Bruegel, Tiepolo, Reubens Shine at Sotheby’s Old Masters Sales
"You can get a really good Old Master for the same price as a Lucien Smith."
With an overall estimate of $73.9–106 million for five Old Master sales, the value of Sotheby’s series (January 28-29) this week in New York represents just a fraction of the hundreds of millions it reaps in a typical fall or spring New York season for Impressionist and contemporary art. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a thriving and growing market in its own right.
“It’s become a very international market place over the last five to six years,” George Wachter, co-chairman of Old Master paintings worldwide at Sotheby’s, told artnet News. “We definitely feel it very strongly on the high end with a whole new group of buyers from China and Russia. They seem to appeal to a lot of people since the pricing is far more reasonable than in other areas.”
Among the highlights of the main sale of “Master Paintings: Part I” on January 29 are 17 works offered from the collection of financier and avid collector J.E. (Jacqui) Safra, which Wachter said are of “the highest quality.”
The highest estimate of $4-6 million applies to a Dutch landscape painting by Aert van der Neer, Frozen River at Sunset, painted shortly after 1660, “a period that was a high point for Dutch landscape painting and for the artist himself.” The work “embodies his fascination with the people and the world around him and most notably the effect of light on a winter landscape,” according to the Sotheby’s catalogue.
Safra had acquired the work in 1997 at a Christie’s London sale for $3.9 million, after it soared far above its presale estimate of $1.18–1.51 million.
Among other top-estimated works from the Safra collection that are spread throughout the sales, is a bucolic 18th-century London park scene by Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) titled London, a view of the Old Horse Guards and Banqueting Hall, Whitehall Seen from St. James Park (1749). The work is also estimated at $4–6 million. According to the catalogue, Safra also acquired this work at Christie’s London in July 1997. At that time, the work, which was estimated to sell for $1.7–2.4 million, sold for $1.85 million.
Putting things in context with contemporary works, Wachter said, “You can get a really good Old Master for the same price as a Lucien Smith painted two years ago.”
Another highlight of the sale is a rediscovered work by Antoine Coypel, Allegory of music (A portrait of Mme. de Maintenon with the natural children of Louis XIV) which is estimated to sell for $1.5–2 million. As Wachter explained, it was commissioned by Charles Perrault (painted around 1680) for the ceiling of his Cabinet des Beaux-Arts in the Hôtel Perrault in Paris.
“We don’t even know whether the ceiling was installed, because shortly after the painting was done, Perrault sort of fell out of favor with the king,” said Wachter. According to the catalogue, the work “was previously known only from an engraving by Gérard Edelinck. [It is] an important addition to Coypel’s oeuvre, in terms of both its artistic conception and for its connection to Louis XIV and the French court.”
Another highlight of the sales is a selection of works put together by specialist dealer Fabrizio Moretti of selected Renaissance and Mannerist works of art. Part of the proceeds will go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Fabrizio Moretti Foundation. (Moretti discussed the works with Sotheby’s specialist Edoardi Roberti in a video available on Sotheby’s website). Many of the works in this selection are priced under $100,000 (with a few having low estimates of $20,000).
Among the higher-estimated works is the bacchanal of the Andrians, a 16th-century painting by Girolamo Macchietti, which is estimated to sell for $800,000-1.2 million.
Another area of interest in the Old Masters arena, according to Wachter is in the second part of the sale (Master Painting and Sculpture: Part II, which is later in the day on January 29), featuring lower-priced material. “In the middle and lower end,” he said, “we have priced it down because it was a thinner market and now people have come back into it.”
Sotheby’s series of Old Master sales kicks off on January 28 with a sale of drawings.
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