The Worlds Best Auction Search & Valuation Site – barnebys

6 November 2015 § Leave a comment

Online auctions are big business. We all know of course about Ebay which started as a local experiment and astonished even its founder as it evolved to cover almost anything that anyone could imagine. Many other online-only sale platforms as well as proprietary auction house live bidding sites have appeared on the web since but many have assumed that the online auction model would never work for big ticket items like blue chip fine art or collectable automobiles.

They were wrong. Despite being late to the party the major auction houses have now all realised that you can indeed sell anything of any value on the web and they too have jumped on the bandwagon. The whole panoply of art, culture and design from $1 to $100 million is now available online.

Naturally with choice comes complication. A search for a photograph by, say, Terry O’Neill could easily take hours via checks upcoming auctions at multiple houses and still be incomplete. It was this growing problem that actually led a Swede, Christian Barnekow, to develop a way to search easily across multiple auctions. barnebys was the result and is now the biggest of its type in the world. It now covers hundreds of thousands of lots from over 1000 auction houses – a number increasing daily – and makes a complex search achievable in seconds – it is an invaluable resource that we use here almost daily.

Another familiar problem for potential buyers is that once you’ve found a Terry O’Neill you need to know its value? Up to now expensive subscriptions to companies like Artnet and Mutualart were needed for, not always satisfactory, access to their databases. A free search at barnebys ‘realised prices’ instantly supplies over a hundred full Terry O’Neill auction records between 1998 to now and allows a quick and easy comparison of other similar works. How brilliant is that?

The auctions, and results, are subdivided in to around thirty different categories across the world of art, design and culture and include for example Fashion & Vintage, Jewellery & Gems, Photographs, Sculpture and Furniture & Design and its a great place to search for affordable designer furniture or perhaps a designer handbag. You can search by any key word, product or select individual auction houses and sales to browse through.

There are many other useful features accessed via the barnebys site including access to a blog with trends, news article and ideas. Last but not least is a free valuation service – simply send details of your item via an online form (here) – and details are forwarded to auction house experts for an appraisal.

We particularly like the website layout which is clear, nicely arranged and easy to use. All in all barnebys should be saved on any everyone’s ‘favourite’ websites.  Now, maybe I’ll just put a sly bid on that Picasso ‘La Gommeuse’ at £38 million or perhaps the Warhol Marilyn Monroe instead – a snip at around £100k?

For more information visit

ArtTactic Forecaster – and some art price guides

28 October 2013 § Leave a comment

For anyone who feels that they might be a dab hand at art investment its well worth taking a look at the new ArtTactic Forecaster – an online ‘guess the art price’ website. Yours Truly is of course competing assidously and is sitting comfortably and tactically at 6th overall (as absolutbargain!) – waiting to make a move for the top when the others aren’t looking. I’ll keep you updated!

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 18.17.43Sign up (for free) and every few days the site is updated with works each from a few new auctions. Auctions are worldwide, from the major auction houses and are categorised in to such area as Contemporary Photography, Contemporary Painting, Prints and Sculpture for example. Images, details and estimates are given for the works and using a slider you enter your own prediction for the sales price or estimate as a ‘No Sale’. After the sale you are marked school-style – a point for correct or a half point for close. ArtTactic then draws up league tables in each category as well as overall.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 18.29.59It is of course ‘just for fun’ and is a very appropriate and sobering reminder of just how difficult it is to accurately forecast auction results. Get more than 2 of the 5 right and you’re probably moving up the league table! The difficulty is most clearly brought home by the fact that the auction houses themselves would be well down the tables if their estimates were counted as their entries in the competition. They might say that their estimates are often tactical rather than necessarily accurate – but then again they would wouldn’t they!

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 19.40.19There is a more serious aim to the competition of course as ArtTactic presumably aim to attract investors and collectors to their product. ArtTactic after all is an art market analysis firm that offers research and commentary on the ever-changing art world. As new markets emerge and tastes shift, ArtTactic wants to offer the expertise for your to keep a close eye current and future art investments supported by ‘up to the minute information from all corners of the globe.’

