On Tuesday, Christie’s set artist records for new-to-market works during its final Old Masters evening sale of the year. Live-streamed from its London headquarters, the sale brought in £18.7 million on the hammer, or £22.8 million with buyer’s fees ($30.9 million), across 38 lots. That total landed solidly within the pre-sale estimate range of £14 million-£21 million.
Led by Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkknänen, the evening sale saw a sell-through rate of 86 percent. That was equivalent to last year’s sale, which had a slightly higher total of £24.2 million made across 44 lots. Three lots were withdrawn before the sale, including Milanese painter Bernadino Luini’s canvas The Nativity, with the Journey to Egypt, estimated at £3 million–£5 million.
Three of the works on offer were guaranteed: a Jan Davidsz. de Heem, an Anthony Van Dyck, and another by Francesco Zaganelli da Cotignola—making up a collective pre-sale estimated value of £4.9 million. Together, the three lots brought in a total of £6.8 million with buyer’s fees, accounting for 30 percent of the sale’s total.
“We’ve been operating in quite a challenging business getting environment over the last season, both in terms of the travel restrictions and the various lockdowns,” said Henry Pettifer, Christie’s head of Old Masters in London, in a post-sale press conference. Despite the challenges, the Old Masters category continues to see competitive demand, with the outcome of the sale marking one of the statistical highest for the department.
Around 30 percent of bidding came from the U.S, with the remaining competition from the U.K., Europe, and Asia.
Among the top sellers was Antwerp painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s banquet still life, rediscovered after two centuries in the same private collection in England. Bidders on the phone with New York’s Old Masters specialist Ben Hall and London’s Henry Pettifer moved the hammer price up to £4.8 million, making the final sum £5.8 million with buyer’s fees ($7.7 million). The result is a new benchmark for the artist, whose last record was set nearly three decades ago when a similar canvas Banquet Still Life with a Lobster (1642) sold at Christie’s in January 1988 to a private collector for $6.6 million.
“The Jan Davidsz de Heem was arguably the most significant northern still-life painting to come onto the market in a generation,” Pettifer said in a statement following the sale.
Salvator Mundi, a rediscovered work by 15th-century Florentine painter Domenico Ghirlandaio which came to the market after a deep cleaning, also set a new artist record. Drawing six bidders total, including three represented over the phone by New York specialists, the work eventually hammered at £1.8 million for a final price of £2.2 million ($2.9 million), more than three times its estimate of £300,000. The winning bidder was on the phone with Francois de Poortere, head of Christie’s Old Masters department in New York.
The recently rediscovered work had been in the same family’s collection since 1955 and was last sold in 1832 at auction in London for £46. The result moves up the artist’s record past the previous high of $1.9 million paid for The Temptation of Saint Anthony at Sotheby’s London in 2008. “To see that kind of competition for the painting was incredibly encouraging,” said Pettifer.
Formerly believed to be lost since its deaccession from the Alte Pinakothek Munich in 1929, The Drummer Boy, a 17th-century genre painting by Frans van Mieris, the Elder, a Dutch painter active in Leiden, went for £1.8 million ($2.3 million) against an estimate of £800,000–£1.2 million. Elsewhere in the sale, 17th-century Dutch painter Paulus Potter’s Landscape with cattle and a woman cleaning a bucket by a stream was among the top lots, although it hammered below the estimate of £2 million, going for £1.6 million ($2.1 million) with buyer’s fees.
The Holy Family, a painting by Francesco Zaganelli da Cotignola, who was active in Ravenna during the 15th century, sold for £640,500 ($853,000) with buyer’s fees, against the £600,000 estimate, likely going to the guarantor. Anthony van Dyck’s guaranteed Adoration of the Shepards from the 17th century sold for £500,000 ($672,000), 33 percent above the low estimate.
Antwerp painter Joos van Cleve’s small-scale Portrait of King Christian II of Denmark, a piece which the auctioneer introduced as “jewel-like,” drew competitive bidding, eventually going to a client with Pettifer for a hammer price of £380,000, or $475,000 with buyer’s fees ($639,000), above the £300,000 high estimate. The seller purchased the work when it was attributed to a German School painter for €22,500 ($20,000), double the estimate of €10,000 that Vienna-based auction house Dorotheum had placed on the work in 2015. The sale marks a staggering increase of 3,095 percent in value over the five-year holding period.
Meanwhile, another work by Rachel Ruysch, known as one of Holland’s top floral painters of the 17th century, outperformed. Ruysch’s floral still life completed in the early 1690s (ca. 1691–94), sold for £412,500 ($555,000), four times the low estimate of £100,000. A portrait of a noble woman by Spanish artist Bartolomé González’s dated 1621, during the period in which the artist served as a court painter to King Philip III of Spain also well surpassed its estimate. Held privately since the early 20th century in a Madrid collection, the work made £237,500, five times its estimate of £50,000 in its market debut.