NEW YORK—With Christie’s rescheduling its paintings sale until April, Sotheby’s had a clearer field for a set of four sales of Old Master drawings, sculpture and paintings, held from Jan. 25-27, that realized a record total of $79.7 million. Just over 77 percent of 335 works were sold in Sotheby’s two primary paintings sales, for a total of $62.2 million.
“Today’s sale saw solid prices and buoyant competition yielding good prices for great works of art,” said George Wachter, Sotheby’s vice chairman and head of the house’s Old Master department.
The top lot in the Sotheby’s sales was the still life Flowers in a Terracotta Vase, by Dutch master Jan van Huysum (1682-1749), which fell within estimate for $7.3 million to Maastricht dealer Noortman Master Paintings. (The work had been sold at Sotheby’s 14 years before for $3.52 million.) Owner Robert Noortman told ARTnewsletter that the painting, which he deemed “a masterpiece,” had been bought for inventory.
The Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas, bought the third-most- expensive lot, a 15th-century terra-cotta relief of the Madonna and Child, by Donatello. The work, known as the Borromeo Madonna and owned by Jacques Goudstikker until the German invasion of Holland in 1940, was estimated at $4/6 million; it sold for $4.4 million, including commissions.
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, was also a buyer in the sale, purchasing the 18th-century Spaniard Corrado Giaquinto’s The Penitent Magdalene for $1.36 million, double the high estimate. The painting had been in Venezuela since before 1958, when it was last published. The Met also had works for sale in the auctions.
A 21-by-14-inch Study of an Elderly Woman in a White Cap, by Rembrandt Harmensz.van Rijn (1606-69), went to a New York collector for $4.2 million, close to the high estimate.
New York dealer Otto Naumann says he purchased the Rembrandt for a client, whom he declined to identify. “I thought it was very inexpensive compared with past prices,” Naumann told ARTnewsletter. “I expected it to go for $8/$10 million.”
After winning the Rembrandt, the same buyer paid well above estimate for two more Dutch paintings—with money he was prepared to put toward the Rembrandt, according to Naumann. These were A Country Wedding, by Jan Steen (1626-79), which took $632,000; and A Bearded Old Man, by Gerrit (Gerard) Dou (1613-75), which fetched $1.2 million. Naumann says
he will oversee further restoration of the Rembrandt: “There are a few people that had some doubts about it, but I couldn’t see how it could be [painted by] any Rembrandt pupil.”
The work, which was sold by the Walsh Art Trust, a Texas family collection, was largely ignored by recent art historians until October 2005, after being cleaned and reauthenticated by the Rembrandt Research Project.
A dealer paid $2.7 million for the 291⁄8-by-485⁄8-inch Peasant Wedding Procession, by Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564-1638), well above the high estimate of $1.6 million. And a London dealer tripled the high estimate when he paid $1.8 million for Caspar Netscher’s 17th-century Dutch genre painting The Seduction.
Bellotto Scene Sells Well
Highlights at Sotheby’s included two 18th-century Venice scenes by Bernardo Bellotto (1720-80), a nephew of Canaletto: the Piazza San Marco in Venice, which sold above estimate for $4.7 million; and The Grand Canal, Looking North from the Palazzo Contarini dagli Scrigni, which made $1.7 million, just above the high estimate of $1.5 million.
Sotheby’s Wachter noted that two other works in the top ten lots—A Wooded Landscape, by Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709), which brought $3.9 million, and Cattle in a Field, by Paulus Potter (1625-54), which took $4 million—had each reached “four and five times the prices brought by those same works ten and 15 years ago.”
The Sotheby’s sale series also featured an auction, “The Dealer’s Eye,” which targeted lower-end collectors with works, cleaned and framed, that had been supplied by dealers.
A $5 million total was realized, but only about 51 percent of the 73 lots on offer found buyers. Wachter called the sale “a learning experience,” adding that “dealers who paid attention to the pricing issue sold everything they offered.”
A Bonhams First
On Jan. 27 Bonhams held a smaller auction—its first Old Master sale in New York—comprised of 240 lots of paintings and drawings. The auction included images from the Serge Michel and Paul Zappert collection; it brought a total of $480,551 and was 56 percent sold.
“The number of works we were able to access indicates an opportunity to move further into the New York market,” Alan Fausel, vice president and director of fine art at Bonhams, told ARTnewsletter.
The top lot was a 511⁄4-by-263⁄4-inch panel, in tempera on a gold ground, of a Madonna and child enthroned with one of the apostles and Saint James the Greater. The work was described as being in the “manner of” the 14th-century Italian artist Barberino and sold within estimate for $155,750.
Christie’s held a drawings sale on Jan. 24 that totaled $2.4 million and was 78 percent sold through by lot (see ANL, 1/31/06). The house announced back in November that its first Old Master paintings sale for 2006 would take place in New York on April 6.
The decision, Christie’s says, was based on a “strategy of putting a reasonable space of time between sales.”