Reports from the inaugural “Master Paintings Week” collaboration between London’s Old Master dealers and auction houses have been smashing. For many of the private dealers, business was bountiful. The Antiques Trade Gazette described bustling commerce amidst the distraction of an epic men’s final at Wimbledon, and fortified interest from many of the top museums in the world, including the Met, Getty, Forth Worth Museum, Tate Britain, and Louvre Abu Dhabi, among others. Event organizer Konrad Bernheimer of Colgnaghi “had 390 visitors to his Bond Street gallery on the first weekend and sold a major 17th century Dutch painting to a new American client for a seven-figure sum. Indeed, a notable feature of the initiative was the number of American collectors and curators who had come over specifically for the event.”
The event was marked by vibrant results at the two major evening sales held at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, which turned in packed salesrooms and several record breaking results.
While modest in comparison to the Modern and Contemporary markets, sales totals were promising. Christie’s hauled in £20,549,650 GBP ($32,840,444 USD), easily clearing its estimate of £15 million. 48 of the 63 lots sold, for 91% by total value of pre-sales estimates.
Results from Christie’s end produced an expected and unexpected front runner. Fra Bartolomeo’s “The Madonna and Child in a landscape with Saint Elizabeth and the Infant Saint John the Baptist” and the catalogue-cover lot of the sale, Michele Marieschi’s view of “The Courtyard of the Doge’s Palace” both sold for £2,169,250, with buyer’s premium. The price of the Bartolomeo work ended up being a world record price of the artist; the Marieschi painting, which was considered a masterpiece of the artist’s late career, ended up performing a bit below expectations before being scooped up by veteran New York dealer Otto Naumann.
Christie’s staff also observed a few new enthusiastic bidders, once again proving the recession-defying aspects of the OM market. Richard Knight, head of Christie’s Old Masters department in New York described them not as “putting a toe in the water, but people who looked at the market, thought about it, and bid substantially.” Paul Raison, head of Christie’s OM London noted that “We had more people at the view this year than in the past five years.”
Over on Sotheby’s end, OMNP’s forecast of subpar performance was more or less disproven. The prestige behind the collection up for sale, that of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, heir to the pharmaceutical fortune of Johnson and Johnson, helped to maintain a bullish demand on lots that otherwise might not have performed as well. As George Gordon, one of Sotheby’s Old Masters team quipped :
“Some people believe the art market is no longer the same. We can reassure them that it pretty much is.”
The sale was spearheaded by a preeminent copy of “The Massacre of the Innocents” by Pieter Breughel the Younger, from that of his father, which nearly doubled its low estimate of £2.5 million before going to an anonymous collector for £4,633,250 ($7,449,339.) Other highlights included a bidding war for Jusepe di Ribera’s “The Torture of Prometheus.” While the picture’s stark content, and powerful use of black gives it an awe-inspiring presence, it was nonetheless astounding to see such a dark and moribund work go for £3.85 million, against £1.2m estimate. Sotheby’s had the apt justification for such a purchase in their post-sales press release, describing it as :
“a masterpiece of High Baroque art, represent(ing) one of the most important rediscoveries and additions to Ribera’s work in recent years and is also of significance given that it is arguably his first rendering of a mythological subject as well as a prime example of his terribilità.”
OTHER LOTS OF NOTE:
(Sotheby’s Lot 37) Francesco Guardi, “A Ridotto with Masked Figures Dancing and Conversing”
This unique work which so atypical of Guardi’s oeuvre had an undeniable mystique about it which made it an OMNP favorite. Such sentiment translated on the block, with the hammer price falling at £1,833,250 ($2,947,499), against an estimate of £800,000-1,200,000.
(Sotheby’s, lot 11) Sir Anthony Van Dyck, “Portrait of Endymion Porter”
OMNP had bigger expectations for this splendid study in subtle confidence, shared between both sitter and artist. Favorable circumstances (it had never been at auction before, remaining in the same collection since 1798, and had been exhibited at the Van Dyck retrospective at Tate Britain earlier this year) produced a price that was less than astronomical, yet still respectable. The work sold for £2,057,250 ($3,307,647) , against an estimate of £1-1.5 m.
(Sotheby’s, lot 47) Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes’s “Portrait of Don Manuel Godoy, Duke of Alcudia”
While this work is lacking in the subversive feel that distinguished the master’s portraits of the Spanish aristocracy, it was still one of the more substantial of his works to come to auction, selling for a respectable £2,617,250/ $4,208,015, on an estimate of £2.5-3.5 million.
(Sotheby’s, lot 134) Willem Claesz Heda. “Still Life..”
(Christie’s, lot 17) Giuliano Bugiardini , Portrait of a young gentleman a half-length portrait..
(Christie’s lot 57) Jean-Etienne Liotard, “A lady in Turkish costume with her servant”
These lots proved to be endemic of how quality works in the middle level of the market has been performing admirably of late—the Claesz work went for nearly triple its estimate, at £1,385,250, while the Bugiardini upped the ante after feverish competition pushed its price up to £825,250, against a £150–250,000 estimate. Liotard’s genius remains underexposed as his works rarely come up to auction, yet when they do, prices soar,in this case £667,250, against an estimate of £150–250,000.
As Nicholas Hall, head of Christie’s OM department in New York explained, in reference to the Christie’s lots:
“What the paintings had in common is that they were all new and fresh to the market. We also gave them sensible estimates, which always stimulates interest.”