On Wednesday the 30th, Sotheby’s held a day and evening sale offering a selection of Old Master paintings, drawings, and sculptures. In an interesting PR twist, Sotheby’s brought in former pop-star and contemporary art collector Victoria Beckham, who is said to have taken an interest in Old Master works following a visit to the Frick in New York in 2018 – she was present at the pre-sale exhibition last week and surely bolstered young collector’s interest in the period.
The day began with 162 lots up for grabs as part of the Old Master Drawings (works on paper) sale. Most surprising was that the top lot in the sale beat out the top lot from the evening sale… here, Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ Nude Study of a Young Man with Raised Arms found a buyer at $8.2M with premiums (w/p) on a $2.5-3.5M estimate. The study, executed in black chalk on paper, set a record for a drawing by the artist at auction. Nothing else came close to that figure, though a handful of lots dramatically outperformed their estimate… in second was Portrait of a youth attributed to Agostino Carracci which fetched $1.45M (w/p) on a baffling $35-45K estimate (wow, talk about missing the mark). That was followed by The Fight for the Standard, after Leonardo, whose listing merely stated “Italian School, 16th Century,” which brought in $795K (w/p) on an equally inexplicable $25-35K estimate… can someone please explain why Sotheby’s even bothers hiring “specialists” to come up with estimates? I think a dartboard and a blindfold would give us roughly the same accuracy.
Only one of the top 10 lots actually fell inside the projected range! There were a couple of other lots in the top 10 that were way off… two works by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, estimated to sell between $70-90K and $25-35K, found buyers at $237K and $150K, respectively. At the end of the session, 110 (67.9%) of the works had sold, yielding just over $15M collectively… they were only expecting between $6-8.4M, so they crushed that figure. I’m not sure what that says as they were just plain wrong across the board with estimating so many lots… and I should also note that the top lot accounted for more than 50% of the entire sale’s take. All that said, it seems like they got some nice interest in a good chunk of the work offered.
With regards to the Evening sale, things went far more according to plan… the top lot of the night was Elisabeth-Louise Vigee Le Brun’s Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, which topped it’s $4-6M estimate as it sold for $7.1M (w/p). That price not only set a record for the artist at auction but was good for an auction record by any female artist of the pre-modern era. Taking second on the evening was The Banquet of the Gods by Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael at $5.9M (w/p) on a finally accurate $5-7M estimate. Rounding out the top three was a work by Jan van de Cappelle at $4.8M (w/p) on a $4-6M estimate… looks like they finally got a grip on those projections.
Sotheby’s threw itself full force behind a push of under-recognized groundbreaking female artists of the 16th-19th Centuries. The auction house assembled a group of 21 works by 14 female artists and billed the selection as The Female Triumphant. A number of the works from that group were offered as part of this evening sale, and they went on to set new auction records for several female artists, so their marketing seems to have helped… Fede Galizia at $2.4M (est. $2-3M), Angelika Kaufmann at $915K ($600-800K), and Giulia Lama at $495K (est. $400-600K). There was only one sizable lot that failed on the evening – A Luis Melendez still life brandishing a $1.5-2M estimate. Aside from that, there were no other surprises… 60 of the 79 lots were sold, or 76%, and the total take was $52.7M (w/p), landing them smack in the middle of their $42.6-62.6M pre-sale estimate.