NEW YORK—Sotheby’s two-day auction series of Old Masters here on Jan. 25-26, including paintings and European works of art, yielded a record total of $111 million—outdistancing the previous high of $104.7 million realized in 2002 at Sotheby’s London. At that sale (ANL, 7/23/02, pp. 1-3) The Massacre of the Innocents, 1609, a painting by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), fetched a record $76.7 million.
Additional Old Master sales at Sotheby’s included: drawings, which grossed $4.2 million on Jan. 24; a selection of works from the Otto Naumann Gallery, New York, on Jan. 25 that realized $2.9 million; and Old Master and 19th-century European art on Jan. 27 that totaled $3.3 million.
In London this past December, Sotheby’s Old Master sales totaled £20.2 million ($39.9 million); Christie’s, £35.4 million, or $69.7 million (ANL, 1/9/07). Christie’s, which revised its auction schedule last year, will hold its next major Old Master auction in New York in April. Christie’s recent sale of Old Master and 19th-century drawings, on Jan. 25, took $7.9 million.
At Sotheby’s, high prices for rare works by Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn (1606-69) dominated the sale, but experts noted strength across a range of art, including Italian view paintings as well as Dutch, French and Spanish pieces. Dealers and other art experts noted many new collectors in the room.
“I think the trend is just generally upward” in the Old Master market, London dealer Johnny Van Haeften told ARTnewsletter, noting the standing-room-only crowd in Sotheby’s saleroom. “There was massive interest from dealers, museums, private collectors. . . . There was quite a bit of a feeding frenzy.” Noting the scarcity of available masterpieces, he added, “These things are getting rarer all the time.”
The first session, on Jan. 25, yielded $96.9 million and was 95 percent sold by value. The top price of $25.8 million was paid for Rembrandt’s Saint James the Greater, 1661, a portrait of the apostle as a pilgrim kneeling in prayer (estimate: $18/25 million); the anonymous buyer was bidding on the phone via a Sotheby’s representative. The price marks the second-highest at auction for a work by Rembrandt, falling below the £19.8 million ($28.7 million) achieved by Christie’sfor a 1632 oil on panel, Portrait of a Lady in Black Costume and a Cap and Collar, by the artist in London seven years ago.
Saint James is from a group of life-size, half-length biblical paintings that Rembrandt made from the late 1650s to the early 1660s. Scholars have long debated whether the works were intended to stand alone or form a series. Cleaning and restoration by renowned expert Martin van Bijl, formerly chief conservator for the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, supports the notion that the work was one of a series, Sotheby’s experts report.
An Impeccable Provenance
This particular portrait also came with a high-profile provenance, a factor that undoubtedly added to its buyer appeal. Since the mid-1950s it had been in the family of Stephen Carlton Clark, Singer Sewing Machine Company heir and the brother of Sterling Clark, founder of The Clark Art Institute, Williamstown, Mass. The painting was later gifted to the fledgling U.S.-based Shippy Foundation in the Aid of Education, Social Justice and Human Service.
The second-highest price of the sale was given for another Rembrandt work, Portrait of a Young Woman with a Black Cap, 1632, which sold for a double-estimate $9 million (estimate: $3/4 million). The sitter had long been identified as Rembrandt’s younger sister Lysbeth, but Sotheby’s experts contend that the portrait was “intended as a depiction of a type, not an individual . . . an anonymous Oriental, an exotic figure, perhaps from an earlier time—not a young woman from Amsterdam.”
London dealer Jean-Luc Baroni paid $7.2 million—reportedly for an American collector—for Portrait of Captain Robert Shore Milnes, circa 1771, by Joseph Wright (known as Wright of Derby; 1734-97), an auction record for the artist and far past the estimated $1/1.5 million.
Also among the top works was View of the Villa Loredan, by Francesco Guardi (1712-93), which took $8.2 million, though the price fell toward the low end of the $8/12 million estimate.
New Collectors Energize Sales
Noting that 14 works had brought more than
$1 million each, Sotheby’s claimed auction records for Pierre-Joseph Redouté ($2.5 million) and Francisco de Zurbarán ($3.5 million). George Wachter, cochairman of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department worldwide, said the house “saw a number of new private collectors, particularly Americans, entering the market.”
At the same time, he added, “the trade has remained very active; and the combination of those factors contributed to higher prices than one might have expected six months ago.”
Van Haeften echoes the point, noting that he has observed crossover interest from collectors of Impressionist, modern and even contemporary works in the Old Master arena. Comparing the top prices for Old Master works with recent skyrocketing prices for modern art, he asks rhetorically, “What can you buy for $8 million in modern
and contemporary works? Everyone wants a Rembrandt. It is rare to have two in a sale—these were worth every penny.”
At the Naumann Gallery sale, the top price was $228,000, paid for The Adoration of the Magi, by Jan de Bray (also Braij;ca. 1627-97), comfortably above the high estimate of $150,000. Wachter, noting a sold-by-value rate of 94 percent, called the sale “a success in every way.”
At the Old Master drawings sale on Jan. 24, 81, or 65 percent, of 125 lots found buyers. The top price of $1 million was given for Young Woman Arranging Her Hair as Another Rests on a Bed, a double-sided drawing by Francisco-José de Goya y Lucientes (estimate: $200,000/300,000).
Last June, Sotheby’s reached an agreement to acquire Maastricht-based Noortman Master Paintings, a gallery specializing in Old Master, Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings (ANL, 6/20/06).
In the wake of owner Robert Noortman’s death last month, Sotheby’s completed a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in which the auctioneer states, “It is expected that the gallery will continue under the leadership of Mr. Noortman’s son, William, and Jeanette Gerritsma, the longtime gallery manager of Noortman Master Paintings. Sotheby’s management is currently assessing what impact Mr. Noortman’s death will have on the Noortman Master Paintings business and the company’s financial statements.”
At its sale of Old Master and 19th-century drawings in New York on Jan. 25, Christie’s posted three artists’ records in the top lots. The highest price, $3.7 million, was paid for Head of a Man, in three-quarter profile to the left, by Hans Baldung Grien (estimate: $700,000/1 million), accounting for nearly half the overall total. A black-chalk drawing by Aelbert Cuyp, The edge of a wood with two figures and two sheep . . ., fell for $844,000 (estimate: $200,000/300,000).
Other record prices: $329,600, for The Adoration of the Magi, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1676-1770); and $132,000, for Saint Hubert and Saint George, by Hans Süss von Kulmbach (1480-1522).
A Rembrandt drawing in black chalk, A vagrant couple with a dog, more than doubled the $300,000 high estimate when it sold for $620,800.