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Museum Cachet Fuels Record Old Master Prices

In the Old Master auctions held at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York Jan. 24–28, blue-chip works from prestigious museum collections fueled a rise in sale volume amid otherwise selective buying.

NEW YORK—In the Old Master auctions held at Sotheby’s and Christie’s in New York Jan. 24–28, blue-chip works from prestigious museum collections fueled a rise in sale volume amid otherwise selective buying. The overall total jumped to a combined $148.6million, a 30 percent increase from $113.7million of a year ago (ANL, 2/9/10). Boosted by consignments from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, the U.K.-based Beaverbrook Foundation and the Cleveland Museum of Art, Sotheby’s accounted for the lion’s share of the volume, posting a total of $111.9million, which was also well above the $74.2million total posted last year. Christie’s reported $36.7million worth of sales, down slightly from the $39.5million total of last year.

Sotheby’s held its largest sale on the morning of Jan. 27, taking in $90.6million for 377 lots offered. Of these, 252, or 67 percent, found buyers. The auction fared better on a value basis, with a sell-through rate of 84 percent, which reflected the intense competition for the best works. Seven of the top ten lots set new artist records. George Wachter, co-chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department worldwide, said “interest came from all over the world and all over the field—the trade, private collectors and institutions. Clearly, this is a very strong market, particularly for masterworks.”

The highest-selling of the Sotheby’s lots was Titian’s oil on canvas A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria, ca. 1560, said by the house’s experts to be one of the most important multifigural compositions by the artist remaining in private hands. They further noted the work’s remarkable provenance—it had changed hands only six times in the almost half-millennium since it was painted. It has rarely been exhibited in public or offered at auction. Given an estimate of $15million/20million, it was sold for $16.9million to a European private collector.

A Grand View of the Sea Shore Enriched with Buildings, Shipping and Figure, 1776, by Claude-Joseph Venet, one of the offerings from the Beaverbrook Foundation, sold for $7 million, far above the $1.5million/2million estimate, to art adviser Carol Strone. In an e-mail, Strone told ARTnewsletter she bid on the work for a private U.S. collector she declined to identify.

“My client is thrilled to have it,” said Strone. “The picture is superb … so it’s worth every penny, and then some. The final price was not a surprise to us, given the stiff international competition that we faced from so many dealers, museums, and private collectors.”

Two other works sold from the Beaver­brook Foundation, including the painting Christ Carrying the Cross, attributed to Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi (Sandro Botticelli) and studio, which sold far higher than expected, fetching $722,500 on an estimate of $150,000/200,000. The third Beaverbrook lot, The Resurrection, which carried the same attribution and estimate, sold for $662,500.

The works were consigned following an out-of-court settlement between the foundation and the Beaverbrook Art Gallery, Frederic­ton, New Brunswick, Canada, last fall (ANL, 9/21/10). After a long-running dispute over ownership of 133 paintings, the settlement stipulated that 85 of the artworks would remain in Canada, while the remaining 48 would return to the foundation in London.

Among the works consigned by the Getty, which were being sold to benefit future painting acquisitions, was Portrait of a Jeweler, Probably Giovanni Pietro Crivelli, an early work by Lorenzo Lotto (ca. 1480–1556). Estimated at $250,000/350,000, it sold for $578,500. The top lot among the 15 Getty works offered—12 of which sold—was a mid-15th-century three-panel painting, The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Flanked by Saint Bridget and the Archangel Michael, by the Master of Pratovechhio, which sold for $902,500, far above the estimate of $200,000/300,000.

The Nativity, ca. 1500–10, a tempera on panel with an arched top, a collaboration between Benvenuto di Giovanni and Girolamo di Benvenuto, sold for $506,500 against an estimate of $150,000/250,000. Madonna and Child Adored by Saint Francis of Assisi, by Domenico Piola (1627–1703), sold for $140,500, far surpassing the estimate of $60,000/80,000.

In a much lower price range, other Getty works that sold include The Penitent Magdalene, 1598, by Lodovico Cardi (Il Cigoli), which fetched $34,375, within the estimate of $30,000/40,000, and Madonna and Child with Two Angels by Niccolò di Ser Sozzo Tegliacci (d. 1363), which sold for $45,000 on an estimate of $40,000/60,000. In all, the Getty works brought a total of $3.7million, well above their estimate of $1.4million/2.1million.

