A Look at the NY Old Master Sales

Sorry for skipping a few days of posts.  The flu bug paid a short visit, back now getting back to normal.

The Telegraph takes a look at last weeks New York Old Master sales. The sales seemed to be satisfactory, but the commentary was far from jubilant.

The Telegraph reports
It was below freezing last week on the streets of New York, but inside Christie’s and Sotheby’s Old Master sales the bidding was measured and temperate. The week’s total of $143.4 million (£87.3 million) was close to the estimated target, with about 70 per cent of lots sold. “The market looked in good shape,” said Christopher Apostle of Sotheby’s. “The bidding was very balanced, coming from the Americas, Europe and Russia.”

Christie’s started the action with the Renaissance, which saw lively bidding for a handful of works from the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection. An early 16th-century altarpiece by the wonderfully named Master of the Plump-Cheeked Madonnas from Bruges sold to a Russian buyer well above the estimate for $1.7 million dollars, and an arch-topped panel of the Madonna and Child from the studio workshop of Sandro Botticelli sold to the specialist dealer, Fabrizio Moretti, above estimate for $749,000.

An abundance of gold-ground religious paintings had been targeted at the icon-loving Russians, but several were over-estimated works by little-known artists and did not sell. The top lot only just squeezed by. A magnificent 16th-century illuminated manuscript Book of Hours, known as the Rothschild Prayerbook, was last sold by members of the family in 1999 for £8.5 million. Rumours suggested the buyer had been either another member of the family, or an Italian billionaire book collector, possibly Gianni Agnelli, outbidding the J Paul Getty Museum. Whoever it was barely covered their costs as it sold last week for $13.6 million to an anonymous bidder.

In a separate Old Master sale, Christie’s top lot, a self-portrait of Artemisia Gentileschi playing the lute, was overburdened with an ambitious $3 million estimate. The painting was rediscovered in 1998 when it sold in London to an American collection for a triple estimate £420,000. But last week, no one was prepared to quadruple that price.

As always, there was a good selection of British pictures. Leading the pack this time was a sizeable, charming portrait of the children of Sir James Dashwood by Sir William Beechey, from the Toledo Museum of Art collection. It returns to Britain after a long bidding battle in which it sold to the London dealer, Jonathan Green, for a record $821,000.

Like Christie’s, Sotheby’s divided its sales between an aristocratic, “Courts of Europe” sale, and a more general Old Masters sale. The first achieved record prices for the French rococo painter, Fran├žois Boucher ($2.4 million), and the Danish neo-classical sculptor, Bertel Thorvaldsen (also $2.4 million), but was outgunned by the simple pleasures of Dutch 17th-century painting in the second.

Unlike the modern and contemporary art markets, which are dominated by newly rich private buyers, Old Masters is still an area where dealers, with their superior knowledge, can stay in the frame and buy for stock.

This was no clearer than at Sotheby’s, where the top Dutch pictures were bought by British dealers. An atmospheric frozen river scene with figures by Jan Josefsz van Goyen sold to Richard Green for $1.4 million, and three other top-selling works went to art dealer Johnny van Haeften. Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s prices have benefited enormously from Russian enthusiasm, and van Haeften had to pay a double estimate $5.2 million for a scene of a harvest picnic, which was the earliest known study of the subject.

A rediscovered masterpiece of an interior comparable to the great Pieter de Hooch, but in fact by the little-known Jacob Ochtervelt, had an ambitious $3 million estimate, which was not enough to put van Haeften, who bought it for $4.4 million, off the scent.

His biggest buy, though, was a painting of musicians by the Dutch Caravaggist, Gerrit van Honthorst, which doubled estimates and the artist’s previous record to sell for $7.6 million. Artists influenced by Caravaggio are in fashion, and last November, the National Gallery in Washington acquired a more flamboyant van Honthorst musicians painting for a price believed to be nearer $20 million, though van Haeften believes his picture has “more soul”.

 Altogether, van Haeften spent about $20 million in New York last week. 2013 was a good year for him, he said, so he was putting his money back where he knew it would do best.
Source: The Telegraph

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