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Old Masters: Ups and Downs Add Up to ‘Satisfactory’

The Christie’s auction of Old Master paintings on May 25 realized $16.8 million, exceeding the $9.7/14.5 million presale estimate. The next day the Sotheby’s sale took in a modest $4 million, with 78, or 55 percent, of 142 lots sold. The top price at Christie’s was the $4.7 million paid for the 6-by-8-inch A Sleeping Dog

NEW YORK—The Christie’s auction of Old Master paintings on May 25 realized $16.8 million, exceeding the $9.7/14.5 million presale estimate. The next day the Sotheby’s sale took in a modest $4 million, with 78, or 55 percent, of 142 lots sold.

The top price at Christie’s was the $4.7 million paid for the 6-by-8-inch A Sleeping Dog Beside a Terracotta Jug . . ., by Dutch artist Gerrit Dou (1613-75), a onetime pupil of Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn’s who became head of the Leiden School of artists.

A group of dealers, including Otto Naumann of Manhattan, jointly purchased the work, competing with phone bidders who pushed the final price well beyond the $2/3 million estimate set by Christie’s.

Two other lots flew above $1 million: A set of 12 paintings by Dutch artist Pieter Casteels III (1684-1749), representing the 12 months of the year as bouquets of flowers, took $1.6 million (estimate: $100,000/150,000); and the work Saint Augustine in Ecstasy, by Spanish artist Bartolomé Esteban Murillo (1618-82), brought $1.9 million (estimate: $1.5/2.5 million). The Murillo price might have gone higher, Naumann told ARTnewsletter, had there not been a group of six paintings by the same artist sold at auction within the past two years by Japanese collectors.

In all, 151 lots were offered and 130, or 86 percent of them found buyers, which made this a “satisfactory sale,” according to New York dealer Richard Feigen, who came to the auction as a consignor of several paintings (all were sold). Lot estimates were kept on the low side, Feigen points out, in order to generate more bidding and to limit the number of buy-ins.

Most of the paintings in the Christie’s sale brought in prices under $50,000, although there were some strong lots that generated considerable bidding and six-figure prices. A work by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1637)—the 10-by-17-inch The Wedding Feast—made $598,400, exceeding its $150,000/250,000 estimate; and a painting by Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770), The Death of Seneca, gained $576,000 (estimate: $350,000/450,000).

A Record-Setting ‘Bargain’

A picture by Dutch artist Cornelis Saftleven (1607-81), A Cat Peeping Through a Fence, earned $441,600, within its $300,000/500,000 estimate. But Naumann, who was one of a group of dealers purchasing this work, called it a bargain, relating that the owner—another dealer—had purchased it ten years earlier at an auction in Holland but had been unable to find a buyer at the asking price of $750,000.

The $441,600 figure is also a new auction record for the artist. Another auction record was set for Dutch artist William Adriaensz. Key (1515-68), whose oil-on-panel Saint Jerome brought $385,600, outstripping Christie’s $150,000/200,000 estimate.

The sale had its share of ups and downs. Among them was the 1564 oil-on-panel A Kitchen Scene, by Dutch artist Joachim Beuckelaer (circa 1534-74), which carried a $600,000/800,000 estimate but went unsold. The oil-on-canvas Jupiter and Callisto, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), estimated at $300,000/500,000, also was bought in.

On a high note, a 17th-century portrait of Mariana of Austria, Queen of Spain, which carried a $20,000/30,000 estimate, fetched $307,200 after heavy bidding, even though it was attributed to the Circle of (Diego) Velázquez—suggesting that bidders and buyers had more definite ideas about its authorship.

None of the pictures in the Sotheby’s sale topped the million-dollar mark. The top lot was a 17th-century Portrait of a Nobleman, which realized $665,600 (estimate: $150,000/200,000) and was attributed to the Persian School (Safavid, Isfahan). Sano di Pietro’s Madonna and Child with Saints. . . . sold for $329,600 (estimate: $200,000/300,000).

Two lots well exceeded their presale estimates: View of Lisbon, attributed to the Circle of Jean-Baptiste Pillement, realized $120,000 (estimate: $40,000/60,000); and Landscape with Bear Hunt, by Hans Bol, brought $102,000 (estimate: $20,000/30,000).

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