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2010: the best results from Old Masters

[12/07/2010]

2010: the best results from Old Masters  

The price index for Old Masters reached its peak of the decade in October 2008. Thus, like a number of other art segments, it benefited from the auction room euphoria that developed between 2004 and 2008 and then suffered from the meltdown as the economic crisis chased confidence out of the market. However, since the end of 2009 the major works withheld from auctions when the market was weak have started to return.

In fact, it was an Old Masters result that substantially contributed to a generalised return of confidence to the art market: on December 8 2009, a RAPHAEL drawing entitled Head of a muse caused a major sensation when it sold for £26m (more than $42.7m) at Christie’s in London.

Price explosion for Masterpieces
The Old Masters market recovered its splendour in November and December of 2009 with six results above the $10m in London and Peking. Apart from the Raphaëls Head of a muse, there was REMBRANDT VAN RIJN’s, Portrait of a man with arms akimbo ($29.5m), WU Bin’s Eighteen arhats ($22.1m), ZENG Gong’s letter leaf ($14.2m), Domenico ZAMPIERI’s Saint John the Evangelist ($13,4m) and Anthonius VAN DYCK’s Self Portrait ($12.1m).
Although the results during 2010 have not climbed so high, the masterpieces sold in January, April and July give us an idea of the temperature of the market with exceptional works occasionally generating results.
For example, at the New York sales in January 2010 there were five majors results for Old Master works including a world record for Francisco DE ZURBARAN. Sotheby’s sold a gracious full-length Saint Dorothy for $3.7m (28 January), almost doubling the result obtained for this work in 1998 (Christie’s, New York, 29 January, $1.9m). At Sotheby’s again, the Bernardo BELLOTTO diptych, The piazetta, Venice/The quay of the Dogana generated more than $1.4m above its high estimate for a winning result of $3.4m and Salomon VAN RUYSDAEL’s sunlit landscape, A River View with the Town of Weesp, tripled its estimate when it fetched $2.9m. This exceptional result is now Salomon van RUYSDAEL’s second best; his auction record was generated by another landscape, An Extensive River Landscape, which generated the equivalent of $3.5m in 1997The previous evening, Christie’s scored another record with a work by Gaetano GANDOLFI’s from a private American collection entitled Diana and Callisto which generated $3.6m vs an initial estimate of $800,000$ to $1.2m! Even more spectacular was the resale of a Noah’s Ark by Jan II BRUEGHEL which fetched $2.5m under the hammer at Christie’s on 27 January compared with just $912,000 on 7 December 1991 in Monaco (Christie’s, L’Entrée des Animaux dans l’Arche de Noé).
In April, two strong results were recorded in Hong Kong and Vienna: the first was for a monumental historical piece, The Kangxi Emperor’s Nan Xun Tu, No.6: Visit to Mount Jinshan (68 x 362cm), by the Chinese master WANG Hui which fetched ten times its estimated price range. However, at HKD 32m (approx. $4.1m) – a new record for the artist – that result was still a long way behind the $22.1m record for Chinese Art generated by Wu Bin’s Eighteen arhats at Poly International Auction on 22 November 2009.
The second was a for major painting by Frans II FRANCKEN on the theme of vice and virtue which fetched a record €6.1m (approx. $8.2m) – more than ten times its initial estimate – in Vienna on 21 April. The artist’s previous record stood at $1.2m for Picture Gallery with a Man of Science making Measurements on a Globe (Christie’s London, 17 December 1999).
There were fewer major surprises at the June and July sales, but there were good results for Pieter II BRUEGHEL in New York and Paris. His allegorical fresco on the theme of autumn doubled its forecasts on 9 June with a winning bid of $720,000 (Autumn: An allegory of one of the Four Seasons, Christie’s) and two weeks later his Le paiement de la dîme was expensively acquired for €670,000 ($823,000) at Christie’s Paris. In 2006, the same work fetched €400,000 (approx. $505,000). A few days later in Paris, an oil on canvas by Gaspare TRAVERSI entitled La rixe de jeu (that had been stored in a cupboard for 60 years) generated a superb result: the final bid of €900,000 ($1.1m) on 22 June 2010 at Sotheby’s set a new auction record for the artist and was 9x higher than the auctioneer’s estimated price range.

Calmer London sales in July
As expected, the winning trio of the Christie’s sale of 6 July 2010 consisted of Peter Paul RUBENS, GUERCINO (Guercino) and Georg PENCZ. The results, however, were only just satisfactory with hammer prices below or equal to the low pre-sales estimates. The superb Portrait of a commander by Rubens, presented for sale by the family of Princess Diana, fetched £8m ($12.1m) and the Georg Pencz’s Portrait de Sigismund Baldinger sold for £5m ($7.5m).
As for Giovanni Francesco Barbieri’s le roi David , it set a new record for the artist at £4.6m despite falling £400,000 short of the low estimate.
The following day, Sotheby’s Old Master & British pictures sale dispersed notably two paintings by Pieter Brueghel the Younger: The Kermesse of Saint George (£2.2m) and The Outdoor Wedding Feast (£1.4m), one by Jan I BRUEGHEL: Village Landscape with Horses (£1.4m) as well as a superb landscape by Isaac Jansz. VAN OSTADE (£1.6m, Frozen River Landscape with aWagonner halted at an Inn and a Horse … (1644)). But the real star of the sale was a 19th century work: Joseph Mallord William TURNER’s Modern Rome – Campo Vaccino. Presented for sale by the family of Archibald Rosebery, the work soared above its pre-sale estimate of £12-18 million and fetched £26.5 million.

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