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On Tuesday, Christie’s set artist records for new-to-market works during its final old masters evening sale of the year. Live-streamed from its London headquarters, the sale brought in £18.7 million on the hammer or £22.8 million with buyer’s fees ($30.9 million) across 38 lots. That total landed solidly within the pre-sale estimate range of £14 million-£21 million. Led by Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkknänen, the evening sale saw a sell-through rate of 86 percent. That was equivalent to last year’s sale, which had a slightly higher total of £24.2 million made across 44 lots. Three lots were withdrawn before the sale, including Milanese painter Bernadino Luini’s anticipated canvas, The Nativity, with the Journey to Egypt, estimated at £3 million-£5 million.
Three of the works on offer were guaranteed: a Jan Davidsz. de Heem, an Anthony van Dyck and another by Francesco Zaganelli da Cotignola—making up a collective pre-sale estimated value of £4.9 million. Together, the three lots brought in a total of £6.8 million with buyer’s fees, accounting for 30 percent of the sale’s total.
“We’ve been operating in quite a challenging business getting environment over the last season, both in terms of the travel restrictions and the various lockdowns,” said Henry Pettifer, Christie’s head of old masters in London, in a post-sale press conference. Despite the challenges, the old masters category continues to see competitive demand, with the outcome of the sale marking one of the statistical highest for the department.
Around 30 percent of bidding came from the U.S, with the remaining competition from the U.K., Europe and Asia.
Among the top sellers was Antwerp painter Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s banquet still life, rediscovered after two centuries in the same private collection in England. Bidders on the phone with New York’s old master specialist Ben Hall and London’s Henry Pettifer moved the hammer price up to £4.8 million, making the final price £5.8 million with buyer’s fees ($7.7 million). The result marks a new benchmark for the artist, whose last record was set nearly three decades ago when a similar canvas Banquet Still Life with a Lobster (1642) sold at Christie’s in January 1988 to a private collector for $6.6 million.
“The Jan Davidsz de Heem was arguably the most significant northern still-life painting to come onto the market in a generation,” Pettifer said in a statement following the sale.
15th-century Florence painter Domenico Ghirlandaio’s Salvator Mundi, a rediscovered work which came to the market after a deep cleaning, also set a new artist record. Drawing six bidders total, including three represented over the phone by New York specialists, the work eventually hammered at £1.8 million and a final price of £2.2 million ($2.9 million), more than three times the estimate of £300,000. The winning bidder was on the phone with Francois de Poortere, head of Christie’s old masters department in New York. The recently rediscovered work had been in the same family’s collection since 1955 and last sold in 1832 at auction in London for £46. The result moves up the artist’s record past the previous high of $1.9 million paid for The Temptation of Saint Anthony at Sotheby’s London in 2008. “To see that kind of competition for the painting was incredibly encouraging,” said Pettifer of the Ghirlandaio result.
Formerly believed to be lost since its deaccession from the Alte Pinakothek Munich in 1929, The Drummer Boy, a 17th century child genre painting by Dutch painter active in Leiden Frans van Mieris, The Elder went for £1.8 ($2.3 million) against an estimate of £800,000-£1.2 million. Elsewhere in the sale, 17th century Amsterdam painter Paulus Potter’s Landscape with cattle and a woman cleaning a bucket by a stream was among the top seller, although it hammered below the estimate of £2 million, going for £1.6 million ($2.1 million) with buyer’s fees.
Ravenna painter active in the 15th century Francesco Zaganelli da Cotignola’s The Holy Family sold for £640,500 ($853,146) with buyer’s fees, against the 600,000 estimate, likely going to the guarantor. Anthony van Dyck’s guaranteed Adoration of the Shepards from the 17th century sold for £500,000 ($672,000), 33 percent above the low estimate. The work realized a solid return, making 11.5 times its last price of £43,250 the seller paid at Sotheby’s London in December 2012 to acquire the work.
For some old masters sellers, reattributions through scholarly research can lead to high returns. Antwerp painter Joos Van Cleve’s small-scale Portrait of King Christian II of Denmark— a piece which the auctioneer introduced as “jewel-like,” drew competitive bidding eventually going to a client with Henry Pettifer for a hammer price of £380,000 or $475,000 with buyer’s fees ($639,000), above the £300,000 high estimate. The seller purchased the work when it was attributed to a German School painter for €22,500 ($20,000), double the estimate of €10,000 at Vienna-based auction house Dorotheum in April 2015. The sale marks a staggering increase of 3,095 percent in value over the five year holding period.
Meanwhile, another work by 17th century female Dutch painter Rachel Ruysch, known as one of Holland’s top floral painters, outperformed. Ruysch’s floral still life completed in the early 1690s (circa 1691-1694), sold for £412,500 ($555,000), four times the low estimate of £100,000. That price marks a return of 370 percent over nearly two decades since it last achieved £88,000 at Christie’s London in 1992. A portrait of a noble woman by Spanish artist Bartolomé González’s dated 1621, during the period in which the artist served as a court painter to King Philip III of Spain also well surpassed its estimate. Held privately since the early 20th century in a Madrid collection, the work made £237,500, five times its estimate of £50,000 in its market debut.