PARIS: A PLETHORA of picture sales in Paris in December yielded some unexpectedly high prices but an erratic overall response, with an average take-up (by lot) of around 60 per cent. Results were stronger for Old Masters than for Modern Art, while the presence of buyers from across Europe helped offset the absence of Americans, deterred by the weak dollar.
Old Master paintings
The highest Old Master prices were to be found in the Baron Hottinguer Collection at Christie’s on December 2/3. But three sales organised for different firms by the freelance expert Eric Turquin also yielded some surprising prices.
Claude Vignon’s St Matthew, 3ft 5in x 4ft 9in (1.04 x 1.45m), soared to €104,000 (£70,300) at Piasa on December 17 – against an estimate of just €15,000.
Turquin was unconvinced by the quality of this work, in indifferent condition, but noted that it came from Vignon’s most popular, Caraveggesque period. Another surprise here was the triple-estimate €68,000 (£47,000) paid for an Annunciation, oak panel 22 x 16in (56 x 40cm), ascribed to a follower of Flemish artist Hugo van der Goes (c.1480). This time in fine condition was a factor.
A panelled 1621 Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Brueghel III (1589-c.1640) measuring 13 x 22in (34 x 55cm), sold to the European trade for €360,000 (£248,300), well above predictions. But an undated and hitherto unrecorded Still Life with Basket of Flowers by Jan Brueghel the Younger, panel, 21in x 2ft 8in (53 x 81cm), sold for €265,000 (£182,800), short of an estimate that Turquin admitted was over-enthusiastic given the market’s preference for “bouquets rather than baskets” of flowers.
Given the absence of American buyers, and a shortage of stand-out works, Turquin had anticipated a difficult sale – so he was delighted by an enthusiastic response from private buyers, with French collectors displaying keen interest in the middle-rank works they have been neglecting for the last three years, enabling three-quarters of the 120 lots to find takers.
Other European buyers were also active. Van der Meulen’s Entrée Triomphale de Louis XIV dans une Ville de Flandres, 3 x 4ft (92cm x 1.21m), sold to an Italian for a low-estimate €115,000 (£79,300).
Although the city was not identified, the monumental gateway in the mid-distance is clearly the Porte de Paris in Lille, erected shortly after the city was conquered by France in 1667.
A late 17th/early 18th century Portrait d’Enfant en Armure, 22 x 16in (55 x 41cm), made €78,000 (£53,800) at Aguttes on December 8 against an estimate of €4500.
Turquin altered his attribution just before the sale from Christian Seybold to Austrian artist Salomon Adler, who taught Bergamo portraitist Vittore Ghislandi, also known as Fra Galgario. Given the price, Turquin surmised that the buyer may have detected the hand of Ghislandi (1655-1743) himself.
The chief surprise at Turquin’s third sale, at Tajan on December 18, came from a pair of landscapes originally attributed to Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes (1750-1819), which quadrupled estimate on €220,000 (£151,700). Turquin finally opted to assign the pair to Valenciennes’ pupil Péquiniot. But their success was really down to their size, 3ft 10in x 5ft 7in (1.17 x 1.70m), and their visual charm, with pastoral landscapes outweighing some elegiac subject matter – Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s island tomb in Ermenonville, and tiny figures mourning a spreadeagled corpse in the hills outside Rome.
A rumbunctious Kermesse cagily ascribed to the “entourage of David Vinckboons”, on copper 18in x 2ft 3in (45 x 69cm), doubled hopes with €255,000 at Pierre Bergé & Associés on December 19.
Other versions of the scene, portraying the annual Butter Festival in Hoboken near Antwerp, can be found in Brunswick (dated 1608) and Antwerp (1610). But perhaps the most significant price elsewhere was the €300,000 (£207,000), seven times estimate, lavished on Jean-François de Troy’s Angélique et Médor (c.1725-30), 5 x 4ft (1.57 x 1.22m), at Thierry de Maigret on December 10. This large canvas was described as “previously unknown”.
There was keen interest in two portraits by Antoine de Favray (1706-98) at Beaussant-Lefèvre on December 10; a Turkish collector paid a top-estimate €290,000 (£200,000) for his portrait of the Comtesse de Vergennes (1768), 4ft 3in x 3ft 1in (1.29m x 93cm), and a mid-estimate €260,000 (£179,0000) for another of her (1766) in Turkish costume, even though this was a larger work, 4ft 7in x 3ft 8in (1.40 x 1.12m), with an elaborate giltwood frame carved with ribbons and foliage. Both works were painted in Constantinople, where Vergennes was ambassador from 1755 to 1768, and had never left the sitter’s family.
Venetian vedute continue to appeal. Giacomo Guardi’s small, panelled view of Santa Maria della Salute, 7 x 13in (18 x 32cm), went to €170,000 (£117,200), five times estimate, at Binoche on December 11. And an anonymous, late-18th century French Vue Imaginaire of St Mark’s and the Doge’s Palace, 3ft 7in x 6ft 4in (1.10 x 1.92m), inscribed Deshayes de Colleville Pictor Regis Perfecit et Part Invenit 1788 and hung in the same family since it was painted, claimed a high €120,000 (£82,750) at ArtCurial on December 16.