A rediscovered painting by Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) was the toast of the Old Master auction series in London last week. Missing for almost 200 years and presumed to have been destroyed, La Surprise was offered at Christie’s evening sale on July 8.
It drew at least four interested parties before it was knocked
down to London-based dealer Jean-Luc Baroni at £11m.
It was purchased for a client.
Surpassing its £3m-5m estimate, the price was the highest ever
paid for a French Old Master at auction. The previous record for
Watteau was set back in December 2000 when Christie's sold Le
conteur, also in London, for a premium-inclusive
Speaking to ATG after the sale, Mr Baroni said that La
Surprise was an exceptional work, not only the best ever
Watteau to appear on the market but also incredibly well
The 14 1/2 x 11 1/2in (36 x 28cm) oil on panel from c.1718 was
previously only known thanks to a copy in the Royal Collection at
Buckingham Palace and through a contemporary engraving. It was
found in the corner of a drawing room in a British country house
during a Christie's valuation last year.
The subject matter - lovers in a parkland paradise
accompanied by the character Mezzetin from the Comedie
Italienne tuning his guitar, and a small dog - was deemed
Its provenance also added to its appeal. It was first owned by
Nicolas Henin (1691-1724), an advisor to the French King. It is
likely that the work was painted for Henin together with its
companion piece L'Accord Parfait, now in the Los Angeles
Museum of Art.
The Christie's sale also saw a record for Anthony van
Dyke (1599-1641), when A Rearing Stallion sold to
a US collector on the telephone at £2.7m.
Although the hammer total for the evening sale was £21m, not all
of the 48 lots witnessed such levels of demand. Seventeen pictures
Earlier in the day, Christie's had sold three rediscovered
drawings by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes
(1746-1828) for a combined total of £3,470,000, all to
different European private buyers.
Christie's had the top-priced picture in the Old Master series
but Sotheby's comfortably the better evening sale
on July 9, boasting a higher number of commercial Dutch and Flemish
works to appeal to the Old Master trade.
Richard Green, Konrad Bernheimer, Johnny van Haeften and
Jean-Luc Baroni were among the buyers of the 13 works sold for more
than £1m. The hammer total was £44.6m with 69 of the 90 lots
The outstanding Dutch picture in the sale was Frans
Hals' (1580-1566) portrait of the Harlam textiles merchant
Willem van Heythuysen estimated at £3-5m. This 18 1/2in (47cm)
panel had been sold at auction in Vienna in 2004 as the work of a
'studio or follower' for a premium-inclusive €571,120
Subsequent research, including analysis of the single plank oak
panel, has suggested this is the primary version of a familiar
image dating from the mid-1630s. London agent Richard Nagy was the
buyer in the room at £6.3m.
The final lot of the sale was J.M.W. Turner
(1775-1851) Pope's Villa at Twickenham of 1808,
sold to benefit Sudeley Castle in Gloucestershire and expected to
Guaranteeing this early Claudian work that lacked the presence
of the artist's highly-rated later paintings looked quite a gamble
for Sotheby's but a lone telephone bid from a private collector saw
it sell at £4.8m.