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 19.16.48It has competition of course, all with slightly differing angles and priorities. Here are the main – and pretty much only – contenders: MutualArt (my personal favourite) , ArtPrice (French, and appropriately awkward to use), Blouin Art Sales Index (and online magazine), Artnet (a US company who also run online auctions), Artfacts (includes a very useful and pretty accurate free-to-use  artist ranking guide), Artfact (no ‘s’ – where you can also bid on various online auctions) and Gordons Print & Photography Prices (now part of Blouin, produce annual printed guides).

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 19.18.31

Anyone who doesn’t plan to use an advisor or consultant when buying art (in truth by far the wisest way to invest) it would be very foolish indeed not to sign up to one of the premium packages available from one or more of these companies. A full auction record of any artist you are investing in is an absolute must and along with various guides to the performance of individual artists or different sectors allows an insight not otherwise available.

A final word of warning beware the free to use companies – some of whom like Artsy are very professional indeed, who purport to offer a guide to prices, when they are in reality more like a selling platform for art of very varying quality.

bonhams takes on christies and sotheby’s with contemporary one

30 January 2012 § 1 Comment

The contemporary art auction market in London has in recent years been a bitter slug-fest between the two ‘big boys’ – Sotheby’s and Christies.  Last year Christies won on points with their total for the three sales – in February, June and October – reaching £167m, only about £3m ahead of Sotheby’s. A distant third is Phillips de Pury whose three sales grossed only (!) £36m.

The new kid on the block is Bonhams but this sounds a strange thing to say since they have been around since 1793. However it is only since 2001, when they came under new ownership that they have started expanding significantly and have steadily eaten in to the larger houses share of the auction market. Contemporary art has never been their strong suit and, following some dabbling in the contemporary market in their hit and miss Vision 21 auctions they have now launched a full-scale assault on the hegemony of the bigger houses. Following the inaugural sale by the new Contemporary Art Department last October – only grossing about £2m but largely successful and 70% sold – thay are offering another closely curated sale of 20 lots with a modest mid-estimate total of around £2.5m.

At first glance this sale could be dismissed as a sale of little importance in the London Contemporary market, but a look at the catalogue shows something more interesting. The catalogue is a beautifully and expensively produced whopper. One hundred and sixty-four pages. For twenty lots. Every lot gets loads of attention and space lavished upon it. Take a nice Alan Davie Little Tut’s Wagon (lot 5) modestly estimated at £25-35k – the artist gets a double page spread for his photo and a couple more devoted to his work, the painting has a double page plus a fold-out – the equivalent to about 8 pages! At Sotheby’s or Christies it might have got a half a page – in the day sale. There are other modestly-priced works – expect them to go well above estimate – and some very interesting higher rated works too – notably Urs Fischer’s Untitled 2006 (lot 10), Frank Auerbach‘s Head of Lucien Freud (lot 6) and Richard Prince’s Untitled (Girlfriend) (lot 15).

The modest number of lots and total value of the sale is, at least in part, deliberate. I was told that Bonhams wish to establish themselves with very successful sales of low to mid value lots, before going full tilt at the market. I wish them every luck, and with such commitment as they show here  who would bet against them becoming a major player in the contemporary market in the coming years. Meanwhile, if you have a contemporary work to sell there looks like only one sensible place to put it at the moment. With such attention and quality of presentation and, dare I venture, some negotiation of commission for good works, Bonhams will be hard to beat.

London Contemporary auction scehdule February 2012

13/14 Feb Bonhams One/Two eve/day

14/15 Feb Christies eve/day

15/16 Sothebys eve/day

17/18 Phillips de Pury eve/day


serpentine gallery expansion hits jackpot

1 July 2011 § Leave a comment

An astonishing 4.3 million (myown total from Sothebys gross results) – around double auction estimates – was raised this afternoon for the upcoming extension to the Serpentine gallery. Forty-six top contemporary artists including the likes of John Baldessari, Olafur Eliasson, Fischli & Weiss,  Antony Gormley, Jeff Koons, Yayoi Kusama and Rachel Whiteread had generously donated works to be auctioned alongside Sothebys contemporary art day sale.

