ARTnewsletter Archive

European Buyers Heat Up London’s Old Master Sales

More than £100 million ($175 million) was spent on Old Master paintings and drawings at Sotheby’s and Christie’s during a busy round of sales in London from July 5-8. The Part One evening sales at the two auction houses—including paintings from the Hon. Robert Wills collection at Sotheby’s and the Antonio de Sommer Champalimaud collection

LONDON—More than £100 million ($175 million) was spent on Old Master paintings and drawings at Sotheby’s and Christie’s during a busy round of sales in London from July 5-8. The Part One evening sales at the two auction houses—including paintings from the Hon. Robert Wills collection at Sotheby’s and the Antonio de Sommer Champalimaud collection at Christie’s—totaled £87.8 million ($153.7 million), generously above the combined presale estimate of £60 million and more than double the £40.5 million ($74.9 million) realized at comparable Part One sales last July. The result was all the more remarkable given the terrorist attacks on the capital the morning of July 7, before the Part One sales occurred. They did little to dampen the enthusiasm of buyers, who turned up in force and were bidding with confidence for the finest works.

The sales confirmed London as the top market for pre-19th-century art. “London handles 50 percent more Old Masters than New York because Europe is where most of the buyers reside,” says Alexander Bell, head of Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s, where, the house reports, 76 percent of the week’s buyers were from Europe and 19 percent from the United States.

In the battle for market share, Christie’s investment in expertise in this department seemed to have paid off as the house drew level with Sotheby’s for the first time in many years, with each firm garnering just above £50 million ($87.5 million). Christie’s said 70 percent of its buyers this week were from Europe and the U.K., and 25 percent from the U.S.

$11.4M Del Sarto Tops Drawings Auctions

Christie’s had the stronger selection of drawings, and its sale on July 5 was bolstered by the inclusion of a large number of 19th-century drawings by such artists as Giovanni Boldini, Honoré Daumier and Odilon Redon. The auction chalked up £9.8 million ($17.2 million), one of the highest totals of the last 15 years.

The top three lots all set record prices. A pair of landscapes by Jan van de Velde II (circa 1593-1641), which had belonged to the Sackville family of Knole Park in Kent since the 18th century, were sold for a triple-estimate £355,200 ($622,310).

A rediscovered pastel self-portrait by Maurice- Quentin de la Tour (1704-1788)—L’autoportrait à l’index, known principally through later reproductions—was bought by the Society of Friends of the Louvre for the Louvre Museum for £657,600, or $1.1 million (estimate: £200,000/300,000).

A drawing of the Head of St Joseph Looking Down . . ., by Andrea del Sarto (Andrea D’Angiolo, 1486-1530), fell to London dealer Jean-Luc Baroni for £6.5 million, or $11.4 million (unpublished estimate: £1.5 million)—the third-highest price for any Old Master drawing at auction. The work, which relates to del Sarto’s painting The Bracci Holy Family, in the Palazzo Pitti, Florence, was the first major example by the Renaissance master to reach the market since 1936.

The Sotheby’s July 6 sale had nothing to match the quality of these drawings. A group of 55 drawings that had been seized by the Nazis from Czech collector Dr. Arthur Feldman marked the first occasion in which works of art confiscated during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia had come to the international market. But these were mainly lower-value pieces by Central European artists.

Several other works soared over their estimates. The work Adam and Eve Cast Out of the Garden of Eden, by Paolo Farinati (1524-1606), went to the European trade for £40,800, or $71,400 (estimate: £3,500/4,500). The U.S. trade paid a quadruple-estimate £142,400 ($249,200) for The Sacrifice of Pelias to Neptune, by Agostino Carracci (1560-1609). And a private European collector purchased the top lot, View of the Piazza del Popolo, by Vanvitelli (Gaspar van Wittel, 1652/3-1736), for £192,800, or $337,400 (estimate: £60,000/80,000). But the overall total of £1.7 million ($2.97 million) for the 244-lot sale left Sotheby’s with some ground to make up.

