THE second week of London’s prestige midsummer sales saw the Modern given way to the traditional with a flurry of exceptional prices for Old Master paintings and drawings and Renaissance works of art.
On the morning of July 4, Christie’s notched up a new world record for an Old Master drawing when the German dealer Katrin Bellinger outbid Colnaghi to the tune of £7.4m for a Michelangelo Study for the Risen Christ, formerly owned by the late Sir Brinsley Ford.
Almost simultaneously, half a mile up the road at Phillips, the Old Master picture trade was fighting it out with the Getty Museum to secure a highly important French 18th century oil by Jean François de Troy (1679-1752) which had been sensationally rediscovered in a cupboard under the stairs of a house in Suffolk.
Originally commissioned by Louis XV’s minister Germain Louis de Chauvelin, Retour du Bal was the companion piece to de Troy’s La Toilette pour le Bal, now hanging in the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.
The museum was understandably keen to complete the pair, but for once the Getty millions had to give way to the trade and the painting was finally knocked down to a bidding partnership of Konrad Bernheimer and Otto Naumann for a quadruple estimate £2.2m, the highest price ever achieved for a lot at Phillips in London.
The week continued in glittering mood the following evening with Christie’s sale of works from the Wernher Collection. The paintings, works of art, ivories and silver collected by the diamond millionaire Sir Julius Wernher netted Christie’s a cool premium-inclusive £20m – double the pre-sale estimate – with a top price of £2.8m given by the Spanish investment bank Caja Madrid for the Rubens oil modello, Diana and her Nymphs hunting.
The Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, helped by the National Art Collections Fund, gave a further £2.2m for Titian’s c.1530-1545 Portrait of Giacomo Doria.
The Wernher Collection’s outstanding holdings of Renaissance works of art and silver attracted similarly intense bidding. Two German late Gothic parcel-gilt reliquary statuettes of Saint Sebastian and Saint Christopher from the Cistercian monastery of Kaiserheim (the former designed by Hans Holbein) soared to £1.8m and £1.6m respectively. The Saint Sebastian was secured by New York dealer Anthony Blumka on behalf of an institution, thought to be the Metropolitan in New York, while the Saint Christopher went over the phone to a private buyer. Among the bronzes, a group of Saturn devouring his Children, from a model by Pietro Francavilla, was knocked down to a British dealer for £1m.
Following an English furniture interlude at Christie’s on July 6, which saw a George IV ebony cabinet inset with 17th century pietra dura panels make £1.5m, it was back to Old Masters at Sotheby’s on the same day. Sotheby’s sale netted a premium inclusive £28.5m with their evening session, which included three illuminated manuscripts, producing a clutch of seven-figure prices. These included new artist’s records for El Greco’s Christ on the Cross in a landscape, purchased by the Getty Museum for £3.5m and for Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder’s still life, sold for £1.75m to the London trade while Orazio Gentileschi’s Holy Family with the Infant St John the Baptist realised £2.2m.
The manuscripts included the late 15th century Monypenny Breviary decorated by the Bourges illuminator Jacques de Monluçon which fetched £3m, followed by an even earlier French rarity, the Du Boisrouvray Psalter of c.1260, which made £2.75m. Both were sold to telephone buyers.