Top lot was John Currin‘s Edwardian which raised £713k. Other significant amounts raised included £540k from Richard Prince‘s Untitled and £373k from a work by Takashi Murakimi.

Apparently the new space is to be called the Serpentine Sackler Gallery and will be located in Kensington Gardens, a short distance from the current gallery which lies close to the Serpentine in Hyde Park. It is due to open in 2012, and will be renovated and designed by Pritzker-Prize winning architect Zaha Hadid. The plans include an adjoining pavilion to be used as a social space and restaurant. 

John Currin - Edwardian

If it is anywhere near as good as the Serpentine has been over recent years at presenting interesting exhibitions of contemporary art it will be a great new addition to London’s art world. I am looking forward to the opening – oh, and any invitations to the opening party most welcome!

records tumble at christies and sothebys

30 June 2011 § 1 Comment

Peter Doig - Red Boat

Shrugging off global economic worries this weeks contemporary art sales broke a series of records and confirmed the faith that buyers seem to have in the art market. Christies kicked off on Tuesday evening with an £80m total – their second highest ever. Star of the show was Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait which topped £18. A bunch of Warhols sold steadily with Mao, at £7m, the top lot, a nice Peter DoigRed Boat soared over its £1.4 low estimate to fetch £6m and a brilliant Lucien FreudWoman Sitting – made £4.7m.

Lucien Freud - Rabbit on a Chair

Kay Saatchi cleared out her attic and amongst her lots were a group of five very pretty Freud drawings. They all sold at around triple low estimate – perhaps because they were nice, perhaps due to a provenance beginning with Saa….. Losers were Chris Ofili whose two works went unsold (along with two of three in the day sale) – looks like the elephant dung bubble has burst?

Wednesdays Christies day sale was steady at £13m. The surprise of the day was that the two main offerings from Tracey Emin failed to sell – an appliqued blanket Something Really Terrible at £100-150k and a neon When I Go to Sleep  at £40-60k. Clearly the current Hayward show did not seem to inspire anyone (see my recent review). Meanwhile a nice batch of Picasso ceramics (in the contemporary sale?) flew out at £9-44k against estimates of £2-20k.

Sigmar Polke Dschungel

Over at Sothebys yesterdays evening sale cruised through the previous London Contemporary sale record to reach £109m. It was helped through the previous £95m mark from 2008 by the addition of the amazing Duerckheim Collection. A who’s who of German post-war art there were fabulous works from the likes of Sigmar Polke, Blinky Palermo, Georg Baselitz and AR Pencke. Gerhard Richter was particularly well represented with a good wonderful overview of his varied ouevre – colour charts, grey paintings, ‘abstrakte bilde’, photo-paintings and so on – the prices reflecting the high quality as they frequently doubled estimates, 1024 Farben at £4.2m the top lot. Polke’s auction record was broken three times in quick succession with a rare spot painting Dschungel  making £5.7. Palermo, Lupertz and Baselitz records were also set.


Gerhard Richter - Schwestern

In the rest of the sale Bacon (again) was top dog with Crouching Nude, at auction for the first time reaching £8.3m. Back nearer earth Ged Quinn‘s maintained his right to be in such exalted company with sales at £110k and £180k (Christies) against estimates of £60-80k.

Following hard on the heels of the recent impressionist and modern auctions where the total of the  ‘big two’s’ evening sales was the third highest on record the art market seems to have survived the financial meltdown in reasonable health. All eyes are now on Frieze and the October sales!

richard wathen at max wigram gallery

14 May 2011 § Leave a comment

A small vase was placed gently in my hand. It was a beautiful object with an exquisite misty pale green colour and a light craquelure. ‘Feel ze texture’ I was told in a strong French accent, ‘more recent ones zey are not  as smooth – and dont drop eet, ze estmate is a third of a million.’ At which point of course i nearly did.