Single-Owner Sales an Eclectic, Successful Mix

Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s boosted their Old Master takings with single-owner sales during the week. On July 5 Sotheby’s offered 50 lots from the little-known collection of British country squire the Hon. Robert Wills, who died in January. The sale was a mix of Old Masters and 18th- and 19th-century British art, bought largely from London dealer Hugh Leggatt in the 1950s and ’60s.

The Old Master section of Sotheby’s Wills sale, which made £2 million ($3.5 million), was led by a pair of landscapes by Francesco Guardi (1712-93), acquired by a private collector for £422,400, or $739,200 (estimate: £250,000/350,000). It was followed by the artist’s painting A view of Venice, which fetched £388,800, or $680,400 (estimate: £250,000/350,000), from another collector, bidding against London dealer Richard Green.

However, the Old Masters were outshone by the British pictures in this collection. The large watercolor Lake of Lucerne, by J.M.W. (Joseph Mallord William) Turner (1775-1851), came within a hair of a record when it fell to Green for £1.8 million, or $3.2 million (estimate: £400,000/600,000). An Italianate panorama, The Thames at Westminster Bridge with Barges, by Samuel Scott (circa 1702-72), made a record £1.6 million, or $2.8 million (estimate: £800,000/1.2 million), as did A Royal Yacht Firing a Salute, by Charles Brooking (1723-59), which made £198,400, or $348,000 (estimate: £60,000/80,000). The £8.8 million ($15.4 million) sale far exceeded its presale estimate of £5/7 million.

Christie’s had much higher-value single-owner sales on July 6-7 in the shape of 202 lots of 18th-century French and Italian paintings, antique furniture, sculpture and works of art from the estate of Portuguese financier Antonio de Sommer Champalimaud (1918-2004). Valued at around £15 million ($26.2 million), the offerings fetched £39 million ($68.4 million).

It was the second-highest total for a single owner sale in Europe, topped only by the £57.7 million Rothschild sale in 1999. Leading the works-of-art section was a pair of Chinese export porcelain leopards that brought £2.36 million ($4.1 million) from London dealers Cohen and Cohen (estimate: £400,000/600,000)—a record for any Chinese export work of art at auction.

But the paintings in the collection provided most of the top lots, with Italian “vedute” proving to be one of the strongest cards of the week. The opulent painting The Bucintoro at the Molo . . ., by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768), was the subject of a long bidding duel before it fell to a private phone bidder for a record £11.4 million, or $20.1 million (estimate: £4/6 million). The underbidder was Israeli collector Sammy Ofer, better known as a buyer of Impressionist and modern art.

A small pair of Venetian views by Canaletto was sold to a European collector comfortably above the £1 million high estimate for £1.8 million ($3.2 million), while another European collector paid double- and treble-estimate prices for three works by Guardi. The most expensive of these was The Island of San Cristoforo near Murano, which made £1.8 million, or $3.1 million (estimate: £600,000/800,000).

French paintings in the collection, some that had come from the Rothschild family through the Wildenstein Gallery, also performed well.

$32.6M Canaletto Trumps Old Master Sales

Sotheby’s mixed-owner sale on July 7 realized £44.3 million ($77.5 million)—the second-highest total for any Old Master paintings sale—setting 12 auction records in the process. A total of 25, or more than half, of the 42 lots sold fell for more than their presale estimates.

The highlight was Venice—the Grand Canal from Palazzo Balbi Looking North-East . . ., by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768), once in the collection of British prime minister and renowned collector Sir Robert Walpole. Estimated at £6/8 million, it was pursued by five bidders up to £14 million—and then became the subject of protracted bidding between dealer Jean-Luc Baroni in the room and a bidder on the phone who finally won it for £18.6 million ($32.6 million).The price was the sixth-highest paid for any Old Master painting at auction. The equally exceptional Canaletto work sold at Christie’s the previous night looked cheap in comparison at £11.4 million, one dealer remarked.

