The Old Master Sales last week in London totaled £58m between Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams. According to Colin Gleadell, that is nearly 50% above the previous year’s tally which may not put the sales in historical high levels but certainly shows there’s a new breeze of interest in these paintings.
Bendor Grosvenor, who makes a speciality of ferreting out lost works, points to the presence of a number of re-discoveries as one of the sources of excitement in these sales. Chief among them was a portrait of Petronella Buysonce accepted as a Rembrandt, then demoted in 1989 by the Rembrandt Research Project which believed it it was painted by a studio assistant despite being one of a pair of portraits along with her husband:
Notwithstanding the sheer oddness of this conclusion (why would Rembrandt paint only one-half of a commissioned pair, and who was this gifted mystery assistant?), the RRP spoke with Olympian authority, and thereafter Petronella’s status (and, of course, value) were seriously in doubt. Happily, the early opinions of the RRP are now regularly revisited, and Christie’s justly included Petronella in its sale, fully catalogued as a Rembrandt. She carried an inevitably cautious estimate of around £1.5m-£2.5m but sold for £3.4m (with fees). As Rembrandts go, that’s a bargain.
Gleadell identifies the buyer as Johnny van Haeften, the former dealer who now advises clients, on behalf of the Leiden Collection which has quite a few Rembrandts already. More than most, van Haeften would know a real bargain.
Before we get too caught up in the idea that Old Masters are a bull market, Gleadell reminds us that some paintings were sold at steep losses:
A full-length, 1636 portrait of the Countess of Carnarvon by Anthony van Dyck, which was bought in 2010 by the late Robert de Balkany for £1.6 million, sold to a happy British collector at Sotheby’s for a much reduced £585,000.
Sometimes the price differential was very subject specific. Gleadell points to a Constable that out-performed:
A John Constable oil sketch for his 1817 painting The Opening of Waterloo Bridge, which is owned by the Tate, had been discovered under the stairs of a London house whose owners had no knowledge of its authorship. Estimated at £1 million, it sold for £2.3 million to the London dealer/collector Daniel Katz.
But Grosvenor, identifies the seller as French collector Camille Groult and compares its success to the lackluster interest in a seemingly more valuable work:
The strong price can be compared with another rehabilitated Constable at Sotheby’s, an earlier and visually less exciting (and less modern) view of Dedham Vale with the River Stour in Flood (around 1814-17). This carried a higher estimate of around £2m-£3m but was bought with a significantly lowered reserve, making £1.8m (with fees).
Sometimes the price was determined entirely by the needs and desires of the buyer, as Gleadell points out here:
A highlight at Christie’s was a masterpiece of northern European mannerism by Bartholomeus Spranger. The painting had been looted by the Nazis, and was returned last month to the victim’s descendants. The painting was chased by New York dealer Nicholas Hall, but sold for six times its estimate to a Belgian collector, who is repatriating his country’s cultural history and spent £4.5 million at the sale on artists born and working in Antwerp.
Re-discoveries lead London Old Master auctions (The Art Newspaper)
The Leonardo effect: Old Masters are back en vogue with a record Joseph Wright sale the latest high spot (Telegraph)