I was, as you by now realise, not at Max Wigram but actually at Sothebys just over the road in Old Bond Street. I was having a sneak, personalised tour of the Fine Chinese ceramics and works of art sale (the subsequently record-breaking 11 May auction) courtesy of Christian, head of their Paris oriental department. Over ninety fascinating minutes he proceeded to give me the entire history of Chinese arts, insisting on handing me every major work in the sale, and exhorting me variously to examine the quality of the brushwork, the finish, lustre, colours and texture.

A few million pounds worth of astonishing works of art later we concluded the tour and I mentioned to Christian that I was going to view some contemporary art nearby. ‘Ah, I am not sure about contemporary art,’ he commented, ‘there eez too much, how you say, treekery. With zeese.. ‘ he said, gesturing to the works on display, ‘you know precisely what you ‘ave.’

Over at the very pleasant Max Wigram gallery, accessed via a discreet doorbell at no 106 was an airy room featuring about a ten Richard Wathen works. Although Christian was probably referring more to the, often somewhat dubious, wheeling and dealing that goes on in the contemporary art world, his comments had some immediate relevance as I tried to make sense of the ‘press release’, available to all on the desk as a guide to the works. What exactly are we getting here?

Wathen’s paintings are ‘disturbing, anatomically distorted self-portraits that reflect on time and age and art history.’ Hmmm, sort of get the gist.  

His paintings ‘draw inspiration from a variety of periods, mixed with disguised, self-fashioned autobiographic references.’ Not sure I totally understand.

He ‘intentionally redefines his subjects’ personhood applying …. multiple viewpoints, to the concept of time. His painting Olive, is not the oddity of a young girl with grey hair, but a portrait containing all the ages of the sitter at once, reflecting human experience and life, and rendering ambiguities of gender, age and loss.’ Really? What does the last part actually mean?

I found Wathen’s work rather interesting actually but his work is best explained by one of Wathen’s own quotes: ‘I consider all of the portraits to be self-portraits. The starting point is usually a memory or feeling that will then proceed to sifting through pre-existing images.  This might be a face or an item of clothing but will often have a feeling of memory or history.’

A nice exhibition, but with the smallest paintings starting at £24k I think buyers deserve a little more plain speaking in place of vague sweeping statements – Christian would not have been impressed!

Richard Wathen, 20 April – 21 May 2011, Max Wigram, 106 New Bond Street, London W1S 1DN 0207 495 4960.

kick off for the 2011 sales season

8 February 2011 § Leave a comment

The next few days sees the first big art auctions of the year. Today, the 8 February Sothebys kick off with their evening Impressionist & Modern sale followed by their day sale tomorrow when Christies also have their evening sale.  Looking Closely is an extra Sothebys evening sale on Thursday 10 February which follows Christies day sale. The major Sothebys & Christies Contemporary sales follow on the 16 & 17 February.

Georgina Adam in the Financial Times (link to article) summarises this weeks sales nicely (so that I dont have to!), but it is the Looking Closely sale that Sothebys have slipped in to the schedule that really catches the eye. This is an exquisite private collection from the estate of Swiss collector George Kostalitz, who died last year. Collected carefully in the period 1960-90 it is a beautifully formed collection, made with a great eye for the best work.

An exquisite Dali portrait of Eluard is one of the most important surrealist works to come up at auction for years, estimated up to £5m –  but dont be surprised if it goes for £10m. Two portraits of Lucian Freud are included, the first being a 1964 triptych painted by Francis Bacon estimated at up to £9m, while amonst three Freuds on offer is a self-portrait painted when staying at Ian Fleming’s Jamaican villa, Goldeneye. Five stunning Marc Chagall feature, two of which were commissioned directly from the artist. They are all estimated at £2m or so and surely will go for much more. The sale estimate is £39-55m, but it will be surprise to me if it does not soars much higher.

The highest estimated work in all these sales is at Sotheby’s evening sale Picasso La Lecture at £18m – a tender portrait of his muse Maries Therese it is ‘only’ a small oil on board, but it is still unlikely that the estimate will prove to be too elevated.

