Albrecht Durer’s woodcut titled “The Rhinoceros” set an auction record for the German Renaissance artist with a purchase price of $866,500 at Christie’s in New York yesterday.
More records followed in today’s Renaissance and Old Master sales at Christie’s.
The rhino defeated saints and warriors in a 62-lot sale of Durer prints that tallied $6 million.
Bids for the 1515 woodcut quickly surpassed the work’s target range of $100,000 to $150,000. It depicts an animal that appeared in Lisbon in 1515, a gift to the king of Portugal from an Indian sultan and the first rhino seen in Europe since antiquity, according to the auction catalog.
Although 24 percent of the lots failed to sell, the total was within the estimated range of $4.6 million to $6.9 million.
While Christie’s maintains the confidentiality of its sellers, dealers identified the consignor of the Durers as Swiss collector Samuel Josefowitz.
“It’s an open secret,” said Susan Schulman, a New York- based private art dealer specializing in Old Masters prints. “In the second half of the 20th century, Sam was the biggest buyer of Old Masters prints.”
Josefowitz assembled the collection piece by piece over four decades.
“He always bought the very best he could obtain,” said Tim Schmelcher, director of Christie’s prints department in London. “Money was no object.”
Five more records were set today during Christie’s sales of Renaissance and Old Master paintings, which together brought $62.6 million. “The Madonna and Child” by Fra Bartolommeo sold for $12.96 million, the top price paid for the artist at auction.
Botticelli’s “Madonna and Child With Young Saint John the Baptist” fetched $10.4 million, surpassing the high estimate of $7 million and setting an artist record.
The painting was acquired in 1925 by John D. Rockefeller Jr. from legendary art dealer Joseph Duveen and remained in the Rockefeller family for more than 50 years. The consignor bought the work for $440,000 at Christie’s in 1992, according to the auction-price database Artnet.com.
Durer’s auction record had been 409,250 pounds ($653,336 at the time) for an engraving titled “Adam and Eve” that sold in 2011.
That record was broken three times yesterday. First, another rendition of “Adam and Eve” sold for $662,500 to a client of Schmelcher’s bidding on the telephone.
A few minutes later, Schulman won an engraving titled “Saint Eustace” for $722,500. The largest of all Durer engravings, the circa-1501 work depicts a Roman general kneeling in front of a stag with a crucifix in its antlers. It once belonged to the Duke of Devonshire and sold for 190,000 pounds ($281,105) at auction in 1985.
“It’s a beautiful impression,” Schulman said. “Often the prints are enhanced. This one hasn’t been touched for the past 200 years.”
One of Durer’s most famous images, “Melencolia I” (1514), went to New York art dealer Richard Feigen for $530,500. He was bidding in the room on behalf of a museum he would describe only as “not American.”
The biggest casualty was a 1513 engraving, “Knight, Death and the Devil.” Estimated at $500,000 to $700,000, it failed to attract a single bid.
Christie’s guaranteed Josefowitz an undisclosed amount for the collection.
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