Thirty lots (representing 32 individual pieces, as two lots were sold as pairs) were offered from the collection of the Cleveland Museum of Art, and 26 were sold. In total, the works brought $1.8million against an overall estimate of $700,000/1million. The top lot was a pair of paintings by a follower of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, Horatius Cocles Defending Rome Against the Etruscans and The Wounded Horatius Cocles Swimming the Tiber, n.d. Estimated at $200,000/300,000, the lot sold for $482,500.

Among Sotheby’s other top-selling lots from various owners, Adam and Eve, ca. 1610–15, by Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael, offered from a private collection, soared past its estimate of $800,000/1.2million to sell for $6.2million.

An Elderly Woman, Seated by a Window at Her Spinning Wheel, Eating Porridge, ca. 1631–35, by Dutch artist Gerrit Dou, also sold well above expectations, fetching $5.34million against a $2million/3million estimate. Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s Return from the Kermesse, n.d., set an artist record, selling for $4.6million on an estimate of $2million/3million. And A Scholar in His Study with Figures with Masks, Possibly an Allegory, 1627, by Willem Willemsz. van der Vliet, brought $3 million on a $1.2million/1.8million estimate.

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art acquired The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, by Pietro Buonaccorsi (Perino del Vaga, 1501–47), for $2.1million, several times the $300,000/400,000 estimate.

The day before, at Sotheby’s sale of Old Master drawings, the Met had acquired a drawing by the same artist, Jupiter and Juno Reclining in an Alcove Attended by Amorini, Two Others Holding a Heraldic Shield Below. It was estimated at $600,000/800,000, and sold for $782,500.

Other Sotheby’s auctions held during the week included the sale of the private collection of financier Jacob Eli Safra, which took in a total of $12.4million, missing the estimate of $15.6million/23.4million. The top lot of the sale was Hendrick Maertensz. Sorgh’s oil on canvas Musical Company, 1661, which sold for $1.8million, short of the estimate of $2million/3million.

Of the 54 works offered, 34, or 63 percent, found buyers. Although the sale set several records, it appeared that observers’ comments about over-optimistic estimates were justified, given the number of lots that went unsold or that sold below their estimates.

The Old Master drawings sale on Jan. 26 realized a total of $4.5million, while Sotheby’s last sale of the week, of Old Master and ­19th-century Euro­pean art, on Jan. 28, took in a total of $3.35million. This sale featured 19 of the 32 Cleveland Museum of Art lots, most with estimates in the four- and five-figure range.

Among the top lots was Portrait of Karel Van Mallery, an oil on paper laid on panel, listed in the catalogue as attributed to Anthony Van Dyck. Estimated at $20,000/30,000, it sold for $104,500.

Christie’s: Big Prices In Smaller Sales

Christie’s held two Old Master sales on Jan. 26. Of 299 lots offered, 210, or 70 percent, were sold. The auctions were collectively also 70 percent sold by value . The top lot was an Italian landscape by Luca Carlevarijs, View of the Molo,Venice, Looking West, which sold within its $3.5million/4.5million estimate for $4 million, a new auction record for the artist.

That was followed by Venus Caressing Cupid, 1774, by Pompeo Girolamo Batoni, which was estimated at $400,000/600,000 but sold well above that, for $1.8 million. Another artist record was the $1.6million paid for the painting A Peacock, a Peahen, a Monkey and Other Birds on a Terrace, n.d., by Melchior d’Hondecoeter, against an identical estimate of $400,000/600,000.

Master of the Hounds, 1871, an oil on canvas by Jean-Léon Gerome, also beat expectations, bringing $1.6million, well over its $1million high estimate, and La fin de la journée, effect du soir, 1865–67, a painting by Jean François Millet, was sold for $1.5million against an $800,000/1.2million ­estimate.

Nicholas Hall, Christie’s international co-head of Old Master paintings, said the results “illustrate the broadening appeal of this category … Our buying audience proved to be equally diverse, with clients from South America, Russia and Asia bidding alongside buyers from Europe and the United States.” Hall conceded, however, that “overall buying remained selective in spots.”

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