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Princess Diana’s Family Selling Rubens in $29 Million Clearout

"A Commander Being Armed for Battle" by artist Peter Paul Rubens. Executed in 1613-14, it is one of more than 600 items being offered by the Spencer family at Christie's this summer. The work sold for 9 million pounds with fees. Source: Christie's Images via Bloomberg

A painting by Peter Paul Rubens that hung in the childhood home of the late Diana, Princess of Wales, is among 20 million pounds ($29 million) worth of Spencer family possessions being sold in London this summer.

Rubens’s 1613 to 1614 “A Commander Being Armed for Battle” will be valued at 8 million pounds to 12 million pounds, Christie’s International said in an e-mail today. The painting is among more than 600 lots being sold by the Spencers.

“The family is taking advantage of an opportunity,” said Orlando Rock, director of Christie’s Collections Department. “There’s been a polarization in the market toward masterpieces and if you’re lucky enough to own interesting things they can achieve prices that might not be seen again.”

The Spencers, through their trustees, were encouraged to sell after record auction prices such as the 29.2 million pounds paid for a Raphael drawing of a muse at Christie’s in December, said Rock.

The Rubens depiction of a warrior, traditionally identified as the Emperor Charles V, hung over a door at the family estate of Althorp, Northamptonshire, and is included in a July 6 London sale of Old Masters and 19th-Century Art. It has recently been recognized by scholars as an autograph work by the artist, said Rock.

Another Rubens rediscovery, “The Massacre of the Innocents,” fetched 49.5 million pounds -- a record for any Old Master -- at Sotheby’s in 2002 against a low estimate of 4 million pounds.

“King David” by the 17th-century Italian artist Il Guercino is also for sale, estimated at 5 million pounds to 8 million pounds. The Baroque painting was bought in Rome by the 1st Earl Spencer in 1768, said Christie’s.

Spencer House

The trustees are also selling items that furnished Spencer House, in London’s St. James’s district -- which the family vacated in the 1920s.

On July 8, Christie’s will offer more than 40 lots of 18th-century English and French furniture, porcelain and decorative objects. These include a set of 12 George II mahogany dining chairs designed by Spencer House architect John Vardy, valued at as much as 1 million pounds.

The sale will “help the Althorp Estate to thrive for generations to come,” the trustees said in Christie’s statement. Althorp is having a 10 million-pound re-roofing and restoration project.

Diana Exhibition

“Diana: A Celebration,” an exhibition commemorating the life of the sister of Charles, 9th Earl Spencer, has been an attraction at the much-altered 16th-century house since 1998.

Christie’s has yet to set a date for its sale of the Spencer family’s collection of more than a dozen 19th-century carriages and other items it is removing from Althorp’s attics, cellars and stables.

“The ‘Attic’ sale is to do with good housekeeping,” Rock said in an interview. “The Trustees want to keep the key objects that are important to the original family collection. There are a lot of things that have been kept in storage since the 1920s and their condition isn’t improving.”

Bidders will be lured by lots such as a two-seat Regency-period coach used by Lord and Lady Spencer for state occasions, estimated at 50,000 pounds to 80,000 pounds. The ‘Attic’ auction, whose contents have yet to be confirmed, will also include everyday items such as watering cans that may have been used by Diana when growing up.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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