HAD it not been for the headline-grabbing and record-breaking J.M.W. Turner (1775-1851), the latest Old Master auctions in London would have seemed a bit flat.
But Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino, offered as the last
lot at Sotheby's Old Master & British Paintings evening sale on
July 7, more than made up for what at times felt like a lacklustre
series last week. It was knocked down at £26.5m to London dealers
Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox who were in the room bidding on behalf of
the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
Estimated at £12m-18m, there were at least four interested
parties on the night. After going beyond top estimate, it came down
to a two-way bidding battle with the underbidder an unidentified
American at the front of the room taking instructions on his mobile
It set a record for the artist by beating the $32m (£19.1m) seen
for Giudecca, La Donna della Salute and San Giorgio sold
at Christie's New York in April 2006. The only work by a British
artist ever to have made more at auction is a Triptych by
Francis Bacon that made $77m (£41.4m) at Sotheby's New York in May
Consigned by the descendant of the 5th Earl of Rosebery (who
succeeded Gladstone as Liberal Prime Minister in 1894), the Turner
was a superb painting by anyone's estimation.
One of only five works of comparable standing left in private
hands before the auction, it will now probably be subject to an
export ban but, should insufficient funds emerge to keep the
picture in the UK, as seems likely, it will take pride of place
amongst the Getty's Turner holdings, which currently feature one
oil painting and two watercolours.
Sotheby's deputy chairman and senior specialist David Moore-Gwyn
put the record price down to the quality, condition, provenance and
market freshness of the picture. Describing it as a "breathtaking
image", he said it was "one of the most important Turners ever to
come to the auction market" and added that Sotheby's had received
enquiries from all over the world.
Modern Rome - Campo Vaccino was the companion piece to
Ancient Rome: Agrippina Landing with the Ashes of
Germanicus, which was part of the Turner Bequest in 1856 and
is now in the Tate.
It was in unrestored condition and in its original frame.
The Turner helped Sotheby's evening sale to a £46.8m hammer
total against a £33.8m-49.6m pre-sale estimate, with 39 of the 57
lots finding buyers.
Sotheby's next most expensive lots were two paintings that made
£2.2m against estimates of £2m-3m. Jan Lievens' (1607-1674)
portrait of a bearded old man also set a record, selling to
Paris-based dealer Bob Haboldt in the room, while The Kermesse
of Saint George with the Dance Around the Maypole by Pieter
Breughel the Younger (1564-c.1637) sold to an anonymous telephone
Christie's, meanwhile, offered two prize works from the Spencer
collection at their evening sale of Old Master & 19th Century
pictures on July 6 -A Commander Being Armed for Battle by
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), which had been kept at the
family seat of Althorp (Princess Diana's childhood home) for 200
years; and King David by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, il
Guercino (1591-1666), which had been at the same location for 90
Both lots got away but failed to bring high levels of bidding
against punchy estimates. These estimates were thought to be a
reflection of the competition to win the consignment and, indeed,
the Rubens carried a symbol indicating that it had been guaranteed
by the auctioneers, a practice uncommon in the Old Master
At the sale, the Rubens sold for a low-estimate £8m to London
and Munich-based dealer Konrad Bernheimer, who bought it for a
client, while the Guercino went below estimate at £4.6m to a
different London trade buyer.
With a Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger by Georg Pencz
(c.1500-1550) selling at £5m to the Milwaukee-based collector and
art investor Alfred Bader - a low-estimate sum but a record price
for the artist - Christie's sale totalled £36.8m, with 47 of the 67
lots finding takers (70 per cent).
Including the day sales, the overall hammer total for the series
was £96m, significantly up on the £60m last year, thanks in no
small part to the Turner.
By Alex Capon