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Sotheby’s Posts Major Improvement At London Old Master Auctions

The total for Sotheby’s sale of Old Master and British paintings on July 7 was £53.5 million ($81 million), double the amount taken at last year’s sale.

LONDON—The total for Sotheby’s sale of Old Master and British paintings on July 7 was £53.5million ($81million), double the amount taken at last year’s sale. Although only 39, or 68 percent, of the 57 lots on offer were sold, the top lots performed well enough to bring the sold-by-value rate up to 90 percent. The hammer total of £46.8million was close to the top end of the £33.7million/49.6million estimate.

Sotheby’s officials were confident that the top-estimated lot (at £12 million/18 million), J.M.W. Turner’s atmospheric Modern Rome–Campo Vaccino, from the collection of the Earl of Rosebery, would do well, but it was left to the end of the sale to see just how well. Four bidders, including New York dealer Richard Feigen, were in contention, until it came down to a duel between another New York dealer, David Benrimon, and John Morton Morris of Hazlitt Gooden and Fox, London. Benrimon told ARTnewsletter that he had a limit of £25million from an anonymous client, but that he eked that out to £26million before giving way to Morris, who was bidding on behalf of the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles. The final price was £29.7million ($45million), a new record for a work by Turner. The previous record was $35.9million, paid at Christie’s New York in April 2006, reportedly by collector and casino mogul Steven A. Wynn, for the painting Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio, 1841.

Sotheby’s also had the top-selling Turner watercolor of the week, Venice from Fusina, 1821, a record of the artist’s first view of the city, which sold to London dealer Ben Elwes for £825,250 ($1.25million) on a £700,000/1million estimate.

The sale was otherwise dominated by Dutch pictures. A Tronie: Study of the Head and Shoul­ders of an Old Bearded Man, Wearing a Cap by Jan Lievens (1607–74), had last sold at Sotheby’s London in July 2004 to London dealer Johnny Van Haeften for a record £1.65million ($3million). Consigned by a Dutch private collector who had acquired it from Van Haeften and had eight works in this sale, it sold to New York and Paris dealer Bob Haboldt for a new record of £2.5million ($3.8million) against an estimate of £2.2million/2.6million. Another work from this Dutch collection, also acquired through Van Haeften, was Frans Hals’s Portrait of a Man, formerly in the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Tex. Estimated at £2million/3million, it received no bids.

Van Haeften acquired Isack von Ostade’s A Frozen River Landscape…, 1644, which he bought against competition from a Russian dealer for £1.8million ($2.8million) on a £600,000/800,000 estimate. Bidding on behalf of a private collector, the same Russian dealer bought Jan Brueghel the Elder’s A Village Landscape with Horses, Carts, and Figures Before Cottages for £1.6 million ($2.4million) on an estimate of £800,000/1.2million. Russian bidding was significant, Alex Bell, Sotheby’s cochair of Old Mas­ters, said after the sale.

Making a return to the auction block after 25 years was A Luteplayer Carousing with a Young Woman Holding a Roemer by Hendrick Ter Brugghen (1588–1629), which had last sold at Christie’s London in December 1985 for £1.1million ($1.5million)—a big price at the time. Experts noted that the market’s taste for the Utrecht Caravaggisti has not developed much, since the painting sold this time to a private phone buyer for £1.3million ($1.9million) on a £1million/1.5million estimate.

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