The Adoration of the Kings, a work now attributed to Rembrandt that sold for £9.5m at Sotheby’s.

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The combined total at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams was largely par for the course, running at £55.8m including fees. This compared to £56.3m posted at the equivalent series last year.

The top lots at Sotheby’s and Christie’s were both paintings by famous names that carried third-party guarantees and, although they netted significant sums, they failed to generate much bidding at the actual events themselves.

Sotheby’s Old Master evening sale on December 6 was led by a small panel painting that had previously sold as ‘circle of Rembrandt’ two years ago at an online sale at Christie’s Amsterdam. Back then it was offered with a €10,000-15,000 estimate and was bid to €860,000 (£731 ,605) including premium.

Rembrandt's Adoration of Kings

The Adoration of the Kings, a work now attributed to Rembrandt that sold for £9.5m at Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s said that The Adoration of the Kings had since had old retouchings and discoloured varnish removed and, following an 18-month research programme, it has now been “widely recognised as a work of great significance in Rembrandt’s early career” and dated to c.1628.

The Sotheby’s catalogue pointed out that the 9½ x 7¼in (25 x 19cm) monochromatic panel painting may well have been conceived as an idea for an etching although Rembrandt never ended up making a printed image of this subject.

Offered with a full attribution and estimated at £10-15m, it was knocked down at £9.5m.

A portrait of a Mughal lady by Francesco Renaldi

A portrait of a Mughal lady by Francesco Renaldi, a record £650,000 at Sotheby’s.

More competition came for a rare portrait of a Mughal lady by Francesco Renaldi (1755- after 1798). Drawing five phone bidders, it surpassed a £300,000-500,000 estimate and was knocked down at £650,000 to a buyer bidding through Sotheby’s New York-based co-chairman of Old Master paintings George Wachter. The price more than tripled the auction record for Renaldi.

Sotheby’s sale was a rather slim affair with just 27 lots and took only 46 minutes to complete. The total on the night was £19.4m including fees with 20 lots sold (74%).

Christie’s Old Masters part 1 sale held the following day raised slightly more at £21.9m from 39 lots, of which 31 sold (80%). It was topped by a pair of Venetian scenes by Canaletto (1697-1768) which depicted the mouth of the Grand Canal and the Doge’s Palace from the Bacino.

The paintings dated from c.1733 and were considered both ‘prime period’ and ‘prime location’ although, measuring 18½in x 2ft 7in (47 x 78cm), they were smaller than some views of the same locations that the artist painted across his career.

The works were previously unpublished but it was thought they were components of a set of four canvases commissioned by Elizabeth Countess of Essex, in whose family they remained until a Christie’s sale in 1777. They were later part of the collection of Donald James Cumberlege Glass (1881-1944) of Ringmer Park, Lewes, a descendant of whom consigned them to Christie’s for the current sale.

Estimated at £8m-12m, two interested parties competed for the lot - a commission bidder against a rival on the phone operating through Francois De Poortere, Christie’s head of the Old Master paint ings department in New York. It was eventually knocked down to the latter at £8.2m.

Elsewhere a strong battle came for unusual work by Michael Sweerts (1618-1664) showing the artist presenting one of his own paintings, ‘The Virgin in Prayer’. It flew over a £400,000-600,000 pitch, taking £1.4m from a bidder in the room.

While the Old Master sale included five Rembrandt prints from the collection of Sam Josefowitz, who died in 2015, a further 70 lots from the same source were sold in dedicated auction staged separately on December 7. Across the two sales, the collection totalled £10.2m including fees with a remarkable 51 record prices for individual subjects.