The Best First Auctions

[27 Feb 2015]


Friday is the best! Every other Friday, Artprice offers you a themed auction ranking. This week, Artprice discusses the 10 best first auctions in the West for 2014.

The speculative trend of the contemporary art market and the current course of the Blue Chips could make one think that such a ranking would put the young stars of the Western market in first place. Not at all. These top auction sales primarily go to historical pieces, sometimes the work of ancient masters whose identity is still hazy. The value of the art is increased by their history, rarity and the current trends.

The Best First Auctions
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Matteo GIOVANNETTI $2,742,740 Katharina von Alexandrien und Antonius Abbas 2014-11-15 Lempertz COLOGNE
2 LOMBARD MASTER $2,700,000 Portrait of a Gyrfalcon, Viewed from Three Sides 2014-01-30 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
3 Alex ISRAEL $850,000 Sky Backdrop (2012) 2014-05-12 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
4 MAITRE AUX MADONNES AUX JOUES DODUES $780,000 The Virgin and Child with Saints Dominic, Augustine, Margaret and Barbara 2014-01-29 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
5 Battista di Biagio SANGUIGNI $650,000 The Virgin of Humility 2014-01-29 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
6 Jan BOOTS $622,726 Allégorie de la Vue et de l’Odorat 2014-03-26 Artcurial (S.V.V.) PARIS
7 AMICO FRIULIANO DEL DOSSO $530,968 Portrait of a Gentleman with a Sword, Three-Quarter Length, a Landscape with a Walled City Beyond 2014-07-09 Sotheby’s LONDON
8 Hamed OWAIS $460,000 Al Zaim w Ta’mim Al Canal (Nasser and the Nationalisation of the Canal) (1957) 2014-10-21 Christie’s DUBAI
9 Giovanni DE BOLOGNE $400,000 The Crucifixion with the Virgin Mary and Saint John the Evangelist 2014-01-29 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
10 Mahmoud SABRI $350,000 Untitled (1950′) 2014-10-21 Christie’s DUBAI
copyright © 2015



An example of an important rediscovery occurred last year with the appearance of a 14th-century Italian master, Matteo Giovannetti, unknown at auction due to the extreme rarity of his works. He set a Western record for a first auction price in 2014 of USD 2.74m, no less, for two tempera on wood works depicting Catherine d’Alexandrie and Antoine le Grand, each measuring 64 x 17 cm (at Lempertz in Cologne on 15 November 2014). How did these two panels blithely triple their estimate and earn the best German auction sale price for ancient art in 2014? The reason is because these works of Ialian Trecento are part of an altarpiece, known as Retable Manin, whose other panels are in prestigious collections like those of the Louvre. Both tempera in question disappeared for nearly a century before the Lempertz auction house discovered them in the collection of German painter von Lenbach, who likely acquired them from the collection of Count Cernazai of Udine. A shadowless past, part of a prestigious altarpiece, a remarkable signature from ancient art history (Matteo Giovannetti was the principal painter at the school of Avignon) were enough major criteria to propel this work to the top.


Almost unknowns

A second gavel strike of this kind supports the ranking. It sounded for an unknown Lombard master (Lombard Master, act.c.1540-1560), for a large oil on canvas (75.7 cm x 100.5 cm) depicting a falcon on three sides. The works detail animals, plants or insects, as they were very popular with European aristocracy. The quality of the workmanship, the subtleness of the colours, the beauty of the subject and the perfectly preserved condition enabled the falcon from an almost unknown hand to auction for USD 2.7m, versus an estimate of USD 700,000–1m.
Another example of an artist noted by art historians but whose identity is still unknown is the master of the plump-cheeked Madonnas. Hidden behind this description is a painter from Bruges who was active during the first quarter of the 16th century. Christie’s included one of his religious scenes in their New York sales in January 2014, a work with an especially prestigious pedigree, and then the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York divided them to take advantage of new acquisitions. This excellent origin allowed the master of the plump-cheeked Madonnas to be sold for USD 780,000 at auction.
A third artist whose real name has yet to be revealed is also found in this Top list: known by the nickname Amico Friuliando del Dosso, he was an active master during the first quarter of the 16th century, whose Portrait of a Man sold for USD 530,000 at Sotheby’s. This work was attributed to various artists (including that of Lorenzo Lotto) before ultimately being attributed to Amico Friuliando del Dosso. The work appeared at auction following a long loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.


These “almost” unknowns are seldom ranked on the same level as better known artists such as Jan Boots, Battista di Biagio Sanguini and Giovanni De Bologne. The first, Jan Boots, worked in Jan Brueghel’s studio and duplicated many of his tableaus. In March 2014, Artcurial offered an ambitious composition in the style of Brueghel (an Allegory of Sight and Smell) depicting a collector’s cabinet of curiosities. This work, a testament to the development of arts from that period, obtained more than USD 600,000 at auction, double its estimate, despite the fact that Jan Boots – also known as Boets, Booets, and Booetz – did not truly make a name for himself.

Recent works: Dubai vs. New York

In the privileged ranking of rediscovery and increased valuation of historic works, three names stand out: Hamed Owais, Mahmoud Sabri and Alex Israel.
The appearance of the Egyptian Hamed Owais and the Iraqui Mahmoud Sabri are related to the development of the art market in the United Arab Emirates. These artists have proved themselves decades ago and their newly increased value on the auction market is a late recognition for the entire span of their career. It is astonishing for such an important figure from the Egyptian art scene as Hamed Owais (he helped found the Modern Art Group in 1947 and his works are on display at several museums) to have not appeared at auction earlier. His first two works at auction sold for USD 170,000 and USD 460,000, respectively, at Christie’s Dubai, in October 2014. Hamed Owais was also included in the auction circle for the first time in his life at the age of 95 years, unlike the American thirty-something Alex Israel, whose prices have already risen even higher. Alex Israel is the only artist under 40 to be included in this ranking, after a failed sale attempt in 2013 (Sotheby’s New York) for a canvas estimated at USD 70,000. This purchase would have been a very good deal, because, in 2014, no less than seven vibrantly coloured, spray-painted canvases were snapped up for prices ranging from USD 190,000–USD 850 000! The young Alex Israel, born in 1982, is the new darling of contemporary art sales in London and New York. This Californian has several strings to his bow: company head (with Freeway Eyewear sunglasses, part of the artist’s collection), editor of the magazine Purple Fashion, he juggles showbiz stereotypes with art history codes. He shot to the top of the art scene in 2010 during the California Biennial, and then exhibited at Peres Projects in Berlin in 2011, at Almine Rech in Paris the following year and most recently at the renowned Gagosian, which is displaying his work in its Roman gallery alongside Kathryn Andrews through 15 March 2015.