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Alma-Tadema Painting Soars to $30M At European Art Sale

During a week filled with seven and eight-figure Impressionist masterpieces, many observers were surprised to see that the most expensive painting of the week fell outside the headline-making Impressionist and modern art sale series.

NEW YORK—During a week filled with seven and eight-figure Impressionist masterpieces, many observers were surprised to see that the most expensive painting of the week fell outside the headline-making Impressionist and modern art sale series.

At Sotheby’s sale of 19th-century European art on May 5, two days after its major evening Spring sale, a bidding war between two phone buyers pushed the price of a painting by Victorian artist Sir Lawrence Alma-Tadema to a level nearly six times the expected price.

The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra: 41 BC, 1883, sold for $29.2 million, the second-highest price on record for the artist and far higher than the $3 million/5 million estimate. Last offered at auction in June 1993 at Christie’s London, the painting sold then for $1.3 million (£859,500), against an estimate of £280,000/320,000.

According to Sotheby’s catalogue, the painting “depicts one of the most iconic moments in Roman-Egyptian history.”

The work accounted for most of the sale’s total of $44.6 million. Of 100 lots offered, 66 were sold. By value the sale realized 87 percent.

Late last year, Sotheby’s scored the highest auction price for the artist, when The Finding of Moses, also estimated at $3 million/5 million, sold for $35.9 million.

Other top lots in the recent sale included William Bouguereau’s Les Oranges, 1865, which fetched $1.4 million (estimate: $1.4 million/1.8 million), and a white marble sculpture by Joseph Pollet, An Hour of the Night, 1853, doubled the high $300,000 estimate to sell for $722,500. The top end of the sale was dominated by private U.S. buyers, though the nationality of the Alma-Tadema buyer was not specified.

A landscape by Jean Baptiste-Camille Corot, L’Allée verte, n.d., met expectations, selling for $722,500 (estimate: $600,000/800,000), while Maurice Codner’s Sketching by the Bridge at Wiston, n.d., sold for $662,500, compared with an estimate of $300,000/400,000.

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