LONG-LOST RUBENS GOES FOR £49.5 MILLION
In its evening Old Master sale on June 10, 2002, Sotheby's London sold a long-lost painting by Peter Paul Rubens, The Massacre of the Innocents (ca. 1609-11), for £49.5 million, well over its presale estimate of £4 million-£6 million and a new auction record for an artwork sold in London. The buyer of the Rubens, wrongly catalogued until last year when it was spotted by Sotheby's Old Master expert George Gordon, was reported to be London dealer Sam Fogg, bidding for an anonymous client. At current exchange rates, the £49.5 million sum is equivalent to about $76 million. The auction record remains $82.5 million, paid for Vincent van Gogh's Portrait of Dr. Gachet (1890) at Christie's New York in 1990 by Japanese paper magnate Ryoei Saito.
The other star lot in the sale, Portrait of a Young Woman by Rembrandt van Rijn, was estimated to sell for £10 million-£15 million but failed to find a buyer. But the auction did set several other artist's records in its top ten. A Still Life of Roses by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder (1573-1621), considered the father of Dutch still-life paintings -- he was the first artist anywhere to build a career entirely on the depiction of flowers -- sold for just over £2 million), its low presale estimate. A Still Life of Roses, Tulips, Narcissi, painted in 1624 in Utrecht by Balthasar van der Ast, Bosschaert's student and brother-in-law, sold for just over £940,000, near its low estimate. The Toilet of Venus by the Bolognese painter Il Guercino (1591-1666), showing the goddess of love surrounded by 11 putti, went for £1.2 million (est. £1.2 million-£1.8 million). And Gerrit Adrianensz. Berckheyde's dramatic canal scene Amsterdam, The Heerengracht, a tiny oil on oak panel measuring ca. 17 by 23 in., sold for £611,650, very much above its high presale estimate of £80,000.
As a whole, the sale totaled £68 million ($105 million), for 55 of 83 lots sold, a 66 percent sell-through rate. The total is a record for any Old Master painting sale.