ARTnewsletter Archive

Old Master Sales: New Highs Amid Selective Bidding

The January series of Old Master sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s (Jan. 25–27) had realized a total of $122.3 million as ARTnewsletter was published.

NEW YORK—The January series of Old Master sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s (Jan. 25–27) had realized a total of $122.3 million as ARTnewsletter was published. The overall total last January was $148.6 million, when offerings from prestigious museums sharply boosted the overall total, particularly at Sotheby’s (ANL, 2/8/11).

Christie’s kicked off the series on Jan. 25 with a part one sale of Old Master paintings that realized $34.3 million and a smaller, specialized sale titled “The Art of France” that brought in $10 million. In all, Christie’s sales totaled $51.8 million. This included a part two, or day, sale that brought in $4.4 million and another sale of Old Master and early British drawings and watercolors that realized $3 million.

Sotheby’s realized $70.5 million for three sales, including its part one Old Master sale ($62.1 million) and its drawing sales, which added another $5.6 million. A sale titled “Masterworks,” on Jan. 27, realized $2.8 million, while a fourth sale of Old Master and 19th-century European art, held on the same day, was expected to bring in $2.5 million/3.6 million.

The top lot at Christie’s main sale was Giambattista Tiepolo’s The Arrival of Henry III at the Villa Contarini, which sold for $5.9 million on a $4 million/6 million estimate. It was followed by Gerrit Dou’s A Young Lady Playing a Clavichord, which sold for $3.3 million, well above the estimate of $1 million/2 million. A Rearing Stallion, by Sir Anthony van Dyck, sold for $2.5 million, near the low end of the $2.5 million/3.5 million estimate.

The part one total missed the $38.8 million/57.2 million estimate. Of the 59 lots offered, 42, or 71 percent, were sold.

Nicholas Hall, Christie’s co-chair of Old Masters and 19th-century art, said the sale “saw success across a wide variety of genres including 18th-century Italian views, the Dutch golden age, Flemish Baroque [and] French Rococo.”

A highlight of the sale was another major work from the collection of the late Elizabeth Taylor. Last month, Christie’s New York saleroom sold more than $100 million of her jewels, clothing and fine art (ANL, 12/27/11). More of Taylor’s fine art will be offered at the house’s major London sales of Impressionist and modern art next month.

Owned by Taylor for the past several decades, a painting by Frans Hals, Portrait of a Gentleman, Half-length, in a Black Coat, more than doubled its $700,000/1 million estimate to sell for $2.1 million. According to Christie’s catalogue, the painting was most likely a gift to Taylor from her father Francis Taylor, who was an art dealer.

Also a top seller was The Assumption of the Virgin, by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, which sold for $2.4 million, compared with an estimate of $2 million/3 million. The unpublished oil sketch was new to scholars and collectors alike, having been passed down for three generations in the same family, according to the catalogue.

Two works by Gaspar van Wittel (called Vanvitelli) figured in the top lots. These included View of the Bacino di San Marco, Venice, from the Grand Canal, which sold for $1.5 million, compared with an estimate of $1 million/1.5 million, and Piazza Navona, Rome, which realized $1 million, compared with an estimate of $700,000/1.2 million.

The buyer of Thomas de Keyser’s Portrait of a Gentleman, Bust-length, in a Brown Doublet and Ruff, was listed as the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund for the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

The “Art of France” sale was led by a pair of paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Le Jour (Day) and La Nuit (Night), which sold for $3.7 million to a U.S. collector, clearing the high end of the $2 million/3 million estimate.

The second-highest lot was Jean-Antoine Watteau’s The Union of Comedy and Music, which sold within expectations for $902,500, compared with an estimate of $800,000/1.2 million.

There were also several works that surpassed expectations, including Louis-Léopold Boilly’s Trompe-l’oeil with a cat and a wooden log through a canvas, fish hanging from the stretcher, which sold for $842,400, far exceeding its $150,000/250,000 estimate, and an oil by Jean-Baptiste Huet I titled Une Caravanne, which doubled the $200,000/300,000 estimate to sell for $590,500. Meanwhile, The Fortune Teller, an oil on panel “attributed to Jean-Antoine Watteau,” soared to $422,500, far higher than the $60,000/80,000 estimate.

However, the overall sale rates were modest, with 25, or 57 percent of the 44 lots on offer finding buyers. By value, the sale was 52 percent sold, falling below the $14.9 million/22.1 million estimate.

Getty Takes Top Lot at Sotheby’s Drawing Sale

Sotheby’s got off to a strong start in this Old Master series with a sale of drawings (Jan. 25) that realized $5.6 million and was led by an Italian Renaissance portrait that sold for $1.4 million to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Portrait Of A Young Man, Head And Shoulders, Wearing A Cap, which was “attributed to Piero del Pollaiuolo,” carried an estimate of $300,000/400,000.

Thomas Gainsborough’s pencil drawing, Study Of A Lady Seated, Holding A Letter, also more than doubled expectations, selling for $314,500, compared with an estimate of $100,000/150,000, to a European dealer.

Another lot, an album by “a follower of Sir Peter Paul Rubens,” that contained 66 manuscript pages of text and illustrations, sold for $302,500 against an estimate of $70,000/90,000. However, the overall buy-in rate of the drawings sale was fairly high at 49 percent, with 108 of 221 lots failing to find buyers.

At its main sale on Jan. 26, Sotheby’s offered 350 lots, of which 209, or 60 percent, were sold. The top lot was a view painting by Canaletto, Venice, A View Of The Churches Of The Redentore And San Giacomo, With A Moored Man-Of-War, Gondolas And Barges, which sold for $5.7 million, within the estimate of $5 million/7 million. The second-highest price was $5.1 million for a painting by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Lucretia, which had been estimated at $4 million/6 million.

The sale established several new records, including one for Fra Bartolommeo’s Saint Jerome in the Wilderness, an oil panel with an arched top. Estimated at $1.5 million/2 million, the piece sold for $4.9 million.

A painting of Madonna And Child With The Young Baptist, Saint Francis Receiving The Stigmata In The Distance, by Botticelli and workshop, sold for $4.6 million, compared with an estimate of $1 million/1.5 million.

Other records included $4.1 million for Simone Martini’s The Virgin Annunciate, a gold ground painting that had been estimated at $3 million/4 million, and $3.6 million for Charles-Antoine Coypel’s Roland and the Marriage of Angelique, an oil on canvas that was estimated at $700,000/900,000.

Christopher Apostle, head of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department in New York, said the sale “demonstrated that works of high quality and condition, that are fresh to the market, continue to bring exceptional prices—evidenced by each of the top-ten works in our auction achieving over $2 million.” Apostle added that there was “bidding from Europe, North and South America and Asia. We are particularly encouraged by the strong demand for Italian painting, with early pictures and gold grounds performing particularly well.”