Sotheby’s London edition of its first Mid-season online Old Masters sale which closed on May 7th saw strong results with a 87% sell-through rate, achieving a total of £3.4 million ($4.2 million) and doubling its pre-sale low estimate of £1.5 million. The sale came on the heels of another old masters auction from the collection consignment of dealer Rafael Valles, which realised £1.6 million ($2 million) and sold 98% of the lots on offer. The auction sustained high interest across a varied 193 lots, which ranged vastly in both scale and imagery. Featuring works of Renaissance religious iconography to depictions of 17th century European nobility, key works among the offerings sourced from storied international collections yielded a strong performance.
Leading the successful sale was a large-scale oil on panel with Milanese 15th Century painter Bernardo Zenale’s Saint John the Baptist Standing in a Landscape collected a total of 35 bids before it sold for £225,000 ($279,900) going for more than 10 times its pre-sale estimate of £20,000-30,000 and establishing a new auction record for the artist.
Another record was set with a rare work completed by early female Renaissance artist and nun, Orsola Maddalena Cacciaset’s bird and flora still life painting reaching £212,500 ($264,350), surpassing the pre-sale low estimate of £10,000 by 20 times and garnering a high total of 49 bids. A work of byzantine influence depicting religious icons Christ and Madonna titled Mater Dolorosa; Christ as the Man of Sorrows by a follower of Italian painter, Simon Marmion saw a total of 19 bids before reaching its selling price of £100,000 ($123,367) at double its highest estimate of £50,000.
Elsewhere in the auction, a selection of seven works from the collection of the Earl of Clarendon, a prominent English statesman, formerly exhibited on long-term loan at U.K. Parliament’s Palace of Westminster saw a high level of bidding with Cornelius Johnson’s portrait of Thomas, 1st Baron Coventry going for almost three times its pre-sale estimates of £30,000, ultimately realizing a selling price of £87,500. Two works After Van Dyck, A Portrait of Philip Herbert and Portrait of Algernon Percym far exceeded their estimates, achieving £87,500 ($108,850) and £68,750 ($85,525), both slated with pre-sale low estimate between 10,000-£20,000.
Among the works seeing the most competition among bidders was a group of portrait miniatures from the collection of late Dr. Erika Pohl- Ströher, a German business executive and heiress who amassed one of the leading old master miniatures collection in the world. These works slated with low estimates in the four figure range far exceeded expectations, surpassing the groupings pre-sale estimate of £93,100 by five times and achieving £508,250 ($632,263). The 72 small works saw an almost perfect sell-through rate, with only one works failing to find a buyer. One of the highest sellers of the group was a 19th century miniature depicting an infant in Portrait of Edward Barr Dudding (1804-1822), in the guise of Hercules which collected 57 bids before realizing a selling price of £47,500 at more than 47 times its estimate of £1,000. A total of 8 bidders competed from a 17th century portrait miniature of a gentleman by a Flemish school painter, which sold for £18,750, at more than over 23 times its high estimate of £800.
The success of the mid-season Old Masters online auction is reflective of Sotheby’s continuously expanding digital offerings as live auctions remain closed. In April, the firm reportedly grossed a total of $50 million through more than 30 online sales offered in 2020. In tandem with a show of healthy bidding sustained across the sale’s week-long run, the high results were driven by active competition—with an average of three bidders to an item, 27% of whom were new bidders with Sotheby’s.