By Tiziano Aspetti
The new industrial magnates of the time started to collect these small statues and statuettes which had remained forgotten for so long until museums were created and art historians came on to embark on determining the authorship of many of these bronzes. During the second half of the 19th century and until the 1960's, the hunt for 16th and 17th century bronzes amplified thanks to the passion shown by collectors such as the Rotheschilds, the Jacquemart-André couple, David Weill, Seligmann, Hirsch, Adda, Broglio, Frey, David Daniels, Strauss, Thomas Flannery, Blumka or Pope-Hennessy among others.
Only a century ago, Italy was above all seeking to develop its economy rather than to preserve its artistic treasures. Following the social turmoils which affected the Peninsula between 1880 and 1914, many landowners were forced to sell their estates and many important art works Any rich European could come to Italy, visit historical sites and buy art treasures at ridiculous prices from local antique dealers. Today, any sum spent in 1880 on a superb Renaissance painting would just be enough to acquire an average 17th century picture from a small dealer.
However, 100 years ago, the art market was nothing but a kind of private club for wealthy people who found going on a spending spree in certain countries as much amusing as hunting in Africa or India. In one way or another they brought trophies back home and it was not before the end of the first World War that the market started to open itself to other categories of collectors. However, it was only after 1970 that it became a real economical entity at international level.
Today, the market is still building up but as for 16th and 17th century bronzes, offers have dwindled since most masterpieces are now in the collections of museums, institutions or some magnates. All the more,most newcomers to the art market have been attracted by modern and contemporary art pieces which are more in accordance with today's tastes.
By leaving the 1987-1990 speculation period out of consideration, one should note that among some 200 bronze statuettes offered for sale at auction throughout the world annually, there are still some remarkable Renaissance pieces which should reach better prices than those that have been recorded since the second half of 1995. These bronzes are enough beautiful and rare to attract new collectors, especially those who claim to be real art lovers. But their mesmerizing power seems to have little effect since collectors need to cultivate their knowledge to enhance their chances of finding genuine pieces as it is known that experts sometimes deliver wrong judgements. In addition, some remarkable forgeries were produced during the 19th century while other fakes have been appearing on the market during the past 15 years. The small number of collectors, the need to spend years learning about the subject, the increasing number of fakes in auction sales, have somewhat been contributing to provoke a slump in prices during the past two years.
All these factors have left their marks in recent big sales as many statuettes with estimates ranging from 100,000 to one million dollars have remained unsold. As a result, and contradictory to their historical importance and their rarity, many fine sculptures are now relatively cheap on the market and this is really hard to understand because beauty and scarcity usually mean big prices. Not long ago, a Giambologna work could fetch 250,000 dollars and more while a group representing the rape of the Sabines went beyond 4 million dollars and a small horse by Adriaen de Vries topped the 1,7 million dollar mark in two separate Paris sales. Heighdays are behind us. Nevertheless, this situation seems profitable to collectors who can buy masterpieces at low prices.
Good for them ! Adrian Darmon