Abraham Hulk

Abraham Hulk (1813-1897) was a Dutch nautical painter who did fantastic work, and his paintings hang in the museums of Amsterdam, Dordrecht, Haarlem and Enschede. Wikipedia has a good write-up on him here. Hulk works routinely go for just $2,000-$4,000 at auction. Sometimes, though, they blow the lid off the top of the expected range and bring in $30,000.

Sailboats on a rough sea in a slightly cloudy sky is up for auction at Nagel’s in Stuttgart on January 28. The expected price is 2,500 euros ($2,732):

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Boats on rough waters is slated for the Christie’s London auction, January 20. The midpoint of the expected range is $3,600.

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Personally, I think the first is the better picture. That said … this piece below, Sailing Ships at Dusk, is clearly better than both of the above. It was expected to go for $8,000 but brought a hammer price of $27,000 in November, 2015, at Lempertz in Cologne, Germany. There’s something about these sun-breaking-through-the-clouds pictures that really appeal to bidders. I see it repeatedly. This one was also very big: 72cm x 105 cm, which probably helped.

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I’ve inquired with Nagel as to the cost of buying, insuring and shipping a piece from Germany to the US. I suspect it would be quite a bit. Start with a 25% premium to the hammer price, then probably $200 for shipping and $100 for insurance and perhaps another 15% for VAT. So, if one got it for a hammer price of $2,800, the final bill would be nearly $4,000. Then, when you went to sell it, the reverse would apply: If you got a $2,800 hammer price the net to the seller would likely be around $2,100. That’s nearly a 100% bid/ask spread. Yikes!

That said, a big reason these works go so cheap in the first place is precisely because of these gargantuan spreads. Without them they’d probably go for more.

By the way, I first became interested in the Hulk family of painters (there are about four of them) when I saw a Hendrick Hulk nautical work down at the Flagler in Palm Beach. It looked very profound so I assumed it would be a $250,000 piece. Nope. More like $2,000. That floored me and piqued my interest in this question of the gap between hammer prices and quality.

-Mike Churchill

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Albert Bricher

Albert Bricher (1837-1908) is a good example of a reasonably famous mid-list Hudson River School painter whose work is widely exhibited in mid-sized museums yet still accessible for purchase (i.e. low/mid five-figures). Three pieces of his are coming up at the Skinner auction on January 22, 2016.  But first, for comparison sake, here are a few of his home runs:

“West Island, Seasconnet Point” got a hammer price of $70,000 at Sotheby’s in May 2015, below the expected range of 80-120k.

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This Seascape pulled in $15,000 in September 2015 at Christie’s, middle of the expected range of $12-18k. I think it’s very well done. Perhaps the hammer price was low due to lack of dramatic elements (rocks, trees or boats) to set off the water.

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On the water got $50k at Christie’s in November 2014. This is a top of the line work in terms of quality for Bricher. The expected range was $50-70k.

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Now on to the upcoming works.

 Hudson River at West Point (1867) is estimated to go for $15,000 to $25,000 at Skinner. I would say it gets sold, perhaps for $20,000. It’s good, but not as good as his best stuff. Maybe it will surprise to the upside.

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Ocean Cliffs, Sunlight is estimated to go for $22,000 to $28,000 but I don’t think it’s as good as the one above. The rocks look kind of cheesy. I predict it doesn’t hit the minimum reserve and goes unsold. At best it gets the minimum.

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Lastly, this one (Coastal Scene) is clearly weak, though priced accordingly at $4,000 to $6,000. We’ll see. Seems like a low hurdle, though I’m not sure what the point of having an inferior work is. That said, perhaps it looks better in the flesh, so to speak.

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 -Mike Churchill

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