Christie’s Workmanlike Old Master Evening
Christie’s Old Masters’ evening sale resembled its arch-rival the previous evening with a top lot dominating the lukewarm action as Francesco Guardi’s stunning and large-scale Venetian scene made £26.2/$33.8 million, pushing the tally to £43,848,250/$56.7 million.
Twelve of the 48 lots offered failed to sell for a decent, at least by Old Master flabbier standards, buy-in rate by lot of 25 percent.
The tally, including fees, fell shy of the £49.8-71.9/$64.5-93 million pre-sale estimate.
The hammer total was £37.8 million.
It trailed last July’s same category evening sale that realized£65.4/$84.3 million sale that was dominated by Peter Paul Rubens’ “Lot and His Daughters” that fetched £44.8/$58.1 million, the highest price for an Old Master painting in Christie’s long history.
Only six of the 36 lots that sold went for over a million pounds and eight exceeded one million dollars.
Five artist record were set.
One lot carried a third party guarantee, assuring a minimum price from an anonymous backer no matter what action took place in the salesroom.
All prices reported include the hammer price plus the tacked on buyer’s premium for each lot sold calculated at 25 percent up to and including £100,000, 20 percent of any portion above that and up to £2 million and 12 percent for anything in excess of that.
The evening got off to a somber start as Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s close-up, “Head study of a bearded man” in oil on paper, laid down on panel sold for £118,750/$153,544 (est. £60-100,000) and the rare to market and only recently published David Rijckaert II, 17th century, razor sharp still life, “A stoneware ewer a Bekemeyer and a conical glass in a bekerschroef, with confectionery in a silver platter, one a ledge,” executed in oil on paper, shot to a record £557,000/$720,201 (est £70-100,000).
Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen, also global president of Christie’s, characterized the lot from his rostrum as “a rare thing,” goading the bidding and teasing one of the bidders in the room who seemingly dropped out after the auctioneer noticed he’d already written the final bid in his catalogue.
That bidder came back to win the lot and Pylkkanen quipped, “we’ll give you a fresh catalogue.”
Riijckaert’s chromatic hued canvas of sea shells and other closely studied elements would be considered a connoisseur’s cabinet picture, something to be admired in privacy at 19 5/8 by 13 5/8 inches.
A charmingly seductive and richly frocked Francois Boucher portrait, “Le Soire or La Dame allant au Bal” from 1734 in oil on canvas doubled its high estimate, selling for £377,000/$487,461 (est. £100-150,000).
Higher price points kicked in grudgingly as Jan Havicksz. Steen’s elaborately realized “Boors playing a game of beugelen before a country inn, onlookers smoking beyond” and signed JStEEn on the oil on panel, made £845,000/$1,092,585 (est. £800,000-1.2 million).
It was sold by a family trust whose ancestor first acquired the work from London’s Colnaghi Gallery in 1879.
Another 17th century van Dyck, the much larger, 77 5/8 by 55 inch “Saint Sebastian after his Ordeal,” featuring the loin-clothed, supine figure with arrows convincingly buried in his thigh and stomach, went for £1,925,000/$2,489,025 (est. £1.2-1.8 million).
Another big performer was Giandomenico Tiepolo’s Venetian themed “The Minuet”, a rather fantastic scene of dancers, including masked female figures that sold to an anonymous telephone bidder for £3,077,000/$3,978,561 (est. £1.5-2.5 million).
Giandomenico is the less famous son of Giambattista, and the family workshop was the most sought after shop of its time.
The 13 1/8 by 19 ¼ inch oil on canvas last sold at Christie’s London in December 2007 for £1,308,500.
A sleeper lot, attributed to the Dutch 17th century master Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, “An Old Bearded Man” but not categorized as a autographed work by the artist, climbed to £2,105,00/$2,721,765 against an unpublished estimate in the region of £1 million.
Seasoned London dealer Johnny van Haeften, a Rembrandt expert in his own right is currently staging a major Dutch Golden Age painting exhibition in Beijing at the National Museum of China that includes eleven Rembrandts, all from Leiden Collection, was the underbidder.
“He would not be bidding on it as something you think is by Rembrandt,” wagered one anonymous viewer in the room, implying it might, be accepted as an autograph work some day. It certainly showed off the attributes of the artist’s brooding and intense style.
The evening was hamstrung by a number of pricey, million pound plus buy-ins, including works by Old Master stars El Greco, Brueghel the Elder and Jean-Honore Frangonard.
Still, the undisputed star of the evening was the cover lot Francesco Guardi’s grand Venetian scene, “Venice: the Rialto Bridge with the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi,” scaled at 47 1/8 by 80 ½ inches and fetching £26,205,000/$33,883,065 (unpublished estimate in the region of £25 million).
It proved to be the highest price for an Old Master painting this season, outgunning the J.M.W. Turner at Sotheby’s on Wednesday that made £18.5/$23.9 million.
The wide-angled and Google map correct, Grand Canal scene came from the collection of Paul Channon, Lord Kelvedon of Ongar who died in 2007 and sold by one of his heirs.
The pendant to this terrific scene, apparently split up for estate purposes, “Venice: a view of the Rialto Bridge, Looking North (from the Fondamenta del Carbon),” scaled exactly the same, sold for a record £26,697,250/$42,708,760 at Sotheby’s London in July 2011.
Still, the Guardi ranks as the fourth highest painting to sell in any category during the London sales season, topped by the £33 million Wassily Kandinsky at Sotheby’s, the £34.8 million Picasso and the season high £36 million Max Beckmann at Christie’s. All from that trio were in the Impressionist and Modern evening sales.
“When you bring these kind of trophy paintings to the market,” said Henry Pettifer, Christie’s London head of Old Masters, “there’s a strong appetite for them.”