MAJOR American museums played an active role as both buyers and sellers in the latest Old Master sales in New York.
The top lot at Christie's Old Master and 19th Century picture sale in the Big Apple on January 27 was a Parisian scene from 1812 by Louis Léopold Boilly (1761-1845). The Entrance to the Turkish Garden Café was knocked down at $4m (£2.56m) against a $3m-5m estimate and was bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum bidding through the London dealers Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox in the room.
Setting an auction record for the artist, it was acquired for the Los Angeles museum's permanent collection. Although this was over four times higher than the previous record, the price was thought to be about the same that the vendor had paid when it was purchased from London dealers Matthiesen in 1991.
While two high-profile casualties were The Sleeping Shepherd by Samuel Palmer and Bacchus at the Wine Vat by Cranach the Elder - both estimated at $2.5m-3.5m - another record was set for Gaetano Gandolfi (1734-1802) when Diana and Callisto sold to a private collector for $3.6m (£2.31m) against predictions of $800,000-1.2m.
The overall hammer total for Christie's 330-lot sale was $33.2m (£21.3m), under the $48m presale low estimate. With 210 lots finding buyers, the selling rate by lot was 64 per cent.
Prices and selling rates were generally solid throughout the auction series but few lots brought the kind of dramatic levels of bidding seen for the top pictures sold at the Old Master sales in London in December.
Sotheby's meanwhile managed to outsell their rivals by some margin, as was the case in last year's equivalent New York series.
Their 200-lot Old Master paintings sale on January 28 made a hammer total of $52.4m (£33.57m) - within the $44m -63.3m presale estimate - and saw 147 lots find buyers (74 per cent).
For the second year running, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art consigned pictures to fund new acquisitions. Offering 10 pictures deemed lesser examples from their Old Master collection, nine sold for a combined $2.23m (£1.43m).
Uppermost amongst them was Christoph Amberger's (c.1505-1561) portrait of Hans Jakob Fugger which drew one of the strongest contests of the sale against a £200,000-300,000 estimate and sold at £1m (£641,025).
Separately consigned, but also generating a strong competition was a famous picture which once thought to be a portrait by Leonardo da Vinci.
Eight decades after a much-published legal battle regarding its authenticity between the American owners, Harry and Andrée Hahn, and the art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen, La Belle Ferronnière was catalogued here as by a follower of Leonardo (it is now thought to be a French copy painted around 1700-1750) and estimated at $300,000-500,000.
Drawing four bidders, it sold to a US private buyer at $1.3m (£833,335).
If this figure raised a few eyebrows in the saleroom then so did the news that a Rembrandt portrait of a young woman estimated at $8-12m was withdrawn at the eleventh hour, apparently at the request of the British owner.
This meant that the top lot of the sale was Two Studies of a Bearded Man by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641) which sold to an anonymous buyer at $6.4m (£4.1m). Sotheby's had issued a guarantee for the vendor, a descendant of the collector Montgomery HW Ritchie, and a symbol in the catalogue indicated that it had been subject to an irrevocable bid.
This price eclipsed the $6m (£3.85m) seen for Hendrick Goltzius' (1558-1617) Jupiter and Antiope which, although below the $8-12m estimate, was a record for the artist.
The 6ft (1.83m) wide erotic Mannerist composition depicting the encounter between a voluptuous beauty and a satyr had been subject to a forced sale in 1941 before it entered the collection of Hermann Goering. Restored to the heirs of the German Jewish toy manufacturer Abraham Adelsberger in 2009, it sold here to a European collector.
By Alex Capon
Exchange rate: £1 = $1.56. All auction prices quoted by ATG are hammer prices, unless otherwise stated. The buyer's premium at both Sotheby's and Christie's is 25/20/12 per cent.