THE latest Old Master sales in London underlined the importance for auctioneers of securing the best works by major names.
The evening sales at Christie's and Sotheby's last week
demonstrated that while the market is suffering from a diminishing
supply of high-quality and 'unseen' pictures, buyers are willing to
spend at ever more dramatic levels when rare and historically
important material does appear.
Here they fought eagerly over the best pieces to take the series
to a record-breaking £78m total.
Christie's (25/20/12% buyer's premium) 43-lot
evening sale on December 8, which included 19th century paintings
as well as Old Masters, raised a £60.5m hammer total - higher than
any previous Old Master sale worldwide.
This was largely down to a Raphael drawing that made £26m and a
Rembrandt portrait that sold at £18m, matching the previous record
for the artist.
With 28 lots finding buyers, the total was near the top end of
the £44.9m-62.6m pre-sale estimate.
The star lots captured the media's attention and the ensuing
prices heightened the media glow surrounding the Old Master
The most spectacular price was the £26m paid against a £12m-16m
estimate for Raphael's Head of a Muse, setting a record
both for the artist and for any drawing sold at auction.
The first major Raphael drawing to be seen since Study for
the Head and Hand of an Apostle made £4.8m at Christie's in
London in December 1996, it was in excellent condition and broke
the previous high for a work on paper, $33m (£21.5m) paid at
Sotheby's New York in November 2008 for Degas' pastel Danseuse
The 12 x 83/4in (30.5 x 22.2cm) Head of a Muse was a
black chalk study for a figure in the Parnassus fresco in the
Vatican - one of the series of four frescos that are considered the
artist's greatest masterpieces.
Reportedly being sold by the heirs of the British collector
Norman Colville, it was underbid by London-based dealer Jean-Luc
Baroni, who lost out to a buyer bidding on the phone via a member
of Christie's New York staff.
The competition for the drawing was in marked contrast to that
seen on Rembrandt's 1658 half-length portrait at Christie's.
Consigned by the Johnson & Johnson heiress Barbara Piasecka
Johnson, whose Jusepe de Ribera Prometheus was one of the
star lots in Sotheby's London's July series, it was estimated at
£18m-25m but attracted only a single telephone bid and sold on low
Not deemed one of the Dutch Master's greatest portraits, it
nevertheless matched the record set for a Rembrandt by Portrait
of a Lady, aged 62, from 1632, which sold to the late
Maastricht-based dealer Robert Noortman at Christie's in London on
December 13, 2000 (although the buyer's premium this time was
While another record was seen when Saint John the
Evangelist by Domenico Zampieri, Il Domenichino (1581-1641)
made £8.2m against a £7m-10m estimate, only a handful of other
works at Christie's generated strong bidding.
This was also the pattern at Sotheby's (25/20/12%
buyer's premium) evening sale of Old Master and British
paintings on December 9, which saw 21 of the 50 lots fail to
Taking this failure rate by lot into consideration, the £13.1m
hammer total against a pre-sale estimate of £12.34m-18.41m
indicates the importance of the top-performing lots.
This was most clearly evident in the record price for Sir
Anthony Van Dyck's Self Portrait, which sold for £7.4m -
making up more than half the sale's total - to the art investor and
collector Alfred Bader in partnership with Philip Mould.
International bidding came from at least nine participants as
the price for the 2ft x 19in (60 x 47cm) oval oil was pushed above
pre-sale hopes of £2m-3m.
Painted in London in 1640, this was the last self-portrait by
the artist and had been in the family collection of the Earls of
Jersey since the 18th century.
Following the sale, veteran Milwaukee-based Mr. Bader said:
"It's a beautiful painting, and it's for sale," echoing the
comments by dealers and auctioneers about the inherent difficulty
of sourcing good quality, fresh-to-market Old Masters.
The previous record for a Van Dyck was £2.7m for A Rearing
Stallion at Christie's London in July 2008.
Much pre-sale attention had been focused upon a previously
unrecorded Portrait of a Young Woman by Peter Paul Rubens,
but the 2ft 10in x 2ft 2in (86 x 66cm) oil, which had not won
universal admiration among the trade, failed to sell at Sotheby's
against a £4m-6m estimate.
The unfinished canvas is thought to be an early work, painted in
either Italy or Spain, and had been in an anonymous UK private
collection for the past 25 years. However, there were reservations
about the attribution and condition, and Sotheby's picture
specialist George Gordon felt that it was also not helped by the
atypical subject matter.
Mediocre works were also left on the shelf, but an artist's
record was set by Girl Holding a Basket of Plums by the
little-known 17th-century Dutch artist Cesar Boetius van
Estimated at £50,000-70,000, this attractive, market-fresh
painting tempted a number of bidders and sold on the phone for
By Alex Capon