At Sotheby’s a previously unrecorded painting, The Angel Appearing to Elijah, by Ferdinand Bol (1616-80)—one of Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn’s most productive pupils—was discovered in an attic in Germany. It had been so neglected that paint was almost flapping off the canvas. Consequently the work was offered at a tempting £60,000/80,000 to a buyer who could see potential in its restoration. London dealer Johnny Van Haeften, who acquired the last important Bol at auction, lifted his hand or, rather, an eyebrow, and kept lifting it until the painting hit a record £1.4 million ($2.8 million).
Van Haeften also bought a rare picture by Frans Hals, Portrait of Samuel Ampzing, Half Length, for which he gave £4.7 million ($9.6 million), nearly four times the £1.2 million high estimate. The Hals was one of several works for which Sotheby’s had guaranteed the owners a minimum sum regardless of whether they sold or not.
These included 17 pieces from the collection of Dimitri Mavrommatis, a Greek financier who had filled his London home with Old Masters bought primarily from London dealer Richard Green. Estimated to fetch a minimum of £3.3 million ($6.6 million), they made just over £8 million ($16 million) all told.
The collection supplied the top lot of the week—two Venetian views by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal)—The Entrance to the Grand Canal; Ss. Giovanni e Paolo—which more than doubled the £2 million high estimate to sell for £4.7 million ($9.7 million).
These views were last offered at auction in 1994, when the market was in recession, and failed to sell. Since then the demand for Italian view paintings has grown substantially. However, most works bought by Mavrommatis in the early 1990s were conservatively estimated and did not see a huge markup in price. This is not a market driven by speculators.