2651 NE Old Masters Titian Flight Into Egypt

Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Titian, £15m at Christie's. 

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The firm’s showpiece Old Masters sale realised £36.43m (£43.6m including premium) with 22 of 24 lots sold.

The top lot of the evening was Rest on the Flight into Egypt, an early work by Titian from c.1508-10 which sold to a third-party guarantor at £15m. It was the lower estimate but an auction record for the artist.

This work, once among the 15 Titian’s owned by the Venetian merchant Bartolomeo della Nave (1571-1632), was purchased by 4th Marquess of Bath at Christie’s in 1878.

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Henry Pettifer, Christie’s deputy chairman, took the rostrum for the Old Masters evening sale, selling Rest on the Flight into Egypt by Titian at £15m.

It was stolen from the Longleat estate in Wiltshire in January 1995 and was missing for seven years before recovery. Ceawlin Thynn, 8th Marquess of Bath, had chosen to sell the picture as “part of the long-term investment strategy at Longleat”.

Sold nine years ago at Christie’s as a studio work, The Madonna of the Cherries returned to the auction house as the primary version of this celebrated work by Quentin Metsys with a guide £8m-12m. The Getty Museum was the buyer at £9m, another artist record.

2651 NE Old Masters Madonna Of The Cherries

The Madonna of the Cherries by Quentin Metsys, £9m at Christie’s.

The whereabouts of this picture, painted by Metsys in the 1520s, had been unknown since it was recorded in the collection of the wealthy Antwerp spice merchant and art collector Cornelis van der Geest (1577-1638).

By the time the picture resurfaced in Paris at a sale in 1920 its composition had been altered (a curtain had been painted across the window and landscape) and when offered for sale at Christie’s in 2015 as a studio variant it took £200,000.

However, the subsequent cleaning and conservation told through ‘before and after’ images had been transformative. The Getty said that “the rediscovery offered an opportunity to acquire one of the most significant paintings of the Flemish Renaissance to appear on the market in decades”.

The painting, the second by Metsys in the collection (The Man of Sorrows was bought in 2018 through Simon Dickinson), will go on view in Los Angeles shortly.

A Frans Hals last offered for sale at Christie’s a century ago took £4.7m. The half-length portrait of a gentleman of the de Wolff family came for sale from the heirs of Weetman Dickinson Pearson, 1st Viscount Cowdray (1856-1927) who acquired it in 1919 for 25,500 guineas at Christie’s.

George Stubbs’ monumental c.1769 Mares and Foals, offered for the first time since 1976 (when it sold for £170,000), was the evening’s major disappointment, failing to sell with a guide of £7m-10m.

The auction house said 20% of new registrants to its Classic Week sales were millennials with 72% of buyers from Europe, 15% from Asia Pacific counties and 13% from the Americas.

Sotheby’s sale the following day was led by The Virgin and Child, a mixed media on panel painting, transferred to canvas, by Sandro Botticelli and Studio.

2651 NE Old Masters Botticelli And Studio

The Virgin and Child by Sandro Botticelli and Studio, £2.85m at Sotheby’s.

Once in the Rothschild collection, this late work from the 1490s last appeared at Sotheby’s in 2001 following the cleaning and scientific analysis that had elevated it from a ‘studio’ to a ‘master and studio’ work.

It sold at £2.85m, just below the £3m-5m guide. The sale total from the 26 sold lots (32 offered) was £10.3m.