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Art Market Watch


by Jessica Mizrachi

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Both Sotheby’s and Christie’s hold antiquities sales in New York at the beginning of December, but the similarity between the two auctions ends there. Christie’s back-to-back antiquities and ancient jewelry sales were mammoth, with 265 lots selling for a total of $15 million, including property from the collection of John Kluge, the late billionaire and media mogul, sold to benefit Columbia University.

Ancient metalware fared best for Kluge’s alma mater, with a gilt silver bust of Cleopatra Selena selling for $2.5 million, within its presale estimate, and a rare Roman heroic nude bronze (a standing torso, sans arms, head and half of one leg) from the late second or early third century AD going for $1.4 million, just above its presale high estimate.  

Sotheby’s comparatively petite sale -- 69 lots, of which 58 sold, or 84 percent -- totaled rather more, a whopping $27.5 million, well above the presale high estimate of $7.6 million. The impressive result is due in large part to a Roman imperial era marble of Leda and the Swan that soared above its presale high estimate of $3 million to sell for $19.1 million.

Another highlight of the sale was a basalt bust of an Egyptian king, which apparently sold to an online bidder for $3.7 million, more than 20 times its presale high estimate. But about 12 hours later -- an eternity in PR time -- the firm announced that due to a slip in the abacus (or a “systems error”), the lot’s price was miscalculated by a factor of ten, and it had in fact sold for a "mere" $370,000.

Velazquez at Bonhams London
He's not too handsome, but he has a piercing gaze. The recently rediscovered portrait by Diego Velazquez sold at Bonhams in London last week for £3 million, or $4.6 million, close to the top end of its presale estimate, depicts an unkown gentleman in black tunic and white collar -- who could be Juan Mateos, Philip IV's master of the hunt. The sum represented nearly half of the earnings at Bonhams’ Old Master Paintings auction, which was sandwiched between the comparable sales at Sotheby’s and Christie’s during Old Master Week in London.

The Velazquez picture was brought to Bonhams in Oxford last year, attributed to the 19th-century British artist Matthew Shepperson. The reattribution was prompted after investigations by both in-house and outside experts, notably Velazquez authority Dr. Peter Cherry, who published an article detailing the results of his research in the October issue of Ars Magazine. "The style and technical brilliance of the representation itself," Cherry wrote, "betrays its author."  

The most expensive painting of the week was The Battle between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Brueghel II, which sold for $10.7 million (est. $5.5 million-$7 million) at Christie’s London. The canvas, which contrasts gluttony and asceticism, had sold in 1993 for $550,000 at Christie's Amsterdam, where it was cataloged as “Attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Younger.” It was in the inventory of Old Master dealer Johnny Van Haeften before selling in 2006 at Christie’s London for $6.4 million.

Rat Pack Painter
He could sing! He could dance! And he could paint. Among the offerings at the upcoming Bonhams entertainment memorabilia sale on Dec. 14, 2011, are several paintings by Frank Sinatra. Lots by the Rat Pack heartthrob include a relatively early “mountainous landscape” (est. $4,000-$6,000) as well as an abstract work in a Peter Max palette (est. $5,000-$7,000), which is reputedly inspired by the work of Mark Rothko.

A two-toned “surreal painting” from the 1980s (est. $4,000-$6,000), on the other hand, claims the influence of Robert Mangold. Elsewhere in the sale is a watercolor by Katharine Hepburn (est. $2,000-$3,000) and an army jacket signed by Andy Warhol, possibly yours for a price a little below the presale estimate of $500-$700.

For complete, illustrated results, see Artnet’s signature Fine Art Auctions Report.

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