The analysis of the Fall 2020 Old Masters auctions at Christie's and Sotheby's is available to AMMpro subscribers. (The first month of AMMpro is free and subscribers are welcome to sign up for the first month and cancel before they are billed.)
A host of museum-caliber names, Cranach, Gentileschi, Van Dyck changed hands at auction this fall. They were among more than 300 Old Master artworks traded at Christie’s and Sotheby’s this October. In total, the main sales of the Old Masters in New York generated $30.6 million. In recent years, the Old Masters market’s figures have lagged compared to the Modern and Contemporary art categories. This shortfall has been attributed to a rarity of masterpieces. A few top works can have a substantial influence on overall totals. Following the financial strains of the coronavirus pandemic, the category got a boost this season with a surge of deaccessioned works from the Brooklyn Museum of Art sold at Christie’s.
The top ten works sold across the October sales accounted for half of the total sales volume, this aligns with the trends seen at the top of the modern and contemporary auction as well. Regarding the overall performance, the total hammer price of the works sold was $24.8 million, falling just below the aggregate low estimated value of $25.8 million, a figure that betrays weak demand against ambitious estimates. 31 percent of the sold lots reached above the high expectation and 29 percent hammered within their estimates; the remaining 40% of lots sold for a price below the expected value—the last figure is almost double that of the modern and contemporary category. This number, and a low 67 percent sell-through rate indicates a high risk for some Old Masters consignors, as non-masterwork objects in the category become more challenging to place with buyers.
October 2020 Old Masters Top 30 Lots
The highest seller of the main Old Masters auctions was the Brooklyn Museum’s Lucas Cranach the Elder’s 16th century portrait of Lucretia. It came to the market after having been in the museum’s permanent holdings for a century, and sold for $4.2 million against an estimate of $1.2 million. The next top seller was Artemisia Gentileschi’s Triumph of Galatea, which made $2.1 million against an estimate of $1 million. The two artists led the category’s market share value, with Cranach making up for 21 percent of the overall sales volume, three times that of Gentileschi’s share of 7 percent. Following a new auction record of €4.8 million ($6.1 million) set at Paris auction house Artcurial, several museum acquisitions and most recently an exhibition devoted to the artist at the National Gallery in London, the female Baroque painter’s market is seeing more traction.
Several of the remaining top lots have recent features in museum exhibitions. The sale of a rediscovered ornately painted Anthony Van Dyck portrait of a 17th century military official brought the artist to the third highest market share overall. The rediscovered painting, which made $2 million against an estimate of $800,000, came to market with a strong provenance, having been recently exhibited at the Palazzo Ducale’s 2018 showcase, “From Titian to Rubens, Masterpieces from Flemish Collections,” in 2018. Similarly, a portrait by Dutch painter and Rembrandt student Govert Flinck, formerly attributed to his teacher, made a top price of $1.5 million, doubling the estimate of $700,000. The piece was featured in an exhibition at the Rembrandt House Museum in Amsterdam in 2017-18. In 2017, Flinck’s auction record moved up to $10.3 million at Christie’s New York for the sale of another portrait titled An old man at a casement, given a pre-sale estimate of $2 million-$3 million. Northern Mannerist Dutch painter, Pieter Aertsen‘s wedding scene sold for $1 million against an estimate of $400,000. That work spent decades in the collection of Baron van Zuylen van Nijvelt van de Haar at the historic Kasteel de Haar estate in Utrecht.
October 2020 Old Masters Top Market Share
In total, six Old Masters works reached above $1 million across the two houses, with only one, Cranach’s Lamentation, coming up shy of its high estimate. Among the top six-figure priced lot, high performers included Girorgio Di Giovanni’s 16th century painting Flight of Cloelia, formerly in the collection of Cardinal Antonio Barberini in the mid-17th century and acquired by the seller from London old masters dealer Daniel Katz. A similar panel is by Giorgio di Giovanni resides at the Uffizi in Florence. The provenance and museum comparable contributed to the work selling for $475,000, more than two times the estimate of $200,000. Jusepe de Ribera’s 17th century painting of Saint Paul holding a book in his left, and sword in his right hammered at $320,000 just about the high estimate. That work also has a notable museum comparable: a three-quarter-length canvas of the saint made in the same year, which resides in the Hispanic Society of America in New York. The work has depreciated in value by 4.2% since its last sale in March 2007 at Swiss auction house Koller, where the seller purchased it for CHF 507,300 ($417,496).
October 2020 Old Masters Top 30 Lots
Many of the works in the old masters market that far outperformed their low estimates were lower-priced objects without attribution to a specific artist. The implication is that at least two bidders think they see something in these works. The chart below represents works from the two main Old Masters auction (excluding the online results at Christie’s), demonstrating the top hammer performances among the most valuable offerings across Christie’s and Sotheby’s. At Christie’s, a 14th century floral Franco-Flemish tapestry depicting a stag and unicorn hammered at $750,000, 15 times its low estimate, selling for $930,000 with buyer’s premium. The work is similar to other examples from a series of seven in the “Unicorn Tapestries” collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art Cloisters donated by John D. Rockefeller. Notably, the item was sold from the estate of Paul W. Doll Jr, a former New York stockbroker, medieval art collector and noted recluse, who purchased the piece from Renaissance art expert Baron Jean Germain Léon Cassel van Doorn. The reappearance of Doll’s collection at auction after half a century out of public view drew competitive bidding. Another item from the estate, a parcel-gilt religious enamel diptych sold for $131,250 against and estimate of $50,000-$80,000. Elsewhere among the results, the Cranach Lucretia and a Netherlandish school depiction of the Virgin and child each from the Brooklyn museum’s collection achieved some of the highest hammer ratios of the several hundred lots. Here, long holding periods in reputable museum and single-owner collections contributed to the strong results.
At other points in the auctions, some works that performed best against their pre-sale estimates came to the market for the first time and have recent attributions by scholars. A gold-ground triptych of the Madonna recently attributed to the Master of the Lazzaroni Madonna and never before sold on the market sold for $112,500 against an estimate of $40,000. It’s closest comparable is Madonna and Child enthroned with Saints in the Cini collection in Venice. The solid academic profile brought in competitive bids for the work.
October 2020 Old Masters Top Hammer Ratio
*This analysis combines data from three Old Masters live and online sales held at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York in October 2020