Christie’s and Sotheby’s Old Masters Auctions in London Show Resilience

December 5th, 2008

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Portrait of Bindo Altoviti, by Girolamo da Carpi, via Sotheby’s; Sold for £3.065 million.

Bucking the months-long trend of disappointing auction results, this week’s Old Masters auctions in London (Christie’s on December 2nd and
Sotheby’s on Dec. 3) managed to sell close to the higher end of their expected price range–at least for one auction house.

Sotheby’s Old Masters painting sale raised  £13.3 million against a pre-sale estimate range of  £9.5 to £13.5 million.  Seven new artist records were set, as 61.5% of the offerings were sold by lot, and 71.7% sold by value. A portrait of Bindo Altoviti, a Florentine banker, fetched  just over £3 million compared to top end estimates of  £300,000. The portrait was painted on marble during the Italian renaissance, depicting one of its major business and arts figures, and has been passed down since the late 18th century within a Swiss collector family.  The top lot was easily A Young Woman in a Red Jacket Feeding a Parrot by Frans van Mieris the Elder, which was sold for £3.6 million versus top end estimates of £700,000. Another high-priced lot that beat its estimate was a rare coastal landscape piece by Jan Brueghel the Elder, which went for £1.07 million pounds against top end estimates of £700,000.

Observers attribute the success of the Old Masters auctions to the fact that the genre did not see the astronomical price appreciation that became common in more contemporary art markets. Additionally, Sotheby’s priced the lots less aggressively than Christie’s, its counterpart, which saw less dazzling results–detailed after the jump.  Aggressive estimates have been blamed for the dismal Russian art auctions last week in London, as covered previously in ArtObserved.

Catalogue: Sotheby’s Old Masters Evening Sale
Can Old Masters Weather the Economic Storm? [Wall Street Journal]
Banker Portrait Fetches 15 Times Forecast at London Art Auction [Bloomberg]
Painting Found in Attic Fetches $4.2 Million in Old-Master Test [Bloomberg]
Old Master Paintings Realise GBP13,334,000 at Sotheby’s [ArtDaily]
Tiepolo Masterpiece – Previously Hidden in the Attic of a Chateau in France – Sells for $4,227,780 [ArtDaily]
Old Masters Show the Market Up [ArtMarketMonitor]
Old master sales show resilience amid art weakness [Reuters]

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A Young Woman in a Red Jacket Feeding a Parrot by Frans van Mieris the Elder, via Sotheby’s; sold for £3.6 million

While Christie’s Old Masters auctions raised £20.1 million–more money in absolute terms than Sotheby’s–it failed to meet the lower end of expectations.  Its most successful lot was Giambattista Tiepolo’s Portrait of a Lady as Flora, believed to have been commissioned by Empress Elizabeth of Russia, which sold for £2.8 million against high end estimates of £900,000. The piece’s success is made all the more notable by the fact that it was recently found in an attic. The largest lot, Canaletto’s The Grand Canal, Venice, sold within estimates for £3.8 million. Overall, this auction was smaller by lots but its results paled when compared with last winter’s Old Masters offering from the auction. Nevertheless, Christie’s stands by its results, which it considers robust in spite of the circumstances. “This week’s auctions of old masters pictures at Christie’s in London have realised 20.1 million pounds, and saw committed bidding from international collectors, dealers and institutions,” said Richard Knight, international director of Christie’s old master department, via Reuters.

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Lady as Flora, by Giambattista Tiepolo, via Bloomberg; sold for £2.8 million

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Coastal landscape by Jan Brueghel the Elder, via Sotheby’s; sold for £1.07 million

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Kermesse of Saint George, by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, via Sotheby’s; failed to sell, price range £2.5 to £3.5 million

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Still Life by Juan de Arellano, via Sotheby’s