Chapter 49. The Case of Clarences Château-Gaillard
Both of the paintings shown here, by Canadian artist Clarence Gagnon (18811942), were sold at auction in November 2008 through Sothebys and Heffel, respectively. Château Gaillard, Les Andelys, France had a presale estimate of $12,000 to $15,000 and sold for $13,000. Misty Morning, Château-Gaillard had a presale estimate of $20,000 to $25,000 and sold for $27,500. Both paintings are of similar size and subject matter, and both were painted by Gagnon circa 1910.
Many factors might explain why one painting sold for twice as much as the other. However, I would suggest that one of the main reasons was the manner in which each painting was presented in its respective auction catalogue.
The design strategies adopted for the presentation of these two pieces in their catalogues differed in at least three ways. First was the size of the image on the page (and, notably, whether the image was on its own dedicated page) and the amount of art historical text associated with the image. Second was the numbering and placement of the lot in which the piece appeared in relation to other lots offered for auction. And third was the proximity of that lot to the conclusion of the auction.
Auction houses also situate artworks in catalogues in what is best described as a cresting wave model. Works expected to sell at higher prices appear on the crest, preceded and followed by lesser works expected to sell for lower prices. Thus, periods of cresting works generate intense competitive excitement intended to encourage aggressive bidding. These are flanked by valley periods in which lesser works are expected to sell for lower prices.
Finally, by placing a designated cresting-wave artwork near the close of the auction catalogue, the auction house signals the conclusion of the proceedings, and so creates a sense of urgency meant to encourage bidders to purchase works before they are no longer available.
Heffels choice to place Misty Morning, Château-Gaillard on a single page in the catalogue along with extensive text and flanked by pages of lesser valued pieces defined a cresting point. (Misty Morning preceded another cresting point, that for a large A.Y. Jackson, lot 218, which sold for $37,500. The lots following were less expensive, and then the auction ended with another lesser Jackson, to give those bidders who were denied ownership of lot 218 another chance at a Jackson.)
Sothebys used similar placement strategies designed to generate interest and to pace the auction audience. Interestingly, by way of contrast, Château Gaillard, Les Andelys, France was illustrated with another work and limited text on a single page in the Sothebys catalogue. Several lots preceding were passed and several lots, including some contemporary works, following were withdrawn and/or passed, essentially minimizing excitement levels, except that lot 190, David Milnes cresting work Woman with Suitcase, sold for $475,000, within the range of its presale estimate.
It was this difference in strategies of catalogue placement which was a major contributing factor in Heffel selling one of two essentially companion pieces for over double the price realized at Sothebys.
Next: The Case of Margaret Keanes (?) Big Eyed Boy
Clarence Alphonse Gagnon, Misty Morning, Château-Gaillard (c. 1910), oil on panel, sold at Heffel