Published: July 16, 2002
LONDON – History was made at Sotheby’s in London on July 10 when a completely unknown early work by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, “Massacre of the Innocents,” sold for £49.5 million, making it the most expensive painting ever sold in pounds. (The painting brought $76.7 million, the third most expensive price for a painting in dollars.) The work, a record for Rubens, is also a record for an Old Master painting at auction. The painting was the highlight of a sale of Old Master paintings that brought £67.6 million ($104.7 million), the highest ever total for an auction of Old Master paintings.
Alex Bell, head of Old Master paintings in London said, “We are absolutely delighted with tonight’s result, which is the highest total ever for a painting’s sale in Europe. ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ was identified by Sotheby’s after being misattributed since the Eighteenth Century. The appearance of this work at auction was extremely exciting and the price certainly exceeded our expectations.”
Bidding for the painting began at £3 million and quickly rose to £3.8 million when Ben Hall, an Old Master paintings expert from Sotheby’s in New York who was on the telephone bidding for a client, called out “£6 million.” People in the room gasped at the enormous jump in increments and then laughed when the auctioneer Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe said, “Now I’ll take £12 million!”
While his specific suggestion was not followed, bidding nevertheless increased steadily in million-pound increments, with eight bidders entering the fray, five actively competing over £25 million. Several other interested buyers were never able to enter the bidding at all. Four of the bidders were in the salesroom, with four Sotheby’s employees bidding over the telephone.
The successful bidder was Sam Fogg, a London dealer in Western and Oriental manuscripts, who was in the room bidding on behalf of a private collector. At the fall of the gavel, the room erupted in loud and sustained applause.
According to Carol Vogel in the July 11 edition of The New York Times, “speculation in the salesroom last night was that the buyer was David Thomson, a Canadian collector and the son of Lord Thomson of Fleet, former owner of The Times of London. Mr. Thomson is thought to have outbid several museums, including the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.”
Following the auction, Wyndham said, “In my 28 years in the art world, this was the greatest Old Master painting ever to come on the market. I have lived with it for the past six months and it has been a great friend. This has been a highly emotional experience for me.”
The sale also set records for the following artists: Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, il Guercino, Balthasar Van der Ast and Gerrit Adriaensz. Berckheyde.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm