These included the top price of the sale, for a large and lively painting of Flemish rural life by David Teniers the Younger (1610-90).
The Wine Harvest, a 4ft 8in x 8ft 9in (1.43 x 2.67m) signed oil on canvas, had provenance to the 1st Viscount Melbourne and had hung in the dining room at Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire.
It then passed to his son William (the future Victorian prime minister) and had descended through various branches of the family down to the vendor. It had been unseen in public since 1881.
A colourful vintage narrative scene, it was probably commissioned by the wine-merchant depicted in the centre of the painting with his family. In good original condition despite some very minor loss and restoration, the estimate was set at £3m-5m – a punchy level that may have resulted from higher expectations following the sensational £4m achieved by Le déjeuner au jambon which set a major record for the artist at Christie’s in July 2019. That picture, an oil on copper of a busy interior, had a highly commercial subject and was exceptionally preserved.
Although The Wine Harvest was the most significant work to emerge since then, as well as one of the artist’s three largest works, it did not quite reach the same level, selling to a private collector on low estimate at £3m. The price achieved, however, was still the second highest for Teniers the Younger at auction.
Another work that had been in the same family for generations was a landscape by Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael (1628-82). It had been acquired sometime before 1840 by Andrew Fountaine IV of Narford Hall in Norfolk and had again had descended down to the vendor.
Depicting a cottage and stone bridge under a cloudy sky, it was an evocative representation of the changing light and atmosphere that can be witnessed in the Netherlands at different times of the day.
Estimated at £800,000-1.2m, the 18½in x 2ft 2in (47 x 65cm) signed oil on canvas also sold on low estimate to a collector. The price was within the top 10 for the artist at auction and the highest since December 2018 (source: Artprice by Artmarket).
Making the same sum but drawing more competition was a portrait by Hans Eworth (1515-74), the Antwerp-born artist who emigrated to London (he was first recorded living in Southwark in 1545).
It depicted Joan Thornbury, the wife of Richard Wakeman of Beckford, Gloucestershire, who came from a noted Catholic family and was the nephew of the first Bishop of Gloucester. The vendor had bought it for 12,000 guineas at Christie’s back in July 1967.
The Sotheby’s catalogue stated that the picture “demonstrated the quality and comparative sophistication of Eworth’s work at this period in England and made clear why he was able to sustain a successful career here for almost 30 years”.
The 3ft 1in x 2ft 4in oil on canvas (signed with a monogram) was in a good state despite some minor loss, with the sitter’s face and hands deemed well preserved.
Despite the subject’s austere features, with freshness, condition and quality all in its favour, it drew good bidding against a £400,000-600,000 estimate and sold at £800,000 to a private collector bidding online.
Overall, the evening sale on December 10 was a relatively slim affair with 23 of the 27 lots (85%) sold for a premium-inclusive £10.6m. Sotheby’s, though, will be hoping for a bumper Old Master series in New York this month as its January 28 auction will include a Botticelli estimated ‘in excess of’ $80m and a Rembrandt pitched at $20m-30m.