For the last six years the auction house has run its ‘Classic Week’ of sales in April, having shifted its auctions to the spring back in 2016.
Although it is hard to determine how much this affected the amount of money changing hands across the year as a whole, some dealers and collectors regretted not being able to view all the Old Master auctions together in New York at the same time.
Christie’s did not respond to ATG’s questions about whether it will hold a ‘Classic Week’ of sales in April this year or whether it will maintain the January slot for Old Master sales in the calendar. But it seems likely that if the current consignment levels in this category are maintained then the auctions will be repeated in January next year.
Goya portrait pair
For the current series Christie’s was able to offer some notable collections and individual works, some of which it had issued guarantees to secure (as was the case with Sotheby’s).
The top lot of the week at Christie’s was a pair of Francisco de Goya (1746-1828) portraits that sold at its main mixed-owner Old Master sale on January 25.
Dating from 1805, they depicted a mother and daughter from a textile merchant family and marked the beginning of a series of portraits by the artist depicting bourgeois women (as opposed to noble and royal sitters from whom the artist received his primary commissions).
The paintings of Doña María Vicenta Barruso Valdés, seated on a sofa with a lap-dog, and Doña Leonora Antonia Valdés de Barruso (holding a fan), had been acquired from London dealer Agnew’s in 1951. Here they were offered from ‘an important private collection’ but were known to be one of only a smaller number of pairs of portraits by the artist remaining in private hands and held outside Spain.
The lot was estimated at $15m-20m but was the subject to a third-party guarantee. It was knocked down below estimate at $14m (£11.4m). Nevertheless the price was a record for Goya, surpassing the previous high that had stood for 30 years: the £4.5m for a painting of a bullfight sold at Sotheby’s London back in 1992 (source: Artprice).
Among the 76 works from the collection of Jacqui (Jacob) Eli Safra, a descendant of the Safra banking family, which were offered at a separate dedicated auction on the same day was another painting that set a record but drew more competition.
The Marriage of Peleus and Thetis by Gerard de Lairesse (1640-1711) was a major work by the Dutch artist. It featured almost 30 figures in total, all intricately choreographed as if in a theatrical production.
Painted on a large scale, the 5ft 1in x 6ft 3in (1.54 x 1.9m) oil on canvas had been purchased by the vendor at Christie’s London in 1991 when it sold for £95,000.
Although the artist had to abandon painting in c.1690 (his congenital syphilis caused him to go blind and he instead became an art theorist), works by de Lairesse are not uncommon in the saleroom. The previous auction high was for The Adoration of the Shepherds that made €165,000 (£148,620) at Neumeister in Munich, in 2020.
Expectations were even greater for the current picture, however. It was estimated at $400,000-600,000 but, on the day, bidders reacted positively even with this higher pitch and after strong competition it sold at $650,000 (£528,455).
Turner mixed welcome
In terms of the British works on offer at Christie’s, some mixed results came for JMW Turner (1775-1851).
Two watercolours depicting Swiss landscapes in the Safra sale both went under estimate: The Splügen Pass made $800,000 (£650,405) and a picture showing the ruins of Schwanau and the Mythen sold at $480,000 (£390,245).
Meanwhile, a Turner oil painting of Pope’s villa at Twickenham which was offered from a US collection at Christie’s mixed-owner sale made a loss for the vendor.
It had been acquired at Sotheby’s London in July 2008 where it was knocked down at £4.8m. Here it was guided at $4m-6m but got away at $3.8m (£3.09m).
A better result came for a large Thomas Daniell (1749-1840) painting. Views of India by both Daniell and his nephew William have been making increasingly high sums in London of late and so the fact that this picture was offered in a New York Old Master sale reflected the current growth of interest and prices.
The panoramic scene showed the entrance of an excavated Hindu cave temple at Mahabalipuram on the Coromandel Coast. The vendor’s husband received it as a gift in the mid 1990s. The 4 x 6ft (1.22 x 1.8m) oil on canvas drew multiple bidders against a $120,000-180,000 estimate and sold at $850,000 (£691,055), a record for the artist.
It outscored the previous high which had stood since 2016: the £440,000 at Christie’s London for a view of the Gate of Serai at Chandpore.
Christie’s fees: 26/20/14.5% buyer’s premium