Two paintings that hung in the Detroit Institute of Arts until last fall ignited bidding wars at Sotheby’s auction of A. Alfred Taubman’s “Old Masters” Wednesday, in one case more than doubling the auctioneers’ high estimate.
But it looks as if the auction house could fall short of its $500 million guarantee to the Taubman heirs. Prices for the 67 lots Wednesday were mostly disappointing, and the running total of all four auctions of the late real-estate developer’s art collection of 500 objects stands at just $462 million.
While the four auctions are over, some individual pieces — including a few major works that did not sell in previous auctions — could be sold in the coming months, so that total might still rise.
A spokesman for Sotheby’s, Darrell Rocha, said they would not release a final tally for some months.
Exceeding expectations Wednesday, however, was de Boulogne’s “The Crowning with Thorns” which was at the DIA on long-term loan until last fall, and pulled $5.178 million at auction. Sotheby’s had put its high estimate at $2 million.
Also beating its high end was another canvas DIA patrons may well remember — Stomer’s “Christ Disputing with the Doctors,” which brought $2.65 million, and was pegged at $1 million to $1.5 million.
Other works formerly at the DIA including Maertensz.Sorgh’s “A Musical Company in an Interior,” Ligozzi’s “The Abduction of the Sabine Women” and Guercino’s “The Penitent Magdalene” fell short of expectations.
One New York art insider, Asher Edelman of ArtAssure Ltd., which helps finance major art purchases, was dismissive of the quality of the Taubman works just auctioned.
“None of [Taubman’s] Old Masters were first rate,” Edelman said. “The museum lost nothing great, as there was nothing great.”
Of de Boulogne’s “The Crowning with Thorns,” U-Mich art professor emeritus R. Ward Bissell told The Detroit News last fall that he was a major French painter in the style of Caravaggio.
“He tends to be a little somber,” Bissell said, “but they’re pretty powerful paintings.”
Previous Taubman auctions, which started in November, were devoted to Masterworks — the best of his modern and contemporary collection, lesser Modern & Contemporary and his American pieces.
Proceeds from the sales will go to pay estate taxes, with the remainder going to the Bloomfield Hills-based Taubman Foundation, which will continue to make grants to organizations long supported by the late billionaire, like the DIA and the University of Michigan.