Friday, November 27, 2009

Sotheby’s

J.C. Leyendecker
If, like me, you find yourself frequently frustrated with the relatively low resolution images provided by many museums and fine art sites; and tire of the frustrating little zoom windows that they provide for a “close up”, I have a suggestion for a site that you may not have considered.

This site has nice large images of museum quality art that happens to be changing hands. It is the Sotheby’s auction site.

Sotheby’s is a long established auction house through which some of the world’s most expensive (and notorious) art purchases have been transacted. Prior to their sales they post on their site previews of the items to be auctioned, in high enough resolution for potential buyers to take a look, and even bid online if inclined.

For those of us who can’t shell out a few million for the odd masterpiece here and there, the site is still a treasure trove of relatively high resolution images of terrific art.

You can’t pick and choose, of course; what’s up is what happens to be for sale, but I find it rare that I cannot check out an auction of art from the early 20th Century or earlier without encountering several pieces that make the visit worthwhile.

They currently list an auction of American Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture that is due to be auctioned in New York on December 3, 2009. It includes work by Everett Shinn, Jessie Wilcox Smith, Andrew Wyeth, Robert Henri, Childe Hassam, Thomas Hart Benton, Norman Rockwell, Mary Cassatt, Edward Redfield, Frederic Edwin Church, Thomas Moran, J.C. Leyendecker, Thomas Eakins, James Bama, Frederic Remington, and N.C. Wyeth, among others.

Click on “View E-Catalogue”, wait a few seconds for the pop-up window to populate with thumbnails, then maximize the window and scroll through the thumbnails to find what you like. Mouse over them to see the name of the piece and artist, and click to view the single piece. Then look for the “Zoom In” button below the image and use the plus sign to enlarge the image as large as it will go. The title block and zoom control can block part of the image, but you can get around that by moving your mouse to scroll.

Exit zoom and you can then use the next and previous buttons to move through the images, or use the navigation to return to the thumbnails.

The images are usually much larger than most encountered on the net, often large enough to see the brushstrokes quite nicely.

From the main pages you can choose “Explore Auctions” and find sales of old masters, 19th Century art, Russian painting, Impressionist and modern art and a variety of other auctions scheduled in locations across the world. There are several pages of auctions listed at any given time.

For any of them, click “Browse New E-Catalog” to get to the large images. There are also downloadable PDF catalogs for many of the auctions, but the images in them are not as large as those on the site.

Come back in a few weeks, and there will be another set of auctions to browse.

Do I see someone in the back raising their hand? Making a bid? No? A Question. “What about Christies?” you say.

Yes, Christie’s is the other high end art auction site, and you will find some wonderful pieces there as well, but their display is limited to the more common zoom in a box feature, albeit a larger one than usual. The Sotheby’s display is much nicer (though it’s certainly worthwhile browsing through the Christie’s lots).

So take a look through. You never know, you might find something you want to pick up for over the couch.

(Image above, with enlargement from full size image: The Courtship: J.C. Leyendecker; estimate: $30,000 – $50,000)

11 thoughts on “Sotheby’s

  1. peacay

    Good call. They are a poacher’s paradise. I’m pretty sure they both have email alerts too (although someone at both houses usually let’s me know of upcoming auctions of interest).

    Philiobiblos provides good pre- and post-auction details/highlights.

  2. Dave Dubé

    Since you watch your comments, I have a request. I read your post about creating a small book on the cheap. I thought I’d bookmarked it – and didn’t. Could you point me to it so I don’t have to go back through ALL of your posts again? Please!

  3. David Clemons

    I tend to prefer Christies myself, but there you go… Take a look at Christie’s auction lot of “Important American Paintings Drawings and Sculpture Dec 2, 2009″ and you’ll see some nice things like the N.C. Wyeth Robinson Crusoe paintings.

  4. Daniel van Benthuysen

    Other specialty auction houses (admittedly without the way-cool, high-res imagery on the web) are worth a visit in person when in New York. Swann Auction Galleries, for example, specializes in works on paper, rare books, photography, posters, etc. Other New York auction houses that regularly carry collectible art (in considerably more affordable bidding ranges) include Tepper, Doyle, Bonhams and Phillips de Pury.

    Actually, even Sotheby’s and Christies will tell you that the bulk of their sales are to people spending under $10,000 on an item. What’s more, the auction houses, if pressed, will further admit that their estimated sales price range for an item is only accurate about one third of the time. Another third of the time the final successful bid (in auction terms, ‘the hammer price’) is below the low estimate provided by the auction house.

    And if an item just doesn’t manage to sell, you can ask the auctioneer at the end of the sale what the minimum reserve is, the lowest price at which they’re willing to let the item go. That line of questioning will identify you as a “bottom-feeder” but who cares? Experienced collectors often graduate from buying from dealers to buying for themselves at auction and sometimes do so at considerable savings.

    Next time you’re in New York go watch an auction. It can be every bit as exciting as a good horse race. As you point out, Charley, it’s often museum quality art that is about to change hands and disappear into another private collection.

  5. Michael

    As to the much loathed Zoomify image enlargement, er, obstacle, I recently wrote to the developers of the the viewer asking if they had developed an “anti-Zoomify” program, so that I could see and appreciate big images of historic paintings without having to look through a virtual keyhole.
    They replied!
    Here’s their answer:
    [Quote]
    Hello Michael,

    Unfortunately we don’t make such a program available. Too many of our customers prefer that their Zoomify Images NOT be capturable – not that this is a security feature, but it is certainly some level of disincentive to misappropriation of content.

    Apologies for not being able to meet your needs in this specific respect. Best of luck with your thesis,…[End Quote]

    In the end, I found a script that would scan Zoomify images and stitch the constituent image tiles together automatically and re-assemble the whole image.
    The trouble is that I’m not geek enough to get it to work properly! *sigh*

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