Among the crowd-pleasers was Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael’s (1628-82) panoramic view of the painter’s native city of Haarlem, looking over the low-lying bleaching fields. It tipped over top estimate to sell to a private collector in the room for £2.2m.
The painting, titled A Harleempje, had been seized by occupying German forces in Amsterdam and bought through Kajetan ‘Kai’ Mühlmann for the Führer Museum in Linz in 1941. Restituted after the war to the heirs of Ernst G Rathenau (who had emigrated to the US during the war), it was later sold to Otto Naumann, and appeared on the New York gallery’s stand at Maastricht before 2004.
Despite being a well-known work by Ruisdael, its authorship had been disputed by the late art historian Seymour Slive. Sotheby’s was convinced otherwise, and put its full weight behind the attribution.
Another top performer, and making a healthy return for the vendor, was Jan van de Cappelle’s (1624- 79) serene work, Calm Sea. The 17in x 2ft (45 x 65cm) oil on oak panel, depicting a ‘smalschip’ sailing on a windless summer’s day on Dutch waters, had sold to the vendor in 1998 for £800,000. Here, it tipped over top estimate to sell to a phone bidder for £1.7m.
Grand dame not saint style
The sale opened with a flurry bids on a depiction of Mary Magdalene reading by the prolific Italian painter Ambrosius Benson (1495-1550), who became part of the Northern Renaissance and is considered a painter of the Flemish School.
The 2ft 3in x 20in (68 x 53cm) oil on panel came from a European private collection where it had been for the last 20 years and was described in the catalogue note as depicting more “the elegant grand dame of her day than penitent saint”.
Benson was one of the first artists to popularise images of women reading and painted the scene many times in his images of Mary Magdalen and the Sybil Persica.
Consigned with an estimate of £200,000-300,000, it sold for £600,000 to a phone buyer – a high price for the artist at auction.