Source: Bloomberg, by Scott Reyburn
The last self-portrait by Anthony van Dyck doubled its estimate to set an artist auction record at Sotheby’s in London as buyers fought for the best work and rejected other paintings.
The event totaled a mid-estimate 15.1 million pounds ($24.6 million), including fees, with 42 percent of the 50 offered lots failing to sell.
Collectors are being selective as auction estimates for a diminishing supply of Old Masters have shown little change over the last 12 months, said dealers. Valuations for the rarest works have increased, they said. This contrasts with estimates for contemporary art, which have been slashed by as much as 50 percent after the financial crisis.
“It’s a beautiful painting,” the Van Dyck’s joint buyer Alfred Bader said in an interview after paying 8.3 million pounds. “And it’s for sale.” Bader, a veteran Milwaukee-based art investor, was buying in partnership with the London-based dealer Philip Mould. They beat eight other bidders, said Sotheby’s.
The oval-shaped canvas, showing the head and shoulders of the Antwerp-born painter dressed in a black and white silk doublet, had a 3-million-pound upper estimate. It had been executed in London in 1640, the year before Van Dyck’s death, and had been in the family collection of the Earls of Jersey since the 18th century. The paintings was one of only three self- portraits the artist produced in England, said Sotheby’s.
The previous top price at auction for a work by King Charles’s court painter was the 3.1 million pounds given in July 2008 at Christie’s International, London, for a painting of a rearing stallion.
Much presale attention was focused on a previously unrecorded portrait of an aristocratic woman by the 17th-century Flemish artist, Peter Paul Rubens. The unfinished canvas, thought to be an early work painted in either Italy or Spain, had been in an anonymous U.K. private collection for the last 25 years, said Sotheby’s. It failed to sell against a low estimate of 4 million pounds.
“There were too many uncertainties with this picture,” said Henry Zimet, director of the New York-based gallery French & Co. “People didn’t want to get their fingers burned.”
Bidders were more enthusiastic about a painting of an exotically-hatted girl holding a basket of plums by the little- known 17th-century Dutch artist, Cesar Boetius van Everdingen. This was bought by a telephone bidder for a record 1.2 million pounds against an estimate of 50,000 pounds to 70,000 pounds.
“It was new to the market, he’s a very unusual artist who has recently been bought by the Mauritshuis museum in Holland and she’s wearing a great hat,” said Zimet, explaining the price.
Like Christie’s, Sotheby’s were not able to find enough high quality Old Masters for an evening auction and the event was bolstered with later works, five of them British.
A stag-hunting scene set in the Scottish Highlands by Edwin Landseer, Queen Victoria’s favorite artist, sold in the room for 937,250 pounds to a buyer identified as the London-based dealer Simon Dickinson. It had been expected to fetch between 800,000 pounds and 1.2 million pounds.
As a result of estimate-cutting, selling rates at recent contemporary art auctions in London and New York have topped 90 percent. Demand in the more traditional market of Old Masters, which is supported by a smaller pool of older buyers, remains more selective. Thirty-five percent of the lots were rejected at Christie’s record-breaking 68.4 million-pound auction of Old Masters and 19th century art the previous night.
‘Lot of Money’
“There’s a lot of money out there to be spent on art,” said Amsterdam-based art adviser Johan Bosch van Rosenthal, minutes after the Van Dyck fetched its record price. “New people from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East and Russia want to put their money elsewhere. Some of them have come out of the contemporary market,” said Van Rosenthal in an interview. “They’re paying very high prices for triple-A works. They achieve lift-off. The middle market is slow and difficult.”
Only 14 percent of the lots fell to U.S. buyers, 32 percent to the U.K., and 54 percent to the rest of Europe, said Sotheby’s after the auction.
“I don’t know if the market is so different from three years ago,” said Alex Bell, Sotheby’s international head of Old Masters. “Every sale is made up of half a dozen pictures that do really well. We’ve seen some new people from Russia and other areas, but it isn’t a large wave that has transformed the market.”
The auction had been expected to raise 12.8 million pounds to 18.5 million pounds, based on hammer prices. Sotheby’s equivalent Old Masters auction last year took 13.3 million pounds from 52 lots with 38 percent of the material failing. That sale has been expected to fetch between 9.5 million pounds and 13.5 million pounds.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)