Berkshire Museum's European works don't hit Sotheby's auction estimates


A second week of Berkshire Museum art sales began Tuesday morning with winning bids well below pre-auction estimates, echoing disappointments last week.

But in a second afternoon auction, things were looking up.

Buyers scrambled at the 2 p.m. Master Paintings auction to acquire an oil-on-panel work by 16th-century artist Adriaen Isenbrandt, pushing the winning bid to $620,000 — more than three times the high-bid estimate. Also, another work by Isenbrandt topped its $200,000 presale high estimate, selling for $260,000.

But those hammer prices still left the museum taking in well less than predictions on the day.

Three of four works owned by the Pittsfield museum sold at a morning auction of European works for $2,305,000, well under the combined low-bid estimate of $3.57 million set by Sotheby's.

One of the four listed Berkshire Museum works, Alberto Pasini's "Faubourg de Constantinople," did not sell at the morning auction of 88 works in Manhattan.

It is possible that lost ground on proceeds could be made up Wednesday, when Norman Rockwell's "Blacksmith's Boy — Heel and Toe" (also known as "Shaftsbury Blacksmith Shop"), will go to auction with presale bid estimates of $7 million to $10 million.

But that American Art auction is already rich in Rockwell, with 13 pieces by the late Berkshires artist listed in the same sale.

The museum's Rockwell entry is, by far, the most valuable. Eight other works by the artist, including sketches and studies, are valued at less than $600,000. Another work is priced at $600,000 to $1 million, and three others are in the $1 million to $3 million bid range.

French fizzle

The two most valuable museum works in Tuesday morning's European sale, both by French artist William Bouguereau, failed to reach their expected low-bid estimates.

Bouguereau's 1873 "L'Agneau Nouveau-Ne (The Newborn Lamb)" sold for $800,000 on estimates ranging from $1.5 million to $2 million.

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The same artist's 1884 "La Bourrique (The Pony-Back Ride)" sold for $1,450,000, below the estimated bid range of $2 million to $3 million.

On its two Bouguereau works alone, the museum will receive $1.25 million less than the low bids that Sotheby's anticipated.

The two paintings were given to the museum by members of the Crane family. "The Newborn Lamb" had been part of the estate of Zenas Crane, the museum's founder, according to Sotheby's.

Sales results reported by Sotheby's showed that it wasn't a down day for Bouguereau overall. At least four works by the artist offered by other sellers did better than their high estimates, including some that sold for about two times what Sotheby's predicted they could attract.

Running behind

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The controversial sales, allowed by an April ruling from the Supreme Judicial Court, are part of the 39 South St. museum's effort to build its endowment. It also seeks to raise money for renovations, and to pursue a shift in focus to science and nature exhibits.

Under terms backed by Attorney General Maura Healey and the SJC, the museum can sell up to $55 million with of its art.

The tally from two auctions last week brought in $2,160,000, or $1,040,000 less than low presale estimates.

As of Tuesday, the museum was running $1,725,000 behind the low-bid estimates set by Sotheby's for all its pieces sold to date at auction.

Carol Bosco Baumann, a museum spokeswoman, expressed no concern last week over prices fetched at the initial auction.

"Tonight's auction demonstrates people are interested in these works," she said in an email to The Eagle.

The museum listed 40 works for sale last July. The SJC decision allows the museum to sell the works in smaller batches.

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Bosco Baumann said Tuesday that museum officials will wait for Wednesday's auction to pass before deciding whether to list another group of works for sale, as allowed under terms set by the court.

When the museum announced plans for this month's sales, they expressed hope that no additional pieces would be sold.

"No decisions will be made or announced before then," Bosco Baumann said of the fifth and final May auction happening Wednesday.

The auction of the first 13 pieces began May 14, more than 10 months after museum leaders went public with their plan to cull works from the collection and use sale proceeds for operational and capital expenses — in defiance of established museum practice.

Separately, the museum and Sotheby's sold Rockwell's "Shuffleton's Barbershop" for an undisclosed sum to the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. That museum, founded by film director George Lucas, is being built in California.

Price not public

Because the "Shuffleton's" sale price has not been made public, it isn't clear how close to $55 million the museum will come with May's sales.

"Shuffleton's" was expected to sell for $20 million to $30 million when originally listed for auction last November. Those sales were postponed after Healey's office secured an injunction. In February, Healey's office dropped its opposition to the sales.

"Shuffleton's," considered to be one of Rockwell's finest works, will be exhibited starting June 9 at the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, as part of an exhibition titled "Keepers of the Flame: Parrish, Wyeth, Rockwell and the Narrative Tradition."

That show runs through Oct. 28. After that, "Shuffleton's" will remain on view in Stockbridge through 2020.

Larry Parnass can be reached at, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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