Published: December 19, 2000
Old Masters in London Reach an All-Time High
LONDON – Christie’s December 13 sale of Old Master pictures realized a record total of $81.15 million, the highest ever sale total for an auction in this category.
A total of 18 auction record prices were established for Brescianino, Bassano, Cabel, Errard, Naiveu, Pasqualino, Pater, Verelst and Watteau, among others.
Buying activity by lot broke down as 82.5 percent UK and Europe, 15 percent American and 2.5 percent from other parts of the world.
The top lot was Rembrandt’s “Portrait of an Old Lady, Aged 62,” which sold for $28,675,830, establishing a new world record price at auction for the famous Seventeenth Century Dutch artist as well as becoming the second most expensive Old Master picture ever sold. Paintings form the collection of the late Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild, including masterpieces by Watteau and Fragonard, realized $43.4 million. Ten works of art sold for over $1.45 million apiece.
The bidding was fast and furious for the Rembrandt masterpiece as Lord Hindlip, Christie’s chairman and the auctioneer of the sale, took bids from clients in the room and on the telephone. When the hammer finally came down cheers and applause broke through the firm’s Great Room as the successful client, Robert Noortmann, a member of the European trade, lifted his paddle to seal the winning bid.
Noortman, who owns a gallery in Maastricht, told the Associated Press he was proud to be bringing the masterpiece back to the Netherlands, and that he had fallen in love with its subject matter.
“You can tell that the woman in this painting must have been someone Rembrandt really liked, because it is so intimate,” he said. “There is such feeling in it that you fall in love with the old lady just looking at it.
“I fell in love with her even though she’s meant to be 62 – and my wife didn’t even mind,” AP reported.
The final fee, including a premium and tax, eclipsed the $9 million paid in 1998 at a New York Sotheby’s auction for “Portrait of a Bearded Man in a Red Coat.”
“It is the best Rembrandt to come up at auction for decades and he was one of our greatest painters, so I am very happy,” Noortman told AP. “I knew it was going to go for more than Christie’s thought, but it’s only money.”
Signed and dated 1632, the oil on oval panel by Rembrandt was one of the most important works by the artist to appear at auction in recent years. In excellent condition, the painting displays the full technical mastery of the artist as he presented a lively elderly lady and dates to Rembrandt’s early, established career in Amsterdam.
Recent research conducted by Christie’s has suggested the sitter in the work was Aeltje Pictersdr Uylenburgh, the sister of Hendrick and Saskia’s aunt. Rembrandt is known to have painted both Aeltje, who was born in 1570, and her husband, the Calvinist clergyman Johannes Cornelisz Sylvius.
Two exquisite tondos by Jean-Honore Fragonard (1732-1806) depicting a blonde woman holding a dove, and a brunette playing with a cat and a dog were highly sought after by collectors, selling for $5,102,390 and $3,668,870 respectively. The two pictures were also a part of the collection of the later Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild and have long been regarded as portraits of the sisters Marie-Catherine and Marie-Madeleine Colombe, the Venetian born actresses at the Comedie Italienne who took late Eighteenth Century Paris by storm.
Among the other true rarities in the sale from the French pictures in the late Baroness Rothschild’s collection was a magnificent paintings by Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), “Le Conteur: The Italian Comedians in a Landscape.” Executed during the height of his career, the painting sold for $3,509,590, and was among the last of the great artist’s paintings remaining in private hands.
Further highlights of the sale from other collections included “The Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, Venice” by Giovanni Antonio Canal, Il Canaletto (1697-1768), which sold for $11,155,030, the highest price ever paid for a Venetian view painted by the artist.
An important panel by Domenikos Theotokopoulos, El Greco (circa 1541-1614), “The Flight into Egypt,” circa 1570 (est $1,7/2,6000,000), sold for $1,916,790. The work dates from the period of El Greco’s second sojourn in Venice when he returned from Rome to La Serenissima before his final departure for Spain in 1576.
A set of four paintings, “The Four Elements,” by Joachim Beuckelaer (1534-1574), estimated at $2.17 to $2.9 million, unprecedented at auction and that were for nearly 100 years considered lost, only to be rediscovered in the late 1980s, sold for a record $4,305,990. Each scene not only reveals the artist’s brilliant handling of the brush and his vivid sense of color but is also imbued with Beuckelaer’s idiosyncratic approach, seen best in the lively details.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm