Published: July 15, 2003
A recently discovered Rembrandt self-portrait dated 1634 sold at Sotheby’s on July 10 for $11.3 million – the highest price ever achieved for a Rembrandt self-portrait and the fourth highest price ever paid at auction for a work by the artist.
The painting sold to the American collector Steve Wynn, who bid by telephone and who bought the painting after a lively battle with a determined private collector bidding in the room. The self-portrait was the highlight of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings sales, which were conducted in two parts and made a combined total of $36.6 million. The sale saw many works exceed their the presale estimates, with new auction records set for works by Jean-Marc Nattier and Giulio Cesare Procaccini.
Alex Bell, head of Old Master paintings at Sotheby’s in London, said: “We were delighted with the price achieved by the portrait, which fully reflects the importance of the work and its intriguing history. The painting will now go on public display in Las Vegas and we are very glad that the wider public will have an opportunity to see it at first hand.
“In addition to the Rembrandt,” Bell continued, “the sale saw strong, competitive bidding throughout, with some exceptional prices achieved for works by Vernet, Vanvitelli, Carracci and many others. The sales confirm that quality works which are fresh to the market are as sought-after as ever, and demand for Old Master paintings remains extremely strong.”
The Rembrandt self-portrait, which was hidden for more than 300 years behind layers of overpaint, will now be hung in the Wynn Resorts Collection in Las Vegas, where it will be on view to the public. The striking image of one of the world’s most celebrated masters recently emerged after more than two years of painstaking cleaning and is the first Rembrandt self-portrait to appear at auction in the last 30 years. (The last one sold at Sotheby’s in 1973). It is also one of only three known Rembrandt self-portraits still in private hands. Sold by a descendent of the French collector Paul Page, the painting exceeded its presale estimate of $6.5/9.8 million by a healthy margin.
“Self-Portrait With Shaded Eyes” had previously lain concealed beneath the reworking of one of Rembrandt’s pupils who, shortly after the work was executed in 1634, transformed the portrait into a fanciful study of a flamboyantly dressed Russian aristocrat. After various attempts at cleaning by curious owners in the Twentieth Century, the painting was taken to Amsterdam in 2000, where it was subjected to careful research and restoration by Ernst van der Wetering, head of the Rembrandt restoration project, and Martin Bijl, former head of conservation at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam.
Another rediscovery, that of Annibale Carcci’s “Montalto Madonna,” also performed well. Estimated at $490/800,000, the important work, previously considered lost, made $1.29 million. One of the most famous paintings of its time, Caracci’s “Montalto Madonna” was copied repeatedly by generations of artists in Rome, both in painted and in engraved form. Some time after 1672, the small copper panel disappeared and for more than 300 years it was considered lost. It appeared at Sotheby’s counter several months ago and, following months of research by Letizia Treves of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department, its entire history from the time it was painted to the present day was reconstructed.
View paintings also performed well. Estimated at $1.9 million to $2.6 million, a pair of paintings by Claude-Joseph Vernet (1714-1789), which once belonged to Robert Clive, or “Clive of India,” made $3.8 million. Originally commissioned by Stanislas II Augustus Poniatowski, the last king of Poland, the two works found their way into Clive’s collection after the king of Poland failed to settle his account with Vernet. Sold in their original frames, the two contrasting works (titled “Calme: A Landscape at Sunset with Fishermen Returning with Their Catch” and “Tempete: A Shipwreck in Stormy Seas”) rank among Vernet’s finest seascapes.
Other highlights included two works by Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli, both of which more than tripled their presale estimates. “Rome, a View of the Apse of Saint Peter’s Basilica” sold for $3.3 million against an estimate of $650/980,000, while “Naples, A View of the Darsene” made $3.1 million against an estimate of $800,000 to $1.1 million Not previously identified in any of the literature on the artist, the two works represent an important addition to Vanvitelli’s body of work.
Previous records for two artists’ works were also broken at the sale when Jean-Marc Nattier’s “Portrait of Madame de Pompadour” made $777,140 and Guilio Cesare Procaccini made $539,430.
Rounding out the top ten in part one of the sale were “The Birth of the Virgin” by Luis de Morales, called El Divino Badajoz, which sold for $960,000; Peter Brueghel the Younger’s “Spring: Gardeners Digging and Planting a Formal Garden,” $832,000; and Bartolome Esteban Murillo’s “The Immaculate Conception,” $557,710.
While most of the highlights occurred during part one of the auction, a number of works featured in part two handily exceeded their presale estimates. Among the top three in this session were “Portrait of Gabriele Tadino,” studio of Tiziano Vecellio, called Titian, $329,140; “Study of the Head of An Old Man,” attributed to Andrea di Leone, $140,000; and “Still Life of Grapes, Peaches, Plums, Raspberries and Cherries,” by Johannes Hannot, $92,080.
All prices quoted above include buyer’s premium.
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