Banquet still-life by Jan Davidsz de Heem – £4.8m at Christie’s.

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Spirited bidding on individual lots peppered a less-than-stellar overall offering.

Confounded by Covid-19, the sector continues to be affected by ongoing supply issues. The lack of top-end material on offer meant that the £39.2m combined total at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams was the lowest for a December series since 2016.

Nonetheless, the offering had its highlights, with Christie’s having the pickof the consignments. These included a fine banquet still-life by Jan Davidsz de Heem (1606- 84) that led its Old Master evening sale on December 15 and topped the series itself.

The 5ft 1in x 6ft 11in (1.55 x 2.11m) canvas was one of the artist’s largest works from his early Antwerp period – generally regarded as a highpoint in his career.

It was one of four canvases from 1640-43 inspired by the monumental kitchen still-lifes of Frans Snyders.

Its re-emergence here (it had been in the same private English collection since the 19th century) added to the known examples in the Louvre in Paris and the Brussels Municipal Museum, as well another that made $6.6m (£3.7m) at Christie’s New York back in January 1988 and is now in a private collection.

Estimated at £4m-6m, it drew competition from bidders on the phone operating through Christie’s staff in both London and New York, but it was eventually knocked down at £4.8m to art adviser Wentworth Beaumont, who was in the room in King Street.

Christie’s head of Old Master pictures Henry Pettifer said the result, one of six artist’s records at the sale, represented the highest price (in sterling) for any Old Master still-life.

Despite the withdrawal of three works, including a Bernadino Luini estimated at £3m-5m, the auction house was pleased with the sale’s overall performance, with 38 of the 44 lots sold (86%) for a premium-inclusive total of £22.8m.

Sotheby’s Old Master evening sale on December 10 was a slimmer affair, posting a premium-inclusive £10.6m with 23 of the 27 lots (85%) sold, although some consignments may have been held back for the larger sales in New York in January, which will include a Botticelli portrait estimated in excess of $100m.

The auction here was led by The Wine Harvest by David Teniers the Younger (1610-90), sold on low estimate at £3m.

Meanwhile, Bonhams’ Old Master sale on December 17 raised £2.02m from 87 lots and was led by a marine battle scene believed to have once belonged to James Christie (1730-1803). It descended through the family of the founder of Christie’s until 1997.

Attributed to Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707), the painting depicted a ship battling during Third Anglo Dutch War, probably the London at the Battle of the Texel in August 1673. It overshot an estimate of £60,000-80,000 and was knocked down to a phone bidder at £220,000.

More on these Old Master sales in a future issue.