Changing Tastes and Hunches Drive NY Old Master Sales

Il Gaetano, Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni ($1.5-2.5m) $7.58m
Il Gaetano, Portrait of Jacopo Boncompagni ($1.5-2.5m) $7.58m

Colin Gleadell picks apart the bidding at New York’s Old Master sales beginning with this Renaissance portrait:

As the bidding rose above the $2.5 million estimate, the auctioneer carefully read out the equivalent price in roubles to a hesitant telephone bidder before knocking it down for a record $7.6 million. Nicholas Hall of Christie’s, who led the sale, says the Pulzone exemplifies how past images of power appeal to the new elite. Hall also said all the top lots at Christie’s were bought by buyers known to be active in other areas simply buying the best that is available, whatever the art historical category. […] Russian buyers had a greater influence on results for more secular 18th-century paintings. At Christie’s they targeted a gentle interior by Chardin at a record $4 million, and views of Rome by Panini, while at Sotheby’s they spurred a new record $2.1 million for the rococo fantasies of François Boucher.

Gleadell also found a new taste in Old Master works driving the sales at Sotheby’s:

At Sotheby’s, Christopher Apostle confirmed that religious pictures were attracting demand again, that modern art collectors were active in the Old Master market, and that buyers were looking for strong images in very good condition. A stream of gold ground altar paintings, which the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York was selling, all found buyers. These paintings were hard to sell 25 years ago, says Apostle, but now there is a deep pool of buyers.

As with religious paintings, there has also been a shift in taste in favour of 18th-century rococo and neo-classical painting, says Apostle. His top lot, for example, was a mythological painting of Susanna and the Elders, charged with colour and incident, by Pompeo Batoni, an artist better-known for his grand portraits of British tourists in 18th-century Rome. In 1991 the painting had been offered unsuccessfully at auction for £3 million and was bought subsequently by the Swiss investor Jacob Eli Safra. Now with an unaggressive $6 million estimate, Sotheby’s sold it for Safra for a record $11.4 million.

Meanwhile, The Art Newspaper‘s Paul Jeromack wonders what the buyer of downgraded Rubens is really thinking given its history at the Met:

Among the 16 Old Master pictures deacessioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art at Sotheby’s sale on 31 January was a grimy panelPortrait of a Young Girl, Possibly Clara Serena Rubens (1611-1623). Donated to the Met in 1960 (as an autograph Rubens portrait of his daughter) it was downgraded by Julius Held, the leading authority on the artist as “not by Rubens” and banished to storage. It was published as “Copy after Rubens, possibly XVII Century” in Walter Liedtke’s 1984 catalogue of the Met’s Flemish paintings, which noted that the picture “strongly resembles the younger subject of a similarly informal portrait” in the Liechtenstein collection. By comparison, the Met’s version has a “somewhat inconsistent execution. The drapery, for example, is less fluidly described than the hair, and the modeling of the head, although generally convincing, is oddly unsuccessful in the shadowy area to the right.” Estimated at $20,000-$30,000, it sold to an anonymous bidder for $626,500 with premium.

Renaissance Art Makes a Comeback (Telegraph)

Surprising records set at New York’s Old Master sales (The Art Newspaper)