Earlier this month, Christie’s held their Old Masters sale in New York and though the sale as a whole had a decent showing and there were a few bright spots, by most standards the sale under-performed… in the lead-up, much was made about the “Da Vinci effect” or the expected lift in Old Masters sale prices due to the exorbitant amount ($450M to be exact) paid for Salvator Mundi back in November 2017. Unfortunately, the “effect” was not overtly apparent.
The lone lot that you could make a case for, and also the top lot of the evening, would be Lucas Cranach’s Portrait of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony (1503-1554), half length, which was only expected to bring $1-2M. That said, I have a feeling there was another reason this work fetched such an impressive price… The work once belonged to Fritz Gutmann, an illustrious Jewish banker with a vast art collection – he acquired the work in 1922 for his home outside of Amsterdam. After the occupation of the Netherlands in 1940, the entire collection (which also included works by Botticelli, Guardi, Degas and Renoir) was stolen… many of the works were acquired directly by Adolf Hitler himself. Gutmann and his wife were brought to separate concentration camps where they were both killed… Gutmann’s grandson, Simon Goodman, has been searching for his grandfather’s looted objects for more than 20 years! The exact path of the work after 1940 is unknown but it resurfaced in a private US collection and Christie’s was able to negotiate a confidential settlement between the current owners and the Goodman family – I have a feeling that all parties were satisfied with the result as it smashed the $1-2M estimate and found a buyer at more than $7.7M! On a side note, Goodman has recovered about a third of his grandfather’s collection… he is still seeking more than 20 paintings, as well as hundreds of antiques, pieces of porcelain and furniture.
The lots rounding out the top 3 were on the other side of the spectrum and very much not beneficiaries of the “Da Vinci effect.” In second was Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ A Satyr Holding a Basket of Grapes and Quinces with a Nymph, which made an impressive price of $5.7M but without the buyer’s premium, the work fell short of the $5-7M estimate. The work was purchased in 1936 by Alfred Chester Beatty, an American mining magnate, who brought it to Dublin – the work has remained in private collections since. Following in third was Jan Gossart’s The Virgin and Child, which similarly made a good price but fell short of it’s estimate without the buyer’s premium… the work sold for $3.3M on a $3-5M estimate. The same work was last offered in 2014, where it brought $2.6M – that time, it beat its $2-2.5M estimate.
As a whole, the sale offered 61 works (originally 64, but 3 lots were withdrawn) and was expected to bring between $32-50M… by the end of the evening, they successfully auctioned 46 works (75%), leaving 15 unsold – good for a total take of $36.5M… again, a decent result but falling short without the buyer’s premium.