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While Christie’s does not stage Old Master paintings sales in New York in January, it does still go head-to-head with Sotheby’s for drawings. But the record shows them trailing. In 2019, it was $15 million to $2.7 million in favor of Sotheby’s, and again in 2020, $15.1 million (including a $11.7 million Mantegna) at Sotheby’s compared to $5.4 million at Christie’s.
Last week, Christie’s opened the latest round with a comfortable $3.9 million for a sale that was estimated at $2.3 million- $3.4 million (Prices include the buyer’s premium; estimates do not.)
This included a $724,000 to $1.1 million collection formed by the late Cornelia Bessie, an art book publisher, which sold for $1.5 million. Bessie’s main focus was on 18th century French artists. Topping the bill was a red chalk drawing of a seated young woman by Fragonard which Bessie had been given by her mother, art dealer Kate Schaeffer, in 1982. The gift realised a double estimate $1.1 million. A further 13 Fragonards— all made for Ludovico Ariosto’s epic poem Orlando furioso– were from the collection of American patrons Nina R. and Arthur A. Houghton, Jr. and all sold, mostly above estimate for prices up to $56,253 each. Another top lot from the Bessie collection was crisply colored pastel portrait of Philip Cramer, also a publisher, by Jean-Etienne Liotard, which sold above estimate for $810,000.