15 minutes with a price database Experienced user: Elizabeth Pisano, Sotheby’s specialist, explains why there is no typical day in an auction room


There is only one tool that art insiders trust when it comes to buying, selling and researching art: the Artnet price database. Its users from all sectors – from auction houses to museums, galleries and government institutions – represent the most important players in the art world. We take 15 minutes to chat with some of the Artnet Price DatabaseExperienced users can get their take on the current state of the market and how they stay on top of the latest trends.

For Elizabeth Pisano, a career in an auction house was love at first sight.

“I came to Sotheby’s for an informational interview as I explored the opportunities after school, and by the time I left I knew I wanted to work in the company,” said Pisano. “I loved the conversations I had that day. Everyone I met were so smart and passionate about their work. It was impossible not to want to be a part of it.

As a recent graduate with a passion for the arts, she joined Sotheby’s as a cataloger in 2012. Driven by the fast-paced auction house environment, Pisano rose through the ranks, filling the roles of Associate Specialist and Specialist, among other things, until she reached her current post, Specialist Vice President of the US Art Department. Since then she has specialized in various high profile auctions, selling works by artists such as Norman Rockwell, John Ford Clymer, Maxfield Parrish and many more.

Read on to learn about her most memorable sale, a typical workday, and why auction houses reminded her of beehives.

What was your first encounter with art auctions?

I was an intern in the post-war and contemporary art department at Christie’s during my first semester of graduate school. I don’t even know how I ended up there, I think of a friend who worked there. I remember being quite amazed by the pace and the activity. Auction houses still remind me of a beehive with everyone buzzing through busy seasons.

You started your career as a cataloguer at Sotheby’s, and since then you have become specialist vice-president. What was the proudest or most memorable moment of your career?

Most memorable was certainly when we sold Norman Rockwell’s Two plumbers in 2017. The painting had that classic Rockwell humor and was of course one of the most well-known images he created for the cover of The Saturday Evening Post. The pre-sale estimate was $ 5-7 million, but it ended up selling for almost $ 15 million due to a long bidding war between my colleague and I on behalf of our clients. . I think he might still be annoyed that I finally managed to win.

Two plumbers by Norman Rockwell which sold for almost $ 15 million in 2017. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

You have been a specialist in various high profile auctions, including the Sotheby’s American art sale in December 2020, which featured lots by Milton Avery, Edward Hopper and a watercolor by Winslow Homer estimated between 2.5 and $ 2.5 million.3.5 million. Can you describe a challenge or something that surprised you about this sale?

The biggest surprise of the day was the result of a job titled Attack by John Ford Clymer, which sold for $ 879,100, nearly nine times its low estimate, and set a new auction record for the artist. The painting attracted a lot of attention and two very determined bidders dodged it until the end.

Can you describe a typical day?

There is no such thing as a typical day! This is the great thing about working in the field. Every day is different and brings a new challenge or problem to solve.

How have you seen the American art market evolve during your career?

The start of my career coincided with the explosion of the American illustration market, which was in part motivated by a reconsideration of the historical importance of the art of the genre. This development is probably best represented by the prices we have seen for works by Norman Rockwell. Eight of the 10 highest prices for Rockwell, including the all-time high of $ 46 million, have been achieved over the past decade. The demand for this type of material is now spreading to the works of other illustrators such as Maxfield Parrish, NC Wyeth and JC Leyendecker, with new buyers entering the market all the time looking for examples of these artists at all. the prices.

Attack by John F. Clymer which sold for $ 879,100 in 2020. Courtesy of Sotheby’s.

How do you see the auction industry developing after the surge in online auctions last year?

I see it as a wonderful opportunity to introduce American art to new and younger collectors. We will continue to see more auctions presented in this manner as audiences become more comfortable buying art online. The American art category includes a number of artists whose work is widely recognizable as well as a wide range of genres, often at more accessible prices. So there really is something for everyone and this can be a great place to start out as a collector.

What advice would you give to a novice collector?

Find out by going to museums and gallery exhibitions and by following auctions. Market data is so widely available now that it is very possible to make informed choices with confidence.

Do you collect works of art? If so, what is your favorite item in your collection?

I wouldn’t say I collect but it is important for me to live with interesting pieces, most of which were given to me as gifts or that I have tracked down in antique stores. My favorite object is a watercolor that my parents gave me after the birth of my daughter, Violet. They commissioned it from an artist based in Wyoming where they live. The imagery plays on its name and I love how personal it is.

If you could own a work of art on earth, no matter what the price or size, what would it be?

John Singer Sargent’s El Jaleo.

What is the last thing you looked for in the Price database?

Best prices for Norman Lewis.

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