THE busiest week of the year for Old Masters in London provided further signs that the top end of this market is surviving the downturn better than its modern counterparts.
The Old Master auctions last week coincided with an
unprecedented number of dealer exhibitions held as part of
Master Paintings Week and Master Drawings London,
the organisers of which both reported decent levels of interest and
some brisk trade.
At the time of going to press there was plenty of evidence around
the 23 participating galleries that the first staging of Master
Paintings Week in London had got off to a successful
On the Sunday evening of opening parties in St James and Mayfair
on July 4, despite the marathon men's tennis final at Wimbledon
still in progress, the galleries were full and sales were made.
Konrad Bernheimer of Colnaghi 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
Museum interest was especially strong, with representatives from
the New York Met, the Getty, Fort Worth Museum, Tate Britain,
Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Dutch Royal Collection in attendance.
Works have been reserved.
Further evidence of UK and overseas buyers coming to London
especially for Master Paintings Week was the number of
first- and second-floor galleries who encountered people that had
never been on the premises before.
As well as Konrad Bernheimer at Colnaghi, others to enjoy good
early sales included his fellow co-organisers Richard Green and
Johnny Van Haeften, as well as Mark Weiss, Fergus Hall, Michael
Tollemache and Philip Mould.
Organiser of Master Drawings London Crispian Riley
Smith said that this year's event was busier than last year as
buyers were encouraged to visit the capital by the complementary
Master Paintings event coinciding with their own.
Meanwhile, the Old Master auctions did not see a significant
year-on-year drop in totals, unlike the June Impressionist &
Modern series and the Contemporary art sales. Although some Old
Master dealers bemoaned a lack of 'unseen' lots on offer,
competitive bidding emerged on a number of high-quality works that
were fresh to the market and the sales were punctuated by a
smattering of record prices.
There was also a sense that visually striking works were
bringing greater levels of interest. This was certainly the case
with Jusepe de Ribera's (1591-1652) dramatic
Prometheus from the Barbara Piasecka Johnson collection,
which sold at Sotheby's for £3.4m and is pictured on this page.
The large and piercing painting drew seven interested parties
and depicted the Greek mythological character chained to a rock and
having his liver fed upon daily by an eagle. It had been acquired
by the Johnson & Johnson heiress from a London dealer 30 years
ago and had never been offered at auction before.
Estimated at £800,000-£1.2m, it was knocked down to an Italian
collector, setting a record for the Spanish artist by a
Overall, the evening sale of the Johnson collection on July 8
made a hammer total of £8.41m, while Sotheby's mixed-owner Old
Master evening sale on the same night made £22.5m. The top lot
there was Pieter Brueghel the Younger's
(1564-1636) The Massacre of the Innocents, which
saw four bidders take it over its £2.5m-3.5m estimate before it was
knocked down at £4.1m to an anonymous collector on the telephone,
underbid by a Russian-based dealer in the room.
Christie's Old Master and 19th century art evening sale on July
7 saw a hammer total of £17.4m, with the joint highest price being
£1.9m made for both The Madonna and Child by Fra
Bartolommeo (1472-1517) - a record for the artist - and
The Courtyard of the Doge's Palace, Venice by
Michele Giovanni Marieschi (1710-1743), both of
which were estimated at £2m-3m.
By Alex Capon and David Moss
Further reports of Master Paintings Week, Master
Drawings London and the Old Master auctions will appear in
next week's ATG printed newspaper. To subscribe,