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Lofty Estimates Meet With Measured Bidding at Christie’s

Christie’s opened the summer auction season with its sale of Old Master and ­19th-century paintings, drawings and watercolors on July 6, which was led by two paintings from the Spencer Collection.

LONDON—Christie’s opened the summer auction season with its sale of Old Master and ­19th-century paintings, drawings and watercolors on July 6, which was led by two paintings from the Spencer Collection. Charles Spencer, Earl of Spencer and brother of the late Princess Diana of Wales, was seeking to raise funds to restore Althorp, the family seat in Northamptonshire, and was one of several British aristocrats selling works from their stately homes.

The market, however, judged the paintings to be too highly estimated after Christie’s had had to compete with Sotheby’s to win the consignment of the works, and they attracted only minimal bidding. Portrait of a Commander, by Peter Paul Rubens (1577–1640), carried a guarantee and an estimate of £8million/12million. It was sold on a bid at the low estimate from London and Munich dealer Konrad Bernheimer, to fetch £9million ($13.7million) with premium. Bidding for the other Spencer work, King David, by Il Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, 1591–1666), did not reach the £5million low estimate, and the lot sold to dealer Simon Dickinson for £5.2million ($7.9million) with premium—a record for the artist nonetheless.

Also selling against minimal competition was Georg Pencz’s early-16th-century Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger. The recently restituted depiction of a Nuremburg businessman was a rarity, and fetched a record £5.6million ($8.6million) from Milwaukee collector Alfred Bader against an estimate of £5million/8million.

Four of the other top lots were bought by dealers. Johnny Van Haeften, a specialist in Dutch paintings, stepped out of his usual field to buy Madonna and Child, a 15th-century panel by Giovanni Bellini, on behalf of a client, for a record £3.5 million ($5.2 million) on an estimate of £2.5million/3.5million. Experts said that if the work had been in better condition it would have brought far more.

Van Haeften was outbid by dealer Richard Green on The Departure of the Hunting Party, an oil by Philips Wouwermans (1619–68), which sold for a record £1.2million ($1.8million) compared with a £1million/1.5million estimate, but secured the humorous Pissing at the Moon by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564/65–1637/38) for £361,250 ($548,377) on an estimate of £300,000/500,000. Green, who was bidding over the telephone, set a second record when he bought Four Views of London, a group of four oil landscapes by Antonio Joli (ca. 1700–77), for £1.4million ($2.2million) against an estimate of £800,000/1.2million.

Other buyers at the sale included dealer David Koetser, who bought A State’s Yacht and Other Vessels in a Very Light Air, a nautical painting by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633–1707), for £1.2 million ($1.8 million) on an estimate of £1million/1.5million; dealer Fabrizio Moretti, who bought Saint Bernardino of Siena, in a Sculpted Niche by Lorenzo di Credi (ca. 1456–1536) for £109,250 ($165,841) against an estimate of £60,000/80,000 and A Hound in a Landscape by Michele Pace del Campidoglio (1610?–70), for £241,250 ($366,200) on an estimate of £200,000/250,000, and William Noort­man, Maastricht and New York, who bought A Sleeping Legionary in a Helmet by Ubaldo Gandolfi (1728–81) for £373,250 ($566,590), six times the estimate of £40,000/60,000, in one of the few bidding battles of the session.

Altogether, 47, or 70 percent, of the 67 lots offered were sold, yielding a total of £42.3million ($64.3million) and a sold-by-value rate of 92 percent. The hammer total was £36.8million ($55.2million), just short of the estimate of £36.9million/55.8million.

Christie’s breakdown of the buyers by country of origin revealed that only 19 percent were from the United States, while 28 percent were from the United Kingdom and 53 percent were from other European countries.

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