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Le Roy minute dial – £1.5m at Christie’s.

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Christie’s dedicated auction, Masterpieces from a Rothschild Collection, on July 4 totalled £23.8m (including premium) with 51 lots sold.

Plenty of good old-fashioned saleroom drama – and a top price of £4m for the 1648 genre scene Le déjeuner au jambon by David Teniers the Younger – emerged as many examples of le goût Rothschild attracted multiple bidders.

These included a mechanical minute dial by Julien Le Roy (1686-1759) engraved with the arms of Louis XV estimated at £60,000-80,000 but knocked down at £1.5m.

A suite of Louis XV ormolu mounted cabinets by Bernard III van Risenburgh c.1763-70 incorporating late 17th century Japanese lacquer panels was almost cer tainly that commissioned for Armand-Frédéric-Ernest Nogaret (1734-1806), secrétaire du Roi and trésorier to comte d’Artois. They were acquired by Baron Maurice de Rothschild (1881- 1957) in the inter-war period.

At the auction, a pair of encoignures sold at £250,000 while two commodes offered as single lots sold at £1.55m and £1.15m apiece.

The one lot to blot the copybook was a pair of Flemish tortoiseshell, brass and pewter marquetry cabinets commissioned from Henrick Van Soest in Antwerp c.1713 for Philip V of Spain. Estimated at £1.5m- 2.5m, it was passed at £1.2m.

Christie’s Old Masters evening sale of the same day was a slightly slimmer affair, raising a total of £14.9m (including premium). It was led by a Bellotto view of Venice at £2.25m.

Old Masters at Sotheby's

Sotheby’s equivalent sale on July 3 generated a £56.7m total which was the firm’s third highest for an Old Master sale in London and 32% up on the equivalent sale last July.

British pictures played a key role with late works by JMW Turner and Thomas Gainsborough making £7m each, the joint-highest price.

Turner’s mid-1840s Italianate landscape with Walton Bridges offered by a Japanese vendor surpassed a £4m-6m estimate while Gainsborough’s Going To Market, Early Morning of 1777, pitched at up to £9m, was among 11 lots in the sale for which Sotheby’s had arranged ‘irrevocable bids’ from third parties. The vendor had acquired it from Royal Holloway College in 1993.

Another of the lots, reportedly consigned by DFS founder Graham Kirkham, was a rarely available and well-preserved canvas by Johann Liss which sold within estimate at £4.8m to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

The Temptation of Saint Mary Magdalene broke its own auction record for the artist set back in 1994 when the work made £900,000 at Christie’s.

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'The Temptation of Saint Mary Magdalene' by Johann Liss – £4.8m at Sotheby’s.

Earlier in the day, Sotheby’s posted an auction record for a Canaletto drawing when The Presentation of the Doge in S. Marco from a series of 12 monochrome depictions of the Feste Ducali was knocked down within hopes at £2.6m.

George Daniels watch

Among the items at Sotheby’s was one of only 23 pocket watches made by George Daniels (1926-2011) – the 1982 Space Traveller I – that sold for £3m (est: £700,000-1m) as part of the first tranche of the four-part Masterworks of Time collection on July 2.

Displaying solar and sidereal time, equation of time, the phases of the moon and utilising Daniels’ famous independent double-wheel escapement, it was described by its maker as “the kind of watch you would need on your package tour to Mars”.

The price was over 30 times that paid by the vendor 31 years ago at Sotheby’s Geneva and bettered the previous high for an English watch (Daniels’ Space Traveller II sold at Sotheby’s in 2017 for £2.8m).

From the same source – and last sold at Christie’s Geneva in 1986 – a gold, enamel and diamond- set verge watch and original crank key c.1650 by Jehan Cremsdorff of Paris doubled hopes at £1.8m to top Sotheby’s July 3 Treasures sale.

Also sold at Sotheby's last week was a Medieval chess figure believed to be a ‘missing’ piece from the Lewis chessmen. It made £600,000.

Egyptian controversy

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Bust of Tutankhamun – £4m at Christie’s.

Despite demands by the Egyptian ambassador that the sale be delayed and a small protest held outside the King Street saleroom, Christie’s mixed discipline event The Exceptional Sale on July 4 was topped at £4m by an 11in (28cm) c.1333-1323BC brown quartzite bust of Tutankhamun carved with the face of the god Amun.

Egypt had questioned “the legality of trading in these items, the authenticity of documents, and evidence of legal exportation from Egypt”.

However, Christie’s said it has exercised full due diligence and published a 50-year collecting history that suggested the piece had been in Germany in the collection of Prinz Wilhelm von Thurn und Taxis (1919-2004) since the 1960s.

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Bonhams’ top lot of the week was provided by a pair of Roman c.2nd century AD marble statues of Celtic hounds, with some 18th century restorations. Excavated from the ruins of Antoninus Pius’ Laurentine Villa at Torre Paterno c.1795-96 and acquired shortly after by the designer Thomas Hope (1769- 1831), they were last sold at Christie’s in 1917 for 1000 guineas. At Bonhams’ Antiquities auction on July 3 the winning bid was a treble-estimate £660,000.