LONDON - Tonight in London before a lively saleroom, Sotheby’s sales of Old Master Paintings and Renaissance & Baroque Masterworks from the Collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson brought a combined total of £36,022,625/ $57,917,177/ ˆ41,645,761, a strong figure comfortably within the pre-sale expectations for the evening of £29,222,500-42,470.000. The Old Master Paintings Evening Sale made an individual total of £26,134,050/ $42,018,326/ ˆ30,213,578, within the pre-sale estimate of £24,010,000-34,760,000, and achieved solid sell-through rates of 69% by lot and 82% by value. The single-owner sale of property from the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson - the renowned art connoisseur, humanitarian and philanthropist and the wife of the late J. Seward Johnson Sr, one of the co-founders of the Johnson & Johnson medical and pharmaceutical firm – far exceeded expectations, realising £9,888,575/ $15,898,851/ ˆ11,432,183 above its estimate of £5,212,500-7,710,000, and was 79% sold by lot and 95% sold by value. This single-owner sale continues tomorrow with a further 140 lots being offered in the dedicated Barbara Piasecka Johnson Day sale (est: £461,370-688,270).
Alexander Bell, Co-Chairman of Old Master Paintings, Sotheby’s Worldwide, commented after the sale: “Tonight’s results demonstrate yet again the consistent underlying strength of the Old Master Paintings market. We were pleased to offer in addition to the impressive group of paintings, sculpture and works of art from the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson, a selection in which most of the major schools in the field of Old Master paintings were well-represented and the pre-sale exhibition had a real buzz and air of excitement. This area has a long-established and stable collecting base, which was very much in evidence tonight and collectors responded with particular enthusiasm to the unique spiritual aesthetic of the Johnson collection. Ribera’s Prometheus – the top-selling lot of the Johnson collection – was greatly admired and we’re thrilled to have set a new auction record for the artist.” The top prices of the Old Master Paintings Evening Sale were:
Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s finest version of The Massacre of the Innocents (lot 13) - the renowned composition devised by his father - came to the market this evening in fine original condition. It saw competition from four bidders and became the top-selling lot of the evening when it sold to an anonymous collector for £4,633,250/ $7,449,339/ ˆ5,456,501, well in excess of the estimate of £2.5-3.5 million. This represents the second-highest price ever achieved for a work by Pieter Brueghel the Younger at auction.
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes’s important equestrian portrait of Don Manuel Godoy, Duke of Alcudia (lot 47), sold for £2,617,250/ $4,208,015/ ˆ3,025,803, against an estimate of £2.5-3.5 million. The portrait - with its magical Goya atmosphere and signature Goya sky - ranks among the most important paintings by the Spanish artist ever to come to auction and the price it achieved tonight represents one of the highest prices ever established for a work by him at auction.
Sir Anthony van Dyck was represented in the sale by a three-quarter-length portrait of Endymion Porter, the diplomat, connoisseur and courtier to Charles I who was a close friend and confidante of van Dyck. The portrait (lot 11) attracted competition from three telephone bidders and eventually sold for £2,057,250/ $3,307,647/ ˆ2,378,387, handsomely above the pre-sale estimate of £1-1.5 million. Never offered at auction before, the painting had descended through the same family collection since 1798. It was included in the Van Dyck and Britain exhibition at Tate Britain earlier this year.
Paintings by British masters also performed well tonight. A Portrait of Baron de Robeck Riding A Bay Hunter by George Stubbs (lot 44) fetched just over £2 million/ $3.3 million/ ˆ2.4 million while J.M.W. Turner’s Virginia Water (lot 48), which had descended through the same family collection since 1913 and had never appeared at auction before, made £881,250, comfortably in excess of its pre-sale expectations of £500,000-700,000.
Francesco Guardi’s dazzling interior made £1,833,250/ $2,947,499/ ˆ2,119,421, against an estimate of £800,000-1,200,000. Although best known for his landscapes, Guardi was a skilled narrative painter, as is shown in his A Ridotto with Masked Figures Dancing and Conversing (lot 37).
Furthermore, three panels by Luca di Tommè dating from circa 1350 (lots 20, 21 and 22) all achieved prices in excess of their estimates and also the previous auction record for the artist. With a combined estimate of £1,200,000-1,800,000 (each estimated at £400,000-600,000), the group achieved a combined total of £2,699,750. Lot 21 – the panel depicting Saint Bernardo degli Uberti – established the highest prices of the group, setting the new record for the artist when it sold for £937,250. The single-owner sale of ‘Renaissance & Baroque Masterworks from the Collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson’
The spectacular single-owner sale brought to the market a wealth of paintings, sculpture, furniture and objects d’art, all of which was a tribute to Mrs Piasecka Johnson’s knowledge and judgment as a collector and art lover. Old Master Paintings formed the core of the sale and these spanned a period of some 200 years, from the late Gothic period to the High Baroque. The selection was particularly rich in Italian Renaissance and early Baroque works but also features examples from the Spanish, French and Netherlandish schools. Star lots tonight:
Jusepe de Ribera, called Lo Spagnoletto’s dramatic Prometheus became the top selling lot of the collection. The subject of a lengthy bidding battle between at least seven potential buyers, it soared above expectations to sell for £3,849,250/ $6,188,824/ ˆ4,450,118 – more than three times the pre-sale high estimate (est: £800,000-1,200,000) - and establishing a new auction record for a work by Ribera by a significant margin. The painting (lot 28), a masterpiece of High Baroque art, represents one of the most important rediscoveries and additions to Ribera’s work in recent years and is also of significance given that it is arguably his first rendering of a mythological subject as well as a prime example of his terribilità.
A full length portrait of a nobleman, presumed to be Jean de Dinteville in the guise of St George before a slain dragon and long attributed to Francesco Primaticcio, was also strongly competed for by at least four bidders. Estimated at £200,000-300,000, the large-scale portrait (lot 16) - a masterpiece of 16th century portraiture - eventually sold to a collector for £769,250/ $1,236,800/ ˆ889,330, more than double its estimate.
Old Master Sculpture also performed well and a spectacular white marble bust of an ancient hero by Baccio Bandinelli, dating from the mid-16th century, sold for £657,250/ $1,056,727/ ˆ759,847, within the pre-sale expectations of £500,000-800,000. The colossal piece (lot 12) ranks among the most important Florentine sculptures of the Cinquecento to be offered on the market in recent years and the price realised set a new auction record for the sculptor.
Among the notable furniture highlights was a near pair of Roman lapis lazuli and pietre dure mounted pewter inlaid ebony cabinets (lot 17), dating from the second half of the 17th century, which sold for £211,250/ $349,295/ ˆ251,163, above the estimate of £120,000-180,000.
New auction records were also set for Pietro di Domenico da Montepulciano (lot 2), Gherardo di Giovanni (di Miniato) del Fora (lot 6).