One of the misconceptions of the Old Master market is that there are neither buyers nor sellers and the market has all but dried up unless a major trophy work comes on the market. This month’s London sales were dominated by a Turner that made the second highest price ever for an Old Master work. But even with that number, the sales seemed pale compared to Contemporary art.
More to the point in the current auction house climate, Sotheby’s gets little credit for having overshadowed Christie’s in this market for the best part of the century. One issue with Old Master works may simply be the disconnect between current ideas about society and culture—as well as a premium placed on the future over the past—that makes Old Master paintings remote.
Colin Gleadell points out in his Artnet news column that the “middle” of the Old Master market saw an injection of Asian and Russian money this month even within the context of economic turmoil in both markets. Russian buying was more visible to Gleadell at Christie’s:
- The most notable record was the £866,500 $1.5 million given by a Russian phone bidder for Hendrick Bloemaert’s An Allegory of Winter against a £300,000 low estimate and underbidding from the dealer Johnny Van Haeften, who had paid £311,500 $451,057 for the painting when it was last at auction, at Sotheby’s London in 2000. Demonstrating the polarities of taste among collectors, other purchases by Russian buyers included religious paintings and a pink fleshed Venus and Cupid by François Boucher.
But still had an impact at Sotheby’s:
- Jan Cossiers’s The Parable of the Prodigal Son, which sold to a Russian buyer for £662,500 ($1 million) against a £100,000 low estimate
And the lone Chinese buyer was seen at Christie’s:
- Pieter the Younger’s Rubensian A Country Brawl, provided a rare sighting of a Chinese buyer at an Old Master sale when it sold for £842,500 ($1.3 million) against a £700,000 low estimate.