Featuring only 22 lots, Sotheby’s latest sale of Orientalist art was a small affair but one that definitely packed a big punch.
Achieving a total of £5.3m hammer, it overshot the pre-sale estimate of £2.6m-3.8m which meant it was among the best performing auctions in this sector in recent years.
Four of the 19 works that sold on the day made record sums for their respective artists, including the sale's star consignment, Ludwig Deutsch's (1855-1935) The Offering, undoubtedly one of the finest works by the Austrian artist to have appeared at auction in the last decade. It duly drew four interested parties including an institution.
Part of the reason for the strong performance of this picture, and for a number of other works in the sale, was the upsurge in Turkish interest as well a greater spread of bidding from Middle Eastern collectors.
In terms of The Offering, the picture came from a private British collection where it had resided for over a century. Completely fresh to the market, the Egyptian scene was described in the catalogue as "a tour de force of orientalist art" by probably the most recognised painter of the so-called Austrian school which included Rudolf Ernst, Arthur von Ferraris and Rudolf Weisse.
With seemingly no exhibition history since it was acquired from an Edinburgh gallery in 1900, it had a sense of rediscovery about it even though the artist also produced a second undated version with minor differences (now in a private collection).
The highly finished depiction of the Mosque of Sultan Hassan in Cairo had the architectural appeal associated with the artist, but the presence of multiple ornately-dressed figures meant this was an altogether more ambitious picture than most that appear on the market. This was no doubt enhanced by its striking composition, strong colours and precisely painted details. It was also in attractive condition.
The 2ft 1in x 2ft 8in oil on panel showed a noble, elder, soldier and servant bearing gifts to a Mosque near the citadel in Cairo guarded by a Nubian sentinel. It was painted in the artist's studio in Paris in 1897 and was likely based on sketches or photographs he made on one of his trips to Egypt over the previous 15 years. The figures were likely paid models and the props may well have been some of the hundreds of items he acquired while abroad.
Estimated at £500,000-700,000, this pitch was deemed attractive in light of all this picture had going in its favour. After a strong competition between the four bidders, which included the above-mentioned institution as well as separate interest from buyers from the region depicted, it was eventually knocked down at £1.85m to a private collector.
The price was above the previous auction high for the artist set back in November 1999 when The palace guard took $2.9m (£1.77m) at Christie's New York.
Further records at the Sotheby's sale came for Hermann Corrodi (1844-1905), Rudolf Weisse (c.1859-1930) and Georges Bretegnier (1860-1892).
The buyer's premium was 25/20/12%.
A full report of the sale will appear in next week's ATG printed newspaper. Subscribe here.