Sotheby’s Old Masters Sale on 28/29 January has an overall estimate of $73.9 to 106 million, or £48.6 million to £69.7 million for five Old Master sales, represents just a fraction of the hundreds of millions the auction house reaps in a typical autumn or spring New York season for Impressionist and contemporary art.
“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, stated to the press. “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 at the auction is of $4 million to $6 million (£2.6 million to £3.9 million) is for 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 painting in 1997 at a Christie’s London sale for $3.9 million (£2.5 million), after it soared far above its presale estimate of $1.18 to $1.51 million (£776,000 to £994225).
Many other top-estimated works from the Safra collection are spread throughout the sales, one of which 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 $4million to $6 million (£2.6 million to £3.9 million). Again according to the catalogue, Safra also acquired this work at Christie’s London in July 1997. At the time, the work, which was estimated to sell for $1.7million to $2.4 million, sold for $1.85 million (£1.21 million).
Placing the potential purchases in juxtaposition with contemporary art collecting, Wachter add, “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 million to $2 million (£987199 to £1.3 million). As Wachter explained, the work 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 favour with the king,” said Wachter. The catalogue states that it “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 of these sales will go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Fabrizio Moretti Foundation. Many of the works in this selection are priced under $100,000 (£65,000) with a few works going under the hammer having low estimates of $20,000 or £13,000).
Among the higher-estimated works is the bacchanal of the Andrians, a 16th-century painting by Girolamo Macchietti, the painting is estimated to sell for $800,000 to $1.2 million (£526,00 to £789,000).
With 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,” stated Wachter, “we have priced it down because it was a thinner market and now people have come back into it.”