ZURICH—Auction firm Koller celebrated its 50th anniversary with a series of auctions Sept. 15–22. The most noteworthy were those devoted to Old Masters and 19th-century pictures on Sept. 19 Together, the two sales made CHF 19.8 million ($18 million).
The highlight of the series was a small, unrestored oil on copper, Bouquet of Flowers, circa 1608, by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573–1621), which had recently come to light in a private collection in Germany, where it had been since the 19th century.
Bosschaert specialist Fred Meijer, from the Hague’s Rijksbureau voor Kunsthistorische Documentatie, called the work “an important discovery” because of its “technical perfection, scientific precision and jewel-like appearance.” The work sold, after an eight-minute battle between six telephone bidders and a number of bidders in the saleroom, for CHF 5.7 million ($5.1 million)—an auction record for Bosschaert, and the highest-ever price at Koller.
Just over half the sale’s 120 lots found takers, with six lots exceeding CHF 200,000 ($179,000), notable among them a large, dingy, anonymous Rape of Ganymede, catalogued as “Roman School, c. 1630/40.” Its CHF 30,000/40,000 estimate was left trailing as a struggle between four telephone bidders drove up the price until the hammer fell at CHF 252,000 ($225,700).
Russian works dominated the 19th-century session. The sunny, decorative Italian Coastscape, 1878, by Ivan Aivazovsky, in whom Koller has acquired the reputation of being a specialist, sold to a buyer in the room for CHF 2.55 million ($2.3 million) on an estimate of CHF 2 million/3 million. An 1887 Aivazovsky marine painting estimated at CHF 500,000/800,000 followed at CHF 1 million ($896,000), again selling to a dealer in the room, but a smaller Aivazovsky marine painting from 1843 fell flat on a similar CHF 500,0000/700,000 estimate and failed to sell.
Fierce Russian bidding greeted Bogdan Villevalde’s 1887 Cherkasians by the City Gate, which sold to the same dealer as did the large Aivazovsky for CHF 312,000 ($279,400), five times estimate, amid rumors that it once belonged to Czar Nicholas II.
Russian icons concluded the sale, led by four single-figure, gold-ground canvases by Victor Vasnetsov (1848–1926) with a remarkable history: The icons were sent to the Russian Orthodox mission in Harbin, China, in 1906, and remained there until 1961, when the missionaries, expelled to Switzerland, found refuge in the small town of Weesen. The canvases hung there until the death of the last surviving Harbin priest in 2003, whereupon they passed into private hands.
The four were offered in two pairs: one, Christ and the Virgin & Child, sold for CHF 1.12 million ($1 million); the other pair, Archangels Michael and Gabriel, fetched CHF 480,000 ($430,000). Both pairs sold to a Russian collector, according to auctioneer Cyril Koller, and are destined for the buyer’s private chapel in Switzerland.