Friday, 1 February 2013

Old Master Sales

Picture: Christie's
This rather nice Claude fetched an astonishing $6,135,500 against an estimate of $500k-$800k at the Christie's sale of Old Master Drawings.  I can't help think that the money could be better spent elsewhere, but there seem to be a few collectors of old master drawings with very deep pockets who can push prices to extreme levels when they want the same thing.  The lower end of the market is great value for money, especially compared to contemporary art. 
Following my recent preview, I was surprised that the wonderful Ingres made only $1,930,500.  The Parmigianino that I liked made $722,500 (est $300k-$500k), and a Gainsborough pastel went to $2,434,500 (well above the $400k-$600k estimate).  Coming down to a mere-mortal price range, I was quite taken by Giulio Romano's Leaping Hound, which sold for $22,500 against an estimate of $6k-8k (almost in the range where I could consider re-mortgaging the house...).  Giulio clearly delighted in depicting animals and this is a lovely, unpretentious example of his draughtsmanship. 
Christie's Old Master Drawings sale made $16,544,625 (plus $1.2m for a Raphael drawing in the Renaissance sale), against $2,619,251 at Sotheby's - marred by the surprising failure to sell the Rubens Anatomical Studies.  Sotheby's sold the drawings from the Baroni collection separately, including the Umbrian school Massacre of the Innocents that I particularly liked, which made $140,500 against a $150k-$200k estimate.
Picture: Christie's

Raphael's Saint Benedict receiving Maurus and Placidus (above) was sold in the Christie's Renaissance Sale and made $1,202,500 (est $1m-$1.5m).  I haven't seen the original (if the buyer is reading this - can I have a look please?), but there's a good quality zoomable image available via the link above, and there's no real question about the attribution.  It's an early work, drawn before he achieved greatness.  It's somewhat worn and some of the contours seem re-enforced (e.g. the horses' heads), but it's still really impressive.  The faces on the right are particularly beautifully drawn and he's already revealing mastery in composing groups.  I think it would fit the Getty's collection perfectly, complementing their later Raphael drawings - but there's nothing on their website, so I assume it was bought by a private collector.  The Met is the another big institutional buyer of old master drawings, but there's already a closely comparable drawing down the road at the Morgan. 
In the paintings sales, the Botticelli I liked made $10,442,500 at Christie's (est. $5m-$7m) and at Sotheby's the Memling that I thought under-estimated made $4,114,500 (est $1m-$1.5m).  The Bronzino that I speculated might not sell, didn't sell (nothing for me to be smug about though; there's a limited market for $10m+ pictures).  On the other hand, the still life that I liked passed.  It was estimated at $2m-$3m, which was maybe thought high for a work without firm attribution.  The real surprise was the Portrait of a Young Girl by a 'follower' of Rubens, estimated at $20k-$30k, but selling for a Rubens-esque $626,500.  It looks really impressive online, but the most astonishing thing about it is that it was being deaccessioned by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  If it turns out to be a Rubens, it will represent an astonishing misjudgment and yet another strike against the hateful practice of 'deaccessioning' (euphemism for flogging off the family silver so the curators can go on a spending spree).   

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