The auctions were punctuated by a number of record prices for quality works in good condition, but elsewhere bidding failed to take off as the market appeared as selective as ever.
Overall, the auctions at Sotheby's, Christie's and Bonhams made a combined hammer total of close to £48m (including day sales) which compared to £52m for the equivalent series last year.
The much-talked-about portrait of an old man by Velázquez at Bonhams left many in the saleroom underwhelmed when it sold for a mid-estimate £2.6m. It was knocked down to New York dealer Otto Naumann who was bidding in the room against competition from an interested party on the telephone.
More competition here came for a still life by the Dutch painter Adriaen Coorte which attracted five bidders against a £300,000-500,000 estimate and sold to Sotheby's-owned gallery Noortman Master Paintings at a record £1.8m.
The top lot of the week came at Christie's evening sale on December 6 when Pieter Brueghel the Younger's (c.1565-1638) The Battle between Carnival and Lent took £6.1m against a £3.5m-4.5m estimate. It was knocked down to a telephone manned by Cécile Bernard, director of Christie's Old Master department in Paris.
The 3ft 11in x 5ft 7in (1.19 x 1.71m) oil on canvas had last sold at Christie's in December 2006 for £2.9m where it was bought by a European private buyer, and so the price here represented a significant increase over the five years.
Normally the market favours fresh material, but here the sense that there may be few opportunities remaining to purchase such a large and busy Brueghel in such good condition appears to have propelled the price upwards.
Another version of the same subject in the same size by Brueghel the Younger took £1.75m at Christie's last December but it was not in as good condition.
Christie's 36-lot sale lasted two hours as records came for two further Dutch pictures: an exceptional marine by Willem van de Velde the Younger, which sold to a private Dutch buyer on the phone at £5.25m, and Govaert Flinck's An Old Man at a Casement which was knocked down at £2.05m to London-based dealer Jean-Luc Baroni.
These results boosted the sale's hammer total to £21m (estimate £18.2m-26.5m) with 26 lots finding buyers.
Meanwhile, Sotheby's sale the following night made £17.4m, just below the presale estimate with 26 of the 38 lots getting away.
The top lot was the pair of Johann Zoffany paintings of the actor David Garrick which were knocked down for a low-estimate £6m in the room to London dealers Hazlitt, Gooden & Fox, reportedly on behalf of The Garrick Club in London - although neither the auction house or club itself would confirm this.
A record also came for Jan Steen's Card Players in an Interior despite selling below estimate at £4.3m. The work was subject to a third-party guarantee.
By Alex Capon