Overall I am sure that we will see as very strong result at the sales continuing the ‘recovery’ in the market suggested by good results in 2010 – including Christies recent announcement of its record-breaking year. There will be a high proportion of lots sold, some broken records and sale estimates exceeded – especially at Sothebys – and let’s hope that this signals a good start to 2011!

steady as she goes – analysis of NY sales results

17 November 2010 § Leave a comment

In the wake of the strong sales results in New York contemporary art sales last week the Art Market Monitor has made some very interesting comments.

They looked at the day sale market separately from the evening sales. Not only do the evening sales represent the fantasy-land of the art world but due to low lot numbers they are prone to being skewed by expensive individual works. The day sales have a larger number of lots and represent the core of the market and the majority of the collectors. Having removed the evening sales world inhabited by the super rich and potentially those least affected by the boom and bust cycle we can possibly look at current state of the wider art market.  The AMM noted:

Last week’s strong day sales posted very similar numbers to the Spring’s sales. Total volume in the day sales was $121 million in May and $122.6 million in November. The May sales had 800 lots find buyers and the November sales had 831 lots succeed. The average price for the day sales was slightly higher in May (at $151,318) than in November (at $147,572) but hardly a significant difference.

From 2007 to mid-2008 there was a dramatic rise in the average price of day sale works. The average price last week, however, was 40% below the bubble peak of Spring 2008. There seems to be a consolidation at the this 40% decline from the all-time highs. This should be seen as good news especially within the context of average prices having moved above the median level for the last five years for both sales cycles in 2010.

They also observe that by removing those boom and bust years from 2007 to 2009 we are left with a market that,  from 2006 to 2010 looks remarkably similar.

Coming after reassuring signs over the last six months one feels that we can now confidently say that we have reached the end of any ‘bust cycle’ and can look forward to a stable market with steadily increasing prices and renewed confidence in the market.

There has been some recent nonsensical talk of a move away from contemporary art and towards, for example, ‘modern masters’ but these results confirm further that this analysis was premature. The market for contemporary art is as strong as it has been in recent years, having felt the same stresses as other parts of the art market.

multiplied – christies muscles in to art fair business

12 October 2010 § Leave a comment

This October, in what is undoubtedly the most important week in the London Contemporary Art calendar, Christie’s is taking advantage of the international interest generated by Frieze to create their own ‘Fair’ – Multiplied – showcasing Contemporary Art in Editions. Around forty dealers ranging from major dealers like White Cube down to relative tiddlers like Black Rat Projects are taking advantage of the relatively low-cost stand space to sell low to moderate-priced works that appeal to new collectors. The  works will include not only prints but, for example, editioned photographs and sculptures and will reportedly start at a just a few pounds with the aim of tempting new clients in to the world of buying art.

Over thirty London galleries have temporarily dropped their objection to Christie’s muscling-in on to what is traditionally dealer territory. Christies tell us that “Multiplied will be the perfect place to scope out the vibrant contemporary editions scene, featuring young, emerging talent alongside eminent contemporary artists. With prices from £50 to £10,000, and editions in all shapes and sizes, from prints and photographs, to artist’s books and 3-D multiples, you may just spot ‘the next big thing’. An initiative of the Christie’s Prints and Contemporary departments, Multiplied aims to support contemporary publishing by providing a much needed platform to exhibit editions during this significant week; and to nurture a wider appreciation of editions amongst the art buying public.’

Marc Quinn - Apple

Multiplied is not the only effort the auction houses are using to move away from traditional auctions. Phillips de Pury are co-operating with Saatchi at his Chelsea gallery and feature selling exhibition of works in the top floor gallery – their latest is Korean Eye. Sotheby’s in New York is holding the exhibition Divine Comedy – around eighty widely varied works ranging from Cattelan to Brueghel, some for sale.

In recent years of course the two main auction houses have ventured in to dealership – Christies has bought Haunch of Venison, while Sotheby’s choice was the Old Master dealer Robert Noortman. But there is more – New York Sotheby’s opened a wine retailer in New York and also offers retail diamonds and jewellery in New York, Hong Kong and London. What next – groceries and insurance!?

Exhibition Viewing Times:
15-18 October 2010, 10am-5pm

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