It became clear over two weeks ago that the auction would lack its star lot, Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen, which was withdrawn following an agreement between the consignor, the drinks conglomerate Diageo, and the National Galleries of Scotland to help the museum retain the painting where it had been on loan for 17 years. It had been expected to raise in excess of £10m.
More of a surprise was the announcement from the rostrum that Goya’s A Woman and two Boys by a fountain would not be offered. It had been estimated at £4m-6m and Christie’s said after the auction that the oil on canvas had been “withdrawn by mutual agreement with the vendor shortly before the sale”.
Without these two top pictures, the revised presale estimate for the sale was £9.56m-14.3m. On the night, 30 of the 37 lots sold for a premium-inclusive total of £12.2m. The 81% selling rate by lot was the highest at an Old Master evening sale at Christie’s since 2012.
Head of Old Masters & British paintings at Christie’s Henry Pettifer said: “We worked hard to keep the sale full of lots that were fresh, desirable and well priced. The market is strong if the works are right.”
Pettifer himself made the winning £1.5m bid on behalf of a telephone buyer for the night’s top lot – Jacob Jordaens’ (Antwerp 1593-1678) The Holy Family with an angel.
Estimated at £500,000-800,000, three interested parties carried it over estimate before it was knocked down to the anonymous buyer. The underbidder was London dealer Johnny Van Haeften.
The 2ft 11in x 2ft 6in (87 x 77cm) oil on canvas was dated to c.1625-6 and was deemed “the prime composition from which a number of studio variants derive”, according to the catalogue. A relatively early work by the Antwerp-born painter, it was produced during a period when the artist executed some of his best works and it came to auction from a ‘noble’ European family.
Another Flemish picture generating interest was a posthumous portrait of Erasmus that overshot a £40,000-60,000 estimate and was knocked down at £220,000 to another telephone buyer.
The oil on panel was apparently the only known portrait of an identifiable sitter by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (c.1564-1638) and was likely based on an earlier depiction of the humanist scholar by Hans Holbein the Younger (Brueghel likely knew the picture from a woodcut).
The painting was a 9in x 6.5in (22 x 17cm) oil on panel which was unframed and, bearing in mind its small size, the final price looked relatively strong.
While a Bernardo Bellotto (1721-1780) painting of the courtyard of the Fortress of Königstein failed to sell against a £2m-3m estimate, some decent competition arrived on two French portraits which both attracted five bidders – a François Clouet (1516-1572) portrait of Charles IX of France that fetched £620,000, an auction record for the artist, and a Jean Decourt’s (c.1530-1585) portrait of a lady that took £650,000, also a record.
One of the most striking works in the sale was The Forest of Bavella by Edward Lear (1812-1888), the largest of three known oil paintings by the artist depicting the dramatic setting in a pine forest in southern Corsica.
Executed following his expedition to the island during the winter of 1867-68, Lear later wrote in his published journal: “The colour here is more beautiful than in most mountain passes I have seen, owing to the great variety of underwood foliage and the thick clothing of herbs… The whole of this profound gorge, at the very edge of which the road runs, is full of mountain scenes of the utmost splendour.”
Acquired by the vendor in 1971, the 4ft 10in x 7ft 11in (1.46 x 2.4m) oil on canvas appeared here with a £600,000-800,000 estimate but sold at £550,000 to a single bidder. Although it got away under estimate, the price was still one of the highest for the artist.
The auction record for Lear is £820,000 for a view of the River Nile at Kasr-es-Saiyyad that sold at Christie’s in 2007.