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London’s Old Master Sales: Uneven but Strong

The London Old Master auctions held July 4-5—including Part One, Part Two and drawings sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as well as a £2.9 million ($5.6 million) paintings sale at Bonhams—realized an accumulative total of £97.3 million ($196.5 million).

LONDON—The London Old Master auctions held July 4-5—including Part One, Part Two and drawings sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, as well as a £2.9 million ($5.6 million) paintings sale at Bonhams—realized an accumulative total of £97.3 million ($196.5 million).

Sotheby’s and Christie’s combined take of £94.4 million ($190.7 million) compared favorably with sales in December (£55.6 million) and last July (£63.8 million) but were down from the £100 million ($175 million) realized in July 2005 when both houses offered major works by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) for sale (ANL, 7/19/05). This year, however, no blockbuster Italian vedute pictures were in evidence. And the introduction this year of British paintings into the main sales at both Sotheby’s and Christie’s was not enough to make up the shortfall.

In the Old Master market, sale totals fluctuate with the supply of such paintings and, especially, rediscovered masterpieces by major artists, such as Peter Paul Rubens’ Massacre of the Innocents, 1609, sold in July 2002 for £49.5 million, or $76.6 million (ANL, 7/23/02)—the record for an Old Master at auction.

Comments dealer Charles Beddington: “The market was very strong, but not where estimates were too high. The prices for pieces by Lucas Cranach the Younger and Jacob Jordaens at Christie’s were extraordinary.” For London dealer Johnny Van Haeften, the biggest buyer at the sales, there were many works attractive to the trade in what he described as “untouched, sometimes dirty condition—[paintings] that would clean up well and with still more research to be done on them.”

But the buy-in rates, which rose from 20 percent at Sotheby’s Part One sale to more than 50 percent in a minor sale at Sotheby’s Olympia, suggest that this buyer base for Old Masters is not expanding as it is in other markets.

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