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El Greco’s extremely rare pen-and-ink drawings of two Apostles – two of only four surviving drawings by the artist – attracted just a single below-estimate bid of £180,000 at Bonhams.

Christie’s Old Master pictures sale two days later contained few major-name highlights, though a c.1660 Adriaen Jansz van Ostade tavern scene did find a telephone bidder at £950,000 (estimate £300,000-500,000) and the Pieter Brueghel the Younger panel, The Wedding Dance, £720,000 (£400,000-600,000).

However, King Street’s final premium-inclusive total of £6.7m and unsold rates of 40 per cent by volume and 27 by value were a virtual re-run of the equivalent sale last year.

The only seven-figure price of the week occurred the following day at Sotheby’s where a telephone bidder gave £1m (estimate £600,000-800,000) for an oil on copper Philips Wouverman Landscape with a Stag Hunt bought by the vendor from the Maastricht dealer Robert Noortman.

Other highlights were few and far between in the £5.5m Part I morning session, which found buyers for two-thirds of its 59 lots, representing a 70 per cent selling rate by value.

The one other lot to generate intense competition from the trade was a superbly preserved and freshly discovered still life by the Amsterdam painter Rachel Ruysch, which doubled its lower estimate to take £600,000 from Richard Green.

With high quality pictures in increasingly short supply, there was much post-sale talk about Sotheby’s and Christie’s ‘finest’ Old Master sales now settling down to a pattern of January in New York and July in London.

Above right: commercial images in untouched market-fresh condition were in short supply at the December round of Old Master sales in London. One of the few exceptions was this superbly preserved still life by the Amsterdam painter, Rachel Ruysch (1664-1750) offered at Sotheby’s on December 12 with an estimate of £300,000-400,000. Signed and dated 1716, this freshly discovered 183/4in by 151/4in (48 x 39cm) canvas was provenanced to a Belgian noble family and was thought not tohave appeared at auction for at least 200 years. After stiff competition in the room, it was knocked down to a representative of Richard Green for £600,000.