The highlight of Sotheby’s Old Master and British works on paper sale on July 4 was Lake of Lucerne from Brunnen, a late watercolour by JMW Turner (1775-1851). It was commissioned by Elhanan Bicknell as a companion piece to Blue Rigi, which fetched £5.2m at Christie’s in 2006, still a record for a Turner watercolour. Estimated at £1.2m- 1.8m, it sold at £1.7m to a private buyer.

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Sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams raised a combined £91.1m (including premium) with one day sale still to finish as ATG went to press. This figure was £118.5m in 2017 and £123.2m in 2016.

The top lot of the series was a portrait of a Venetian nobleman by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) which sold at Sotheby’s on July 4 at £4.6m. Unseen on the market since it was acquired by the Dutch collector Hans Wetzlar in the 1950s, it was one of 16 works exhibited before the auction at Victoria Beckham’s Dover Street fashion store. According to Sotheby’s, she described it as “her favourite Old Master painting”.

The auctioneers had arranged an ‘irrevocable bid’ in advance of the sale and, on the night, it drew a two-way phone battle and was knocked down at £4.6m.

Carracci returns

Christie’s evening sale the following night was also topped by a portrait. The painting of Italian nobleman Carlo Alberto Rati Opizzoni by Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619) was pursued by three bidders against a £3.5m-5m estimate before it sold on the phone at £4.3m.

It represented a healthy return for the vendor, who had purchased it at Sotheby’s New York in 2005 for $1.81m (£961,700) including premium.

Another work sold for a significant profit at the same sale was Holy Family by Gerard David (c.1460-1523).

It had been in a family collection for more than a century before it surfaced at Christie’s New York in 2003, where it sold for $999,500 including premium.

Having since had its tonal qualities revealed after the removal of surface dirt, yellowed varnish and old retouching, it prompted prolonged competition between three phone bidders. It was eventually knocked down at £4.1m.

Bonhams’ Old Master sale on July 4 was led by an Anglo-Dutch portrait of Sir Francis Drake sold just below hopes at £290,000.

Physical similarities to other known portraits of the famous navigator, including the presence of a facial wart, had helped the vendor to identify the subject.