There’s been a lot of speculation since last week’s impressive Old Master Evening sale at Christie’s not only took in £65m, well in excess of recent sales and dominating the competition after a long run of also-ran events, about the buyer of the £44.8m Rubens because the Christie’s specialist handling the bidding was Francis Outred who heads London’s Contemporary department.
The auction houses are very good at disguising bidders who want to be disguised by routing their bids through a specialist known to work with clients from a particular collecting area or clients from a specific region or with unique language needs. So it is always worth taking speculation based upon bid-spotting with some skepticism.
Colin Gleadell takes some pains to point to good reasons for going beyond the easy tell on the Evening’s top lot. Because it turns out two different trends might have converged in that sale. The first trend is the presence of Russian buyers in the Old Master market. The second is the long hoped-for migration of Contemporary buyers to Old Masters recognizing the price disparity.
Because Francis Outred also bid on five Brueghel works (sold as two different lots,) Gleadell makes the case that Russian buyers are leading the way from Contemporary art into Old Masters. Along with the Rubens, Outred’s client bought another £7m in Brueghels that bring his total purchase to £51m out of the £65m sale total or 78% of the sale’s value.
And Gleadell’s guess is that the buyer is Roman Abramovich who may be building a museum in St. Petersberg:
The first example was a rare complete set of the artist’s Four Seasons. One telephone bidder from Christie’s, known to bid for Russian buyers, was in contention for this as it reached £5 million, but it finally fell, unexpectedly, to a bid from Francis Outred, Christie’s head of contemporary art, who has never bid in an Old Master sale before, and whose client paid £6.5 million for the set.
This was clearly an example of what the salerooms call cross-over buying, where a collector specialising in one discipline becomes active in another. The same bidder then went on to outbid another Russian phone bidder to buy a second Brueghel, a much less rare, but typically composed Payment of Tithes, above estimate for £506,500. Not only was Outred’s client probably a contemporary art collector, but was also quite likely a Russian.