

The Office of Attorney General’s investigation by its Charitable Trusts and Organizations section has determined that there are no legal grounds which prohibit La Salle University from moving forward with its decision to sell the specific pieces of art currently scheduled for sale.

In what’s becoming a familiar scenario, the AG offered no information about the thinking behind this decision.

In all, some 18 of the 62 works in the sale (offered by various consignors) failed to find buyers. Auctioneer Hastie, injecting as much energy as he could, lived up to his name by blurting at record speed each unsuccessful bid and hastily transitioning to the next lot.

Below is what I tweeted yesterday about a La Salle work to be offered in tomorrow’s old masters sale—a modestly estimated, bravura rendering (appearing to be in pristine condition) of elaborately embellished architecture, painted by an unidentified 18th-century Flemish artist who is not otherwise identified in the label. (To see the full images, you have to click on the tweet bellow; then click on the individual images.)


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