OLD MASTERS IN LONDON
The major auction season draws to a close in early July with the London sales of Old Masters. This year Christies London opened the action on July 5 with Old Master drawings, boasting a rediscovered sketch by the Florentine Renaissance artist Andrea del Sarto; followed by a two-day sale on July 6-7 of the collection of fine and decorative art assembled since the 1950s by billionaire Portuguese financier Antonio Champalimaud, who died last May at age 86; and a day sale of Old Master paintings on July 8.
Del Sartos Head of St Joseph, a fragmentary chalk study for a painting now in the Pitti Palace in Florence, sold for 6,504,000 ($11,395,008), a world record price for the artist (and now the third most expensive Old Master drawing sold at auction). According to Christies, the drawings whereabouts had been a mystery for more than 50 years, until it recently resurfaced in a private Swiss collection. The sheet, which was first owned by Giorgio Vasari, includes on the verso two studies of legs in red chalk. It was bought by London dealer Jean-Luc Baroni.
Christies sale of the Champalmaud Collection, with much of the proceeds earmarked for a Portuguese medical foundation, totaled 38,960,060 ($68,452,825), with 92 percent of the 202 lots finding buyers. The total was second highest for a single-owner sale in Europe, topped only by the 57.7-million Rothschild sale in 1999. Top lot was Canalettos The Bucintoro at the Molo, Venice, on Ascension Day, which went for 11,432,000 ($20,086,024), well above its presale high estimate of 6,000,000. It set a new auction record for the artist, which stood for one day before being broken at Sothebys (see below).
Other important paintings in the Champalmaud Collection included two scenes of Venice by Francesco Guardi, which sold for 1,800,000 ($3,162,600) and 1,688,000 ($2,965,816); Jean-Honor Fragonards La Jardinre (ca. 1754-55), which brought 1,184,000 (2,080,288); and Franois Bouchers Muse of History and Song and Erato, the Muse of Love Poetry (1758), which sold for 1,184,000 ($2,080,288).
Christies July 8 sale of Old Masters totaled 20,717,200 ($36,006,494), with 84 of 110 lots finding buyers, or 76 percent. The Getty Museum bought Guardis The Grand Canal, Venice, with the Palazzo Bembo for 4,376,000 ($7,605,488), and an auction record was set for the Dutch artist Jan Van de Cappelle when his A kaag and a smak in a calm sold for 3,592,000 ($6,242,896). A world auction record was also set for Baron Gros, when his Portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, full-length, as First Consul sold for 1,352,000 ($2,349,776), well above the presale high estimate of 800,000.
Christies total for its week of sales of Old Masters, furniture and other works of art was 79.6 million ($138.3 million), with 21 works of art selling for over $1 million.
Sothebys London followed fast on Christies heels, with a July 5 sale of property from the collection of the late Hon. Bobby Wills, a sale of Old Master drawings on July 6, and both a day and evening sale of Old Master paintings on July 7(which had exceptional buoyancy).
Sothebys evening sale of paintings totaled 44,284,000 ($77,542,685), well above its presale high estimate of $8,000,000 and the second highest total ever achieved for a sale of Old Master paintings. Top lot was Canalettos Venice the Grand Canal from Palazzo Balbi, which saw five bidders competing for the work until it sold to an anonymous telephone buyer for 18,600,000 ($32,568,600). The painting was ballyhooed as one of the first artworks to hang in the Prime Minister's residence at 10 Downing Street, when it belonged to the collector Sir Robert Walpole (1721-42), who was England's first Prime Minister.
Other auction records were set for Jacob van Ruisdael, whose Bentheim Castle sold for 2,584,000 ($4,524,584); Giovanni Francesco Barbieri (il Guercino), whose Semiramis Called to Arms went for 1,352,000 ($2,367,352); Martin Schongauer, whose Maria Lactans was snapped up for 1,016,000 ($1,779,016); and Nicolas Rgnier, whose Musician playing a lute to a singing girl sold for 881,600 ($1,543,682).
Other top lots included Lucas Cranach the Elders Venus and Cupid, which sold for 2,360,000 ($4,132,360), and Pieter Brueghel the Younger, whose A Kermesse sold for 2,248,000 ($3,936,248).
Adding in the results for this week's other sales in London, the grand total for Old Master Paintings sold at Sotheby's this week comes to 50,901,680.
MOMA, AUCTION PLAYER
Time was that the Museum of Modern Art took a relatively sober approach to the market, selling works from its collection, when it had to, privately and with the utmost discretion. That policy began to change with the 1980s art-market boom, and now MoMA is one of the many big players in the salesrooms, regularly making waves. At the Impressionist and modern art sales in London last month, MoMA was reported to be both a buyer and a seller of multimillion-dollar masterpieces. Both transactions were conducted at Sothebys.
According to Carol Vogel in the New York Times, MoMA first sold The Grape Harvest (1892), a busy but rather dull Post-Impressionist painting of workers in a landscape by Henri-Edmond Cross, for $5.4 million on June 20 in Sothebys evening Impressionist and modern art sale. The price is well above the pre-sale high estimate of $3.2 million. The buyer of the picture, according to Vogel, was Philadelphia collector Robert Toll.
Though many art-world observers frown on such high-level museum deaccessions, MoMA director Glen D. Lowry memorably told the Times that the museum would never show this picture. He added that in many ways it was inappropriate to have a painting like this when other institutions and collectors can hang it on their walls." Only future sales will tell how many other $5 million pictures the museum has that will never grace its walls.
Two days later, on June 22, MoMA returned to Sothebys to buy Seated Woman Being Served Tea by Standing Companion (1963), a seven-foot-tall, classic painting by David Hockney that shows two naked women on a stage in front of a brilliant blue curtain pattered with crimson fleurs d lis. The price was $3.2 million, a new auction record for the artist. MoMA trustee Donald L. Bryant underwrote the acquisition.