Sotheby’s featured Italian and English view paintings in its sales, issuing an additional catalogue to illustrate them. Among them: Venice, a View of the Molo . . ., by Luca Carlevarijs (1663-1730), won by Richard Green for a record £2.2 million or $3.9 million (estimate: £2/3 million).

Other highlights included A Kermesse, by Peter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1637/8), which doubled estimates to sell to the European trade for £2.2 million ($3.9 million); and A View of Bentheim Castle from the North-West, by Jacob Isaacksz.Van Ruisdael (1628/9-1682), which fetched a record £2.6 million or $4.5 million (estimate: £2/3 million) from dealer Robert Noortman.

One private buyer paid a record £1 million, or $1.8 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000), for a rare postcard-size panel of the Virgin and child, Maria Lactans, by Martin Schongauer (1445-91), as well as a double- estimate £2.36 million ($4.1 million) for a small 1525 panel, Venus and Cupid, by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553).

As usual London dealer Johnny van Haeften was hot in pursuit of works from northern school artists. Among his purchases were: Christ Blessing the Children, by Lucas Cranach the Younger (1515-86), for which he paid £624,000, or $1 million (estimate: £100,000/150,000); a winter landscape by Joos de Momper (1581-1642) and Frans Francken the Younger (1564-1635), for which he paid £433,600, or $758,800 (estimate: £200,000/300,000); and a floral Still Life by Gaspar van den Hoecke (1595-1648), which brought a record £102,000, or $178,500 (estimate: £50,000/70,000).

View paintings aside, dealers competing for Italian paintings at the sale included Adam Williams, who bought Semiramis Called to Arms, by Il Guercino (1591-1666), for a record £1.35 million, or $2.4 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000); Daniel Katz, who bought Giovanni Battista Naldini’s Tuscan mannerist painting Lamentation over the dead Christ for a double- estimate £456,000 ($798,000); and Konrad Bernheimer, who bought a preparatory sketch for an altarpiece, Saint Giustina and the Guardian Angel . . ., by Gaetano Gandolfi (1734-1802), for a double-estimate £198,400 ($347,200).

Christie’s ended the week with a £20.7 million ($36 million) mixed-owner sale on July 8 in which most of the top lots were sold. Restituted to the heirs of John and Anna Jaffé in May, The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Bembo, by Francesco Guardi (1712-93), was pursued by the London

dealer Thomas Gibson but in the end went to Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, London and New York, bidding for the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, for £4.37 million, or $7.6 million (estimate: £3/5 million).

A 1731 still life by Jan van Huysum (1682-1749) took £3.76 million, or $6.5 million (estimate: £2/3 million) from a private collector bidding against van Haeften. The dealer had more success with A village landscape . . ., by Peter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1637/8), which he purchased for £736,000, or $1.3 million (estimate: £250,000/350,000), and a still life by Frans Snyders (1579-1657), which cost him £265,600, or $461,163 (estimate: £150,000/250,000).

Among the record prices obtained were £3.6 million, or $6.2 million (estimate: £1/1.5), given by a phone bidder for an atmospheric seascape by Jan van de Cappelle (1626-79); and £1.35 million, or $2.3 million (estimate: £600,000/800,000), paid by a U.S. collector bidding against Matthiesen Fine Art for a portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte by Antoine-Jean, Baron Gros (1771-1835).

Surprise prices of the sale were the ten-times estimate £265,600, or $461,600 (estimate: £20,000/30,000), given by U.K. dealers the Tomasso Brothers for Portrait of a black lady, bust-length, playing the harpsichord, wearing a coral necklace . . ., ascribed to the Circle of Annibale Carracci (1560-1609), and the £114,000, or $199,500 (estimate: £15,000/20,000), paid by London dealer Charles Beddington for a Neapolitan School painting, circa 1650, of An elegant lady playing the harpsichord, with a view of Mount Vesuvius beyond.