OMNP ‘s Maria Hohmann reports from Amsterdam, with contributions from James Wilentz:
Old Master sales at international outposts of the major auction houses tend to be intimate affairs, with a smaller selection of works up for bidding. Yet this week’s sale of 76 Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s Amsterdam managed to be replete with variety, both in subject matter and in quality.
The star lot from the sale came by way of Andries van Eertvelt, the prodigious young leader of the Guild of Saint Luke during the early 17th century, who was known for his depiction of catastrophic naval battles. Up for sale was a renowned version of one of his most famous scenes, “The Battle of Lepanto,” (lot 35), a decisive 16th century naval battle which stemmed the expansion of the Ottoman Empire into Western Europe.
The picture’s striking format displayed Eertvelt’s penchant for crowded compositions filled with commotion, as the dueling gunboats appear as if they are almost on top of one another between their frenzied volleys. The work’s immense precision in detail, and uncommonly good condition drove it past its high estimate of 120,000 euros; the hammer dropping at 168,750 euros, with the buyer’s premium.
Other military works of note included “The Battle of Lützen,” by Rembrandt associate Jan Asselijn, (lot 41), which settled in right over its low estimate at 54,750 euros.
On the more peaceful end of things, an idyllic landscape by Aert van Der Neer (lot 58), depicting a leisurely late afternoon of the Dutch affluent at a country retreat, outperformed expectations-selling for 87,150 euros, against a high estimate of 80,000.
Amidst the many still-lifes on view, a work by William Gowe Ferguson (lot 21) was one of the most eminent, despite its rather unsavory subject matter. Bird carcasses aren’t the first subject that comes to mind when adorning an interior, yet Gowe’s adept handling of the brush, transformed this assemblage of pulp and feather into a rather handsome ornithological study, which was reflected in its hammer price of 29,550 euros, just below its high estimate.
Also of note were a couple of lovely portraits of an unknown gentleman and his wife by Godfried Schalcken (lot 70), a portrait painter of the high society from Dordrecht, which went unsold despite the pair’s modest estimate of 40,000-60,000 euros. This may have been due to the works’ impaired condition.
A final work that OMNP was particularly keen on was a sleeper of sorts: Simon de Vos’ “Allegory of the Five Senses,” which ended up selling right in the middle of its estimate of 12,000-18,000 euros. De Vos doesn’t have a top-flight reputation, yet there’s something stirring about his convivial low-life scenes, which deftly mix many of the prevailing styles of his time, and garnered a respectful circle of imitators. OMNP sees glimpses of Rubens, Van Dyck, and Steen in this particular piece, which certainly seemed to be on par with “Bacchanal in a Grotto”, a larger-yet similar work by de Vos, which sold for 99,150 euros at Sotheby’s Amsterdam in December of 2009. It would be interesting to see what market vagaries were at play here: “Bacchanal..” appears to be a more deftly handled work, yet the price disparity between it and “Allegory..” makes the latter seem like a bargain.