‘Portrait of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony’ by Lucas Cranach the Elder that sold for $6.6m (£4.7m) at Christie’s New York Old Masters sale.

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Portrait of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony was recently returned to the heirs of Dutch banker and art collector Fritz Gutmann with the help of Christie’s. Gutmann’s vast art collection was stolen by the Nazis in 1940 and he died in a camp in 1944. This painting was last publicly displayed in Rotterdam in 1938.

Monica Dugot, international director of restitution at Christie’s, said: “We hope that the reappearance of this painting demonstrates that with goodwill, perseverance and collaboration, amicable and fair solutions can be found in resolving complex restitution cases and losses due to Nazi persecution, even after so many years.”

Estimated at $1m-2m at Christie’s New York Old Masters sale on April 19, the half-length oil on panel, pictured above, was top lot of the sale, selling to a phone bidder.

Simon Goodman, Gutmann’s grandson and owner of the Cranach painting, said ahead of the sale: “We are also extremely grateful to the people who brought it forward and to Christie’s for facilitating its return.”

Painted in the 1530s, it depicts the elaborately robed John Frederick I (1503-54), an electoral prince and head of the Schmalkaldic League, the defensive alliance formed by Germany’s Protestant territories.

Frederick, an ardent supporter of Martin Luther and the Reformation, was Cranach the Elder’s greatest patron and a close friend when this artwork was painted.

He married Sibylle of Cleves in September 1526, whom Cranach also portrayed on numerous occasions. According to Christie’s, this painting is one of Cranach’s most refined depictions of John Frederick

The Old Masters sale in New York, over two sessions, made a hammer total of $33.3m. The second-highest price of the sale came for a painting by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) of A satyr holding a basket of grapes and quinces with a nymph. It sold for a premium-inclusive $5.7m against a $5m-7m estimate.

The buyer’s premium for the auction was 25/20/12.5%.


'A satyr holding a basket of grapes and quinces with a nymph' by Sir Peter Paul Rubens which sold for a premium inclusive $5.7m against a $5m-7m estimate. Image: Christie's.