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Sotheby's evening sale on July 9 in particular performed strongly, benefitting from four prestigious collections offered at the same time. The selling rate came in at 81% (51 of the 63 lots sold) and the £59m hammer total was above the £39m-57.6m estimate.

With no fewer than 17 auction records - almost unprecedented for an Old Master sale - it was the second-highest ever total at Sotheby's for a Old Master auction in London, only behind the £61.2m seen for the Massacre of the Innocents sale in July 2002 (although the net total here was greater due to the increased level of buyer's premium).

Five of the key consignments came from the Duke of Northumberland's collection, the source which also provided the £8.3m Aphrodite statue. The five pictures at the Old Master sale outstripped pre-sale predictions of £5.6m-8.4m as four of them got away for £15.15m.

Uppermost among them was Jan Brueghel the Elder's (1568-1625) The Garden of Eden, a small but impeccably preserved oil on copper that overshot a £2m-3m estimate and was sold to a private Asian buyer on the phone at £6m.

The top lot of the sale was knocked down to the same paddle - Tygers at Play by George Stubbs (1724-1806), which was separately consigned and fetched £6.8m (est: £4m-6m).

Rothschild's Guardi

Despite having a weaker evening sale, Christie's had the top picture price of the week when a fine view of Venice by Francesco Guardi (1712-93) was offered on July 8, coming from the collection of Baron Henri de Rothschild.

Estimated at £8m-10m, it depicted the Bacino di San Marco with the Doge's Palace at the centre and had originally been in the collection of The Earls of Shaftesbury after it was purchased in 1782-4. It was then acquired by Baron James-Edouard de Rothschild in the 19th century, remaining in the family until it was inherited by the vendor.

On the night, it came down to a battle between two phone bidders and was knocked down at £8.75m.

Overall, the total at Christie's was £40m, below the £42.6m-61.1m estimate, with 36 of the 68 lots finding buyers (53%).

Drawings Collection

A more favourable market reaction came for their separate sale of Old Master drawings from the collection of the former head of the Rijksmuseum's prints and drawings department, Professor I.Q. van Regteren Altena (1899-1980).

Here, 66 of the 71 lots (93%) - predominantly Dutch and Flemish drawings - sold for a hammer total of £11.1m.

The auction was led by the only known preparatory sketch for Samson and Delilah, one of Sir Peter Paul Rubens' (1577-1640) greatest paintings which is now in the National Gallery, London. It exceeded a £1.5m-2.5m estimate and was knocked down at £2.8m.

This was followed by the £2.3m seen for The artist's right hand by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), a striking pen and ink drawing which saw a dramatic contest against a £300,000-500,000 pitch and was knocked down to the same buyer as the Rubens who was bidding on the phone through a New York-based Christie's specialist.

Both sums were records for drawings by the artists.