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Sotheby’s Masters Week: The Scheumann Collection

February 2, 2023
A dark domestic scene of a woman sitting at a desk by candlelight melting wax to seal a letter. A boy, probably her son, looks on in the background.

Young Woman Sealing a Letter by Candlelight by Frans van Mieris the Elder

On January 26th, Sotheby’s New York continued their short, single-owner collection sales. The Fisch Davidson collection of Baroque paintings fell just slightly short of expectations, but perhaps the following sale of Dutch Masterpieces from the Theiline Scheumann collection would fare better. While nothing matched the $23.5M achieved by Rubens’s Salome earlier in the day, the Scheumann collection was noteworthy for its much smaller and far more intimate Young Woman Sealing a Letter by Candlelight by Frans van Mieris the Elder. The painting is consistent with genre paintings of the Dutch Golden Age, which look at scenes from everyday life. These certainly stand in stark contrast with the more imposing, grandiose biblical and historical paintings of the Fisch Davisson Collection. The Van Mieris led the sale at $2.2M (or $2.7M w/p), slightly exceeding its $2 million high estimate.

A Dutch street scene of old houses made of wood and stucco beside a series of canals. Trees grow from the ground between the houses and the canals.

Imaginary View of a Quiet Canal in Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden

The last of the sale’s twelve lots came up right behind: Imaginary View of a Quiet Canal in Amsterdam by Jan van der Heyden. Looking into a historical street scene can be interesting when the artist indicates where the painting is set. Finding an image of the location today and comparing it to the work scratches the kind of itch one gets when completing a puzzle or going through a Where’s Waldo book. You can see what has changed and what has remained locked in time. Of course, we’re very familiar with this, given the many Blanchard and Cortès Paris street scenes we’ve seen come and go. But while there can be no such satisfaction in studying the Van der Heyden, the fact that the artist must know a city so well to create a believable fictional street scene in that city’s style takes a certain kind of skill. Imaginary View reached its minimum estimate at $1M (or $1.26M w/p). Finally, in third, Aert van der Neer’s Marshy Forest Landscape at Moonlight fell just short of the $1M to $1.5M estimate range Sotheby’s specialists assigned it, reaching only at $950K (or $1.2M w/p). This is surprising since, according to the house experts, this scene is one of the finest of Van der Neer’s works to come to auction in recent years. Marshy Forest is also very typical for Van der Neer, who enjoyed producing moonlight landscapes that wouldn’t seem out of place among the nocturnal scenes of the German Romantics a couple of centuries later.

A landscape showing a forest clearing in the moonlight. A barren tree stands dominating the foreground, while deer lap up the water of the marshlands slightly behind.

Marshy Forest Landscape at Moonlight by Aert van der Neer

The Scheumann collection’s Dutch masterworks, however, suffered a similar fate to the Fisch Davidson collection. Sotheby’s specialists predicted that all twelve lots would bring in at least $7.9M. However, the Scheumann collection ended up with a $6.5M total hammer. This can mainly be attributed to four of the total twelve lots (33%) going unsold, most notably Jacob Isaacksz. van Ruisdael’s A Wooded Landscape with a Quiet Stream, which specialists predicted to sell for at least $1M. An additional three lots (25%) sold for below estimate, while three lots (25%) sold within and two lots (17%) sold above.