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Princess Diana’s Family Rubens, Turner Lead $161 Million Sales

"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 owned by Princess Diana’s family and a J.M.W. Turner landscape are the top lots in Old Master sales that are expected to raise as much as 106.6 million pounds ($161 million) starting today.

The two paintings, not seen at auction for more than a century, will be offered by Christie’s International and Sotheby’s as London moves on from mixed results at sales of Impressionist and contemporary art.

“Old Masters are more stable,” the Amsterdam-based art adviser, Johan Bosch van Rosenthal, said in an interview. “Because of that, there’s a perception that prices are lagging behind. We’re seeing new people with more money than knowledge coming into the market. The multimillion-pound pictures will attract these buyers.”

Last month, high-value modernist works often struggled to attract bidding as buyers balked at rising estimates. Average Old Master prices declined 16.7 percent from 2008 to 2009, according to the French-based database Artprice. During the same crisis-hit period, some contemporary works lost half their value.

Tonight, Christie’s offers the Rubens panel with a low estimate of 8 million pounds. The 1613-14 work, showing a warrior traditionally identified as the Emperor Charles V, hung for more than 200 years at Althorp, Northamptonshire, the childhood home of the late Princess of Wales. Christie’s says it has a financial interest in the painting that may be either a guarantee or a cash advance to the seller.

Spencer Guercino

The Spencers are also selling “King David” by the 17th-century Italian artist Guercino, estimated at 5 million pounds to 8 million pounds. The Baroque painting was bought in Rome by the 1st Earl Spencer in 1768.

Other highlights of the 67-lot sale include a recently restituted portrait of a businessman by the 16th-century German artist Georg Pencz, estimated at 5 million pounds to 8 million pounds, and a panel of the Madonna and Child that is “substantially” by the Venetian Renaissance master Giovanni Bellini, according to Christie’s. The London-based auction house has given it a low valuation of 2.5 million pounds in a sale that is expected to fetch as much as 55.8 million pounds.

Turner’s 1839 canvas “Modern Rome -- Campo Vaccino” is expected to fetch between 12 million pounds and 18 million pounds at Sotheby’s tomorrow.

Landscape Record

With Monet’s 1906 “Nympheas” water-lily painting failing to sell against a low estimate of 30 million pounds, Turner’s twilight view of some of Rome’s famous monuments could prove to be the most expensive landscape auctioned this summer in London.

The 4-foot-wide canvas, in unlined condition within its original frame, will be on sale for the first time since 1878, when it was purchased on honeymoon by Hannah Rothschild and her husband, the 5th Earl of Rosebery, the future U.K. prime minister.

“Exceptional works can do well because everyone wants the same things,” said the London-based dealer Jean-Luc Baroni, who was the underbidder when Raphael’s chalk drawing “Head of a Muse” fetched a record 29.2 million pounds at Christie’s in December. “Otherwise, the Old Master market is patchy. Medium-quality paintings are hard to sell at the moment.”

Sotheby’s 57-lot sale carries a high estimate of 50.8 million pounds. Investors will be watching with interest the performance of a Jan Lievens study of a bearded old man that sold at the same auction room for a record 1.9 million pounds with fees in July 2004 to the London-based dealer Johnny van Haeften.

Village Fete

Offered by a Dutch collector, the 17th-century panel painting now carries a low estimate of 2 million pounds, while an all-singing, all-dancing panel painting of a village fete by Pieter Breughel the Younger is expected to fetch between 2.2 million pounds and 2.6 million pounds. The multifigured Breughel, a hitherto unrecorded work, has been in the same family collection for 60 years, said Sotheby’s.

Van Haeften is one of 25 dealers participating in the U.K. capital’s second annual Master Paintings Week.

He will be exhibiting for the first time in London the 7-foot-wide panel “Mankind’s Eternal Dilemma - The Choice Between Vice and Virtue” by the 17th-century Flemish painter Frans Francken the Younger. This recently rediscovered allegory, commissioned by the city of Antwerp, has an asking price of 9.5 million pounds.

“This is less than half the price that was recently paid for Manet’s ‘Self-portrait with a Palette,’” Van Haeften said in an e-mail. A further 21 dealers will be participating in the city’s 10th annual Master Drawings week.

(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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