A string of record prices at the latest Old Master sales in London helped the sector to its highest total ever for an auction series.
The sales at
Christie's last week made a combined £120.6m, making it the
most lucrative week seen so far in this category, beating the
£80.1m in July 2002.
However, back then the sales did not include British pictures,
which were a major factor here.
Christie's evening sale on July 3 saw 54 of the 64 lots (84%)
get away for a £74.5m hammer total - a figure that was the highest
for an Old Master and British picture sale and towards the top end
of the £61.8m-88.3m estimate.
On the night, demand from dealers and established collectors met
with some greater interest from outside the traditional bidding
contingent, but it was the supply of a greater number of
rarely-seen works that really made the difference here.
This time round, it was a British painting that made the top
price of the series by some distance - John
Constable's The Lock, which took £20m at
Christie's. Setting a record for the artist and making one of
the highest prices ever seen for a British picture, it sold to a
single bidder on the telephone after no other interest emerged on
The anonymous buyer was also the third-party guarantor of the
picture - meaning they had agreed to bid to a minimum level,
presumably £20m, in return for a financial return if they ended up
Christie's evening sale also included the 11 pictures from the
collection of Dutch retailing heir Pieter Dreesmann and his wife
Olga, boosting the total by £22.2m.
All of them sold and most drew solid competition, although the
consignment was led by Rembrandt's A Man in a
Gorget and Cap, which sold below estimate at £7.5m to an Asian
More demand came for three still lifes by Adriaen Coorte
(c.1660-1707) which all drew multiple bidders, including
Asparagus and Red Currants on a Stone Ledge which was also
knocked down to an Asian buyer on the telephone at £2m, a new
record for the artist at auction.
A separately-consigned Dutch picture which also set a record was
a small oil-on-copper by Joachim Wtewael (1566-1638). A highly
detailed and untouched painting, Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan
was subject to an extended bidding battle between two phone bidders
and was eventually knocked down at £4.1m (est: £2m-4m).
Further records at Christie's came for Pietro Lorenzetti
(c.1306-45) at £4.5m; Pieter Jansz. Saenredam
(1597-1665) at £3.3m; Juan de Zurbaran
(1620-49) at £2.4m; and Balthasar van der Ast
(1593/4-1657) at £2.3m. The latter was also knocked down
to an Asian buyer.
Sotheby's evening sale the following night did not include as
many prize lots and the total of £28.1m was well shy of their
rivals, although within the estimate of £26.7m-40.4m. Overall, 29
of 43 lots sold.
The top lot was a naval scene by Willem van de Velde the
Younger (1633-1707) depicting the surrender of the British
flagship, The Royal Prince, to the Dutch fleet during the Four
Days' Battle in 1666. Against a £1.5m-2.5m estimate, it drew four
bidders including dealer William Noortman, who was in the room
bidding for a Dutch client and secured it at £4.7m.
The sale also saw strong competition for Christ among the
Doctors by Orazio Borgianni (1574-1616). A rare opportunity to
acquire an autograph work by the artist at the height of his
career, it was eventually knocked down to a European private buyer
on the telephone at £3m (est:£400,000-600,000).
The buyer's premium at both Sotheby's and Christie's was