Published: July 13, 2004
Huge crowds flocked to Sotheby’s on the evening of July 7 to witness the first appearance of a Vermeer at auction since 1921.
The painting, “Young Woman Seated at the Virginals,” is one of only 36 known works by the artist. It was recently acknowledged by scholars as a genuine Vermeer, following an 11-year program of research and restoration.
The painting was the last remaining generally accepted work by Vermeer still in private hands. Seven bidders drove the painting to its final price of $30,006,650.
At the conclusion of the lot preceding the Vermeer, there was an audible murmur of expectation from the audience, which grew to a crescendo when a white-gloved member of Sotheby’s staff brought the painting into the saleroom.
The murmur quieted when Henry Wyndham, Sotheby’s chairman and the sale’s auctioneer, opened the bidding. He began at $4.5 million and the price quickly rose to $5.9 million. The bidding then passed to two telephone bidders and they took the price to $11 million.
At that point, the Old Master paintings dealer Robert Noortman raised his hand and bidding against Sotheby’s expert George Gordon, who was taking bids from an anonymous client on the telephone, the price rose rapidly to $24 million. After a brief hesitation, Noortman made one more bid before finally ceding the battle to George Gordon. Wyndham brought the hammer down to general applause.
Alex Bell, co-chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master paintings department worldwide, said: “The feeling of expectation in the room tonight was closely reminiscent of the excrdf_Descriptionent we witnessed two years ago when we sold Rubens’ ‘Massacre of the Innocents’ for £49.5 million [$76.7 million]. Both the Vermeer and the Rubens were newly discovered or newly attributed works, which added enormously to their appeal and to their eventual record price.”
In addition to the Vermeer, the sale saw strong, competitive bidding throughout, with strong prices achieved for works by Rubens, Lievens, Daddi, Cranach and many others. Records were set for paintings by Jan Lievens and Bernardo Daddi. Overall, the sale made a total of $55,349,832.
Lievens’ “Study of the Head and Shoulders of an Old Bearded Man” sold for $3,423,720, handsomely outstripping the presale estimate of $370/550,000 and establishing a new auction record for the artist. Painted when Lievens was just 22 years, the power of this highly compelling work compares with that of Rembrandt’s most accomplished paintings. The picture previously belonged to the famous Rotterdam collector and benefactor D.G. van Beuningen, whose collections form the heart of the holdings of the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam.
The second highest price of the evening was paid for a rare night scene by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), which fetched $4,561,510. An intensely private work, the painting was kept by Rubens for his own enjoyment and contemplation. Painted circa 1617-18, it stands as an important witness to Rubens’ mastery of the dramatic effects of light and to his complete, and early, absorption of the influence of the celebrated Italian artist Caravaggio.
An early Italian work, “The Coronation of the Virgin” by the Florentine master Bernado Daddi, made $2,906,540. Painted in around 1340-45, the work shows the moment when the Virgin Mary is crowned the Queen of Heaven by her Son.
Other works that performed well included “The Head of Christ Crowned with Thorns,” a previously unrecorded work by Lucas Cranach the Elder that sold for $1,251,570 and “Card Players at a Table,” one of the most elegant and engaging works from Pieter de Hooch’s Amsterdam period. It sold for $2,285,930.
Rounding out the sale’s top ten were: Jan Brueghel the Elder, “A River Scene with Boats Unloading at a Quay and Village Beyond,” $1,044,700; Francois Boucher, “Le Moulin à Eau” and “Le Pigeonnier” (two works), $796,450; Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called il Guercino, “Portrait of Francesco Righetti,” $796,450; and Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli, “Venice, A View of the Island of San Maggiore” and “A View of the Island of San Michele and Murano,”$713,710.
Prices reported include buyer’s premium, which is 20 percent of the first $100,000 and 12 percent thereafter.
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