LIMITED interest on the two star lots meant the best contests at this month’s Old Master series in London came for more attractively pitched works by less familiar names.
The evening sales at both houses this time struggled to bring
totals within their estimates, with neither the Stubbs at
Sotheby's nor the Poussin at
Christie's generating serious levels of
Overall the auctions seemed flatter than the summer series or
the equivalent sales last year, which saw a £26.5m Turner
(Sotheby's, July) and a £26m Raphael (Christie's, December
The week's most expensive offering was also the biggest
casualty. Nicolas Poussin's (1594-1665) Ordination failed
to sell after seemingly no bids at Christie's evening sale on
The picture, which was being sold by David Manners, the 11th
Duke of Rutland, was undoubtedly an important work - it was from
the artist's first series of seven Sacraments and had been on loan
to the National Gallery until earlier this year.
However, it was generally felt to lack the commercial appeal to
justify the hefty £15m-20m estimate and, if the Duke was
considering selling the other four works he owns from the series
(he intended to sell all five in 2007), it may have proved a costly
The top offering at Sotheby's the night after, George Stubbs's
(1724-1806) Brood Mares and Foals, did manage to sell
after a single bid of £9m. Although below the £10m-15m estimate,
this was a record for the artist three times over.
The 3ft 3in x 6ft 2in (1 x 1.89m) oil on canvas from 1768 came
from the collection of the Earl of Macclesfield and was one of a
group of such compositions painted for the artist's wealthy patrons
during this period.
With no comparable work by Stubbs having been offered on the
market before, this painting of horses in an idealised landscape
was perhaps less likely to appeal to international collectors as
would a more focused and dynamic portrait of a stallion in
Nevertheless, the price provided a large part of Sotheby's
£20.4m hammer total, with 32 of the 44 lots (73 per cent) finding
The total may have come in at the low end of its £20.4m-30m
estimate, but there was more action further down the price scale
and the strongest bidding contest arose for an intriguing portrait
of an elderly woman by an artist known as the Monogrammist IS
Less than a dozen works attributed to the artist have been sold
at auction in the last 15 years, and this arresting depiction of a
Slavic woman, which emerged from a private source from Madrid,
added weight to the claim the artist originated from the Baltic
Drawing five interested parties against a £30,000-50,000
estimate, it sold to London sculpture dealer Danny Katz (who is
also a leading art collector) at £480,000.
Sotheby's also saw a record for Luis de Morales (c.1520-1586),
whose tender Virgin and Child drew strong telephone
competition against a £250,000-350,000 estimate and was sold at
£1.4m to a European private buyer.
Despite the failure of the overpitched Poussin, Christie's
evening sale made the marginally higher total at £21.7m, although
from a greater number of lots: 52, of which 39 (75 per cent) got
away. The total was below the pre-sale estimate, set at
Christie's top lot was Pentecost, a remarkable oil on
panel by The Master of the Baroncelli Portraits, an anonymous
artist understood to be active in Bruges in the late 15th
It was an extremely rare picture - only a handful of works are
known, including two portraits of the Florentine banker Pietro
Bandini Baroncelli and his wife, now in the Uffizi.
Impeccably preserved, it was estimated at £1m-1.5m and drew
multiple bidders before selling at £3.7m to London-based dealer
Christie's also saw strong bidding on a portrait of Mary,
Countess of Wilton by Sir Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830), which sold
to London dealers Richard Green at £1.55m against a
They also saw record sums for two Dutch pictures: A View of
Haarlem by Gerrit Adriaensz. Berckheyde (1638-1698) which sold
at £2.3m to an anonymous buyer on the phone against underbidding
from London dealer Johnny Van Haeften, while The Adoration of
the Shepherds by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656) took
£950,000 to an anonymous buyer.
The buyer's premium at both Sotheby's and Christie's was
By Alex Capon
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.