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A village scene by Pieter Bruegel the younger sold for €1.02m (£927,270) at Mathais-Bournazel & Oger-Blanchet.

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While the first weeks of the year are traditionally quiet on the auction front in Europe, France has been relatively active over the past month.

The Drouot auction centre reopened after the Christmas break on January 16 and over the course of the next fortnight held 37 auctions totalling €15.6m including premium. Individual results included a number of French institutional purchases with museums securing seven items via the right of pre-emption.

These sales (and others held outside the capital) included a number of strong Old Masters results for works by Flemish, Dutch and Italian artists.

Pictured and reviewed here is a selection of hammer highlights across several different categories from these first French auctions of the year.

Old Master paintings

A six-figure price was achieved for a work by Pieter Brueghel the younger (1564-1636) on January 29 in a sale at Drouot held by Mathais-Bournazel & Oger-Blanchet (24% buyer’s premium).

The 23 x 17in (58.5 x 43cm) signed oil on oak panel (pictured top), dated to c.1616, which had been in a Brussels family since 1914, depicted a group of villagers eating meal al fresco. It sold for €1.02m (£927,270), double the lower end of its €500,000-700,000 estimate.

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This portrait of a hunter with his dogs was pre-empted for €290,000 (£263,635) by the Musée de la Chasse at Mathais-Bournazel & Oger-Blanchet.

The same sale chalked up a multiple-estimate price for a portrait of a huntsman reclining with his gun and dogs against the trunk of a large tree that was the combined work of Jean Daret and Nicasius Bernaerts, two artists of Flemish origin.

The 5ft 10in x 4ft 3in (1.8 x 1.3m) oil on canvas is signed and dated 1661. The work has found a suitable new home at the Musée de la Chasse in Paris which secured the painting by right of pre-emption for €290,000 (£263,635).

Pupil of Rembrandt

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'Pharoah returning Sarah to Abraham' by Gebrand van den Eeckhout, sold for €120,000, (£109,090) at Ivoire Nantes.

In Nantes on January 26 the local auction house of Couton Veyrac Jamault (24% buyer’s premium including VAT), part of the Ivoire group, sold a biblical Old Testament subject painted by the 17th century Dutch artist Gebrand van den Eeckhout that had been discovered in a château in Poitou by Bertrand Coton.

Van den Eeckhout (1621-74) was a pupil of Rembrandt from the late 1630s to 1645 and the master’s influence can clearly be seen in this 4ft 7in x 5ft 8in (1.4 x.1.74m) oil on canvas of Pharoah returning Sara to her husband Abraham.

Signed and dated G.V. Eeckbout. fecit./A.1669 on the second step of the platform where the Pharoah stands, the painting was contested by several overseas bidders before finally selling to an English buyer against Swiss underbidding for €120,000 (£109,090), double the lower estimate.

Unpublished works

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'Cleopatra' by Guido Reni, sold by Marc Labarbe for €95,000 (£86,365).

At the end of January two unpublished works painted by 17th century Italian artists went under the hammer in Paris and Toulouse. Both had been authenticated by the Parisian firm of Old Master experts Cabinet Turquin.

The Toulouse painting was a portrait of Cleopatra by the Bolognese artist Guido Reni (1575-1642) which auctioneer Marc Labarbe (19% buyer’s premium) sold within estimate at €95,000 (£86,365) on January 28. The 3ft 2in x 2ft 10in (99 x 88.5cm) oil on canvas was a late work by Reni (after 1640) and shows the Egyptian Queen at the moment just before her death.

It was a popular subject with the artist: seven examples are known, this one being a more stripped down variant of a composition now in the Pitti Palace in Florence.

Vermiglio's mystic marriage

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Giuseppe Vermiglio’s Sacra Conversatione – €165,000 (£150,000) at Ader. Image: Sébert

In Paris the following day a counter-Reformation work by the northern Italian, Piedmontese, artist Guiseppe Vermiglio came up for sale at Ader (20% buyer’s premium).

It depicts what is known as the Mystic Marriage of St Catherine which shows her with the Virgin and Child receiving a ring from the baby with saints Agatha and John the Baptist.

All three of the saints are identified by their various attributes: a wheel, a palm frond and a lamb. This large work, measuring 5ft 7in x 6ft 5in (1.7 x 1.96m), was probably commissioned by a religious community.

Estimated at €150,000-250,000, it sold for €165,000 (£150,000).

£1 = €1.10