With the evening sales in particular being somewhat slim affairs, the running total of £45.8m at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams (with one sale still to finish at the time of going to press) compared to £80.3m for the equivalent auctions last year.
Christie’s had the majority of the top lots on offer, with its July 7 evening auction raising £28.1m including premium and 29 of the 35 lots selling (83%).
Four phone bidders chased a large and well-preserved mythological scene by Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553). The Nymph of the Spring was estimated at £6m-8m and sold on top estimate to a phone bidder, making the highest price of the week and setting a record for Cranach at auction.
It came to auction from the collection of Cecil and Hilda Lewis, an art collecting couple who were also major patrons of the V&A and National Gallery. It was acquired privately from Stockholm dealer Verner Amell and was thought to have once been owned by Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (1552-1612) before being looted from Prague Castle by Swedish troops in 1648 and entering the collection of Christina, Queen of Sweden.
The work itself was dated to c.1540 and depicted a seductive figure resting but also came with a cautionary warning via the inscription to the top left ‘Fontis Nympha Sacri Somnvm ne / Rvmpe Gviesco’ (I am the Nymph of the Sacred Spring: Do not disturb my sleep. I am resting).
From the same source was a still life by the elusive Jan Jansz. den Uyl (1595-1639) which is billed as the artist’s “undisputed masterpiece”. Dating from 1633, the painting of a pewter jug and silver tazza on a table was acquired by the Lewis’s at Sotheby’s New York in 1988 where it fetched $2m (£1.11m). This time round it was estimated at £2.5m-3.5m and sold at £2.6m to a phone bidder, again setting an artist’s record.
Further records came for Jacob Van Ruisdael (c.1628-82) when a serenely lit wooded landscape took £2.8m and for Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-1779) when a portrait of Friedrich Christian, Prince of Saxony, was bid to £380,000.
The sale also included a marble figure titled Recumbent Magdalene that had been bought for under £5000 in a garden statuary auction at Sotheby’s Billingshurst in 2002 but had since been reattributed to the great Antonio Canova (1757-1822). It failed to sell against a £5m-8m estimate.
Sotheby’s evening sale on July 6 was affected by the leading lot failing to sell: a marine scene by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) that was pitched at £4m-6m. In the end, the top lot was a small village scene by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (c.1564-1637) which went below estimate at £950,000.
The sale offered only 20 lots of which 18 sold (90%) for a £7.1m total including premium.
Meanwhile, Bonhams’ Old Masters auction on the same day raised a hammer total of £1.39m with 41 sold of the 73 lots sold (56%).
It was led by a rare oil on panel of Adam and Eve by the Master of the Embroidered Foliage which surpassed an estimate of £25,000-30,000 and was knocked down at £640,000 to a European phone bidder.