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Old Master Sales Crown Big Year for Auction Houses

The Sotheby’s evening and day sales of Old Master paintings in London from Dec. 6-7 realized £20.2 million ($39.9 million). The total, which included a £979,400 ($1.9 million) sale at Sotheby’s Olympia outpost on Dec. 5, represented a 30 percent increase over the same series last year, the house says. Its Old Master sales for

NEW YORK—The Sotheby’s evening and day sales of Old Master paintings in London from Dec. 6-7 realized £20.2 million ($39.9 million). The total, which included a £979,400 ($1.9 million) sale at Sotheby’s Olympia outpost on Dec. 5, represented a 30 percent increase over the same series last year, the house says. Its Old Master sales for all of 2006 reportedly totaled $209.96 million, up $22.7 million from the prior year.

The Christie’s evening sale of Old Master paintings in London on Dec. 7 earned £31.74 million ($62.5 million). It was followed by a £3.65 million ($7.2 million) day sale on Dec. 8, capping what house specialists called “an exceptional year.” Christie’s reported that its Old Master sales for 2006 totaled £146 million ($264.3 million), comfortably above the £127.5 million ($230.8 million) made in 2005.

The highest price given at Sotheby’s recent auction was £4.5 million, or $8.8 million (estimate: £4/6 million) for A View of the Anthoniespoort, an artist’s record for Jan van der Heyden (1637-1712). In all, six of the top sales set artists’ records, including £1.46 million, or $2.9 million (estimate: £500,000/700,000), for The Departure of William III and Mary of Orange, by Ludolf Backhuysen (circa 1631-1708).

Alex Bell, co-chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings worldwide, says the market was “exceptionally strong throughout 2006.” Bell observes that high prices for top lots were buoyed in part by “the participation of new Russian bidders, as well as buyers from other collecting areas.” Moreover, he adds, “exceptional works by lesser-known artists are commanding higher prices than ever before.”
Christie’s December Sale Fuels High Annual Take

Christie’s reports that works in the most recent sales produced some of its highest Old Master prices for 2006, including Rome: The Forum with the Temple of Castor and Pollux and The Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Forum—a pair of paintings by Bernardo Bellotto (1721-80) that commanded £6.5 million, or $12.8 million (estimate: £3/4 million). The Madonna and Child, by Sandro Botticelli (circa 1445-1510), fetched £3.8 million, or $7.5 million (estimate: £1.5/2.5 million).

A work by Francesco Guardi (1712-93), The Punta della Dogana, Venice, the Guidecca . . ., brought £3.76 million ($7.4 million), well above the estimated £600,000/800,000. The Martyrdom of Saint Lawrence, by Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652), fell for a mid-estimate £1.35 million, or $2.7 million (estimate: £1/1.5 million).

According to Christie’s, other top lots in the past year included Guidecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio, by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851), which sold in New York in April for $35.9 million, a record price for any British painting at auction as well as an artist’s record. Salmacis and Hermaphroditus, by Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619), was acquired in London in July for £7.4 million, or $13.6 million.

International directors Nicholas Hall and Richard Knight cite “interest from a noticeable number of new international clients, as well as clients known to Christie’s but new to this category,” as a source of growth for the market. They point out that continued demand from the U.K., the U.S., South America and Russia largely accounts for the continued strength of the market.

For Christie’s, the dealership of Hall & Knight, which the house brought aboard in spring 2004 (ANL, 6/22/04, p. 4), has been another source of strength. (The partners had been at Colnaghi, London’s venerable Old Master dealer for a combined 30 years before founding their own business.) The acquisition boosted sales considerably: In January 2005, Christie’s Old Master sales rose to $25.9 million, up from $11.6 million the previous year.

Last June, Sotheby’s announced a similar agreement after striking a deal with Maastricht dealer Robert Noortman to acquire Noortman Master Paintings, which specializes in Old Master, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist works(ANL, 6/20/06)

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