Colin Gleadell says that the talk of the Old Master market is the influx of new buyers from around the world. There has long been the complaint that too much money and attention was going to Contemporary art, yet in one quick cycle of sales this last month we’ve seen strong price performance for a broad range of works. Here’s Gleadell’s take on the London Old Master sales at
one from China targeted studio works (that is, paintings that could have been by a studio assistant) by brand-name artists Rubens and Rembrandt. Russian buyers acquired stylised versions of Pieter Brueghel II’s The Bird Trap and The Payment of Tithes in the £1 million range, as well as paying a record £746,500 for a similarly styled painting, St George’s Day by Marten van Cleve. Also something of a surprise in this new world order was that a small but charming portrait of a young boy by Joshua Reynolds quadrupled its estimate to sell for £602,500 to a South American buyer.
Alex Bell of Sotheby’s likened the new buyers at his sale to the Grand Tour collectors of 300 years ago, except that they shop on New Bond Street. There were twice as many Asian bidders for Old Masters as there were five years ago, he said. One tried to claim a pair of Venetian views by Canaletto, his top lot at £9.6 million.
About one-third of lots were sought after by Russian buyers including religious paintings by Spanish artists and by the German Renaissance artist, Lucas Cranach, as well as a Rubens portrait, which was driven to a five times estimate £3.2 million. In 2003, the painting had sold for just £12,000 as a “circle of Rubens” painting at Christie’s in Paris. Since then, not only has the painting been firmly reattributed, but another painting, thought to be by Velázquez, has been traced underneath via X-ray. There was also a Russian buyer for the pre-Raphaelite painting A Christmas Carol, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, from the Leverhulme collection, which sold for a record £4.6 million.
Master of surprise: how £15,000 became £5.1m (Telegraph)