On Tuesday evening, a 17th century painting by the enigmatic French baroque painter Georges de la Tour sold at German auction house Lempertz for a record €4.3 million with buyer’s fees ($5.2 million). It hammered at the low end of its €3 million-€4m estimate.
A Girl Blowing on a Brazier (La Fillette au braisier), painted from 1646-48, came to the Cologne-based auction house from the collection of the late Germania airline founder Hinrich Bischoff, who purchased the work at Christie’s London more than four decades ago in 1975 for £17,850. Before that, it was in the hands of New York collector Spencer Samuels, who purchased the work at Sotheby’s London in 1968 for £25,000.
Despite the artist’s wide-spread recognition during his lifetime and whose artistic output has been associated with Caravaggism, little is known of the artist’s full career beyond that he was active in Lunéville. Best known for his austere and intimate night scenes, only 48 paintings by the artist are known by scholars. The present work, a key example of the artist’s late period— de la Tour developed the motif of a young figure in warm light in the 1630s— is believed to be the last candlelight nocturne privately-owned. All others reside in museum collections.
Widely exhibited, A Girl Blowing on a Brazier was last featured at a show dedicated to the artist in 2016 at the Prado Museum in Madrid. The sale also follows a major museum show devoted to de La Tour staged in February this year at the Palazzo Reale in Milan.
The last de la Tour painting to surface at auction was more than a decade ago when the painter’s Saint James sold at Sotheby’s New York for $3.2 million to an American collector. The Lempertz sale moved the artist’s record up from the previous auction milestone set in 1991 when de la Tour’s A Blind Hurdy-Gurdy Player sold at Christie’s London for £1.8 million ($3.4 million) with buyer’s fees.
Twenty-two lots sold from the Bischoff collection made a collective €7.9 million ($9.6 million). Elsewhere in the old masters sale, a small-scale canvas depicting the Virgin Mar by 16th century Antwerp painter, Quinten Massys, sold for €1.6 million with buyer’s fees ($1.93 million ), well over the €500,000 to €700,000 estimate and setting a new record for the artist. Dutch master Marinus van Reymerswale’s The money-lender from the 16th century sold for €325,000 ($392,746) meeting its high estimate.