Two paintings from the collection of the U.K.’s aristocratic Spencer family raised 14.2 million pounds ($21.5 million) at an Old Master auction last night as highly valued artworks attracted selective bidding.
Peter Paul Rubens’s 1612-1614 panel painting “A Commander Being Armed for Battle” sold at Christie’s International for 9 million pounds with fees, while Guercino’s 1651 canvas “King David” fetched 5.2 million pounds, a record for the artist.
Both works from the Princess of Wales’s family sold near their lower estimates. Last month, high-value Impressionist and contemporary works often struggled to attract bidding as buyers, mindful of wider economic concerns, balked at rising estimates.
“Old Masters are selling at auction,” the London-based dealer Edmondo di Robilant said in an interview. “Private clients are bidding against each other, though usually at the low end of expectations. Competition between the auction houses creates high estimates that don’t reflect the value of some of the paintings.”
Christie’s 67-lot auction of Old Master and 19th-century paintings and drawings totaled 42.3 million pounds with fees against a low estimate of 36.8 million pounds, based on hammer prices. Seventy percent of the works found buyers.
The Rubens, traditionally identified as a depiction of the Emperor Charles V, had hung for more than 200 years at Althorp, Northamptonshire, the childhood home of the late Princess Diana. It sold in the room to the London-based dealer Konrad Bernheimer, bidding on behalf of a client, after being given a low valuation of 8 million pounds.
Christie’s had a financial interest in the lot either in the form of a guarantee or a cash payment to the seller, the London-based auction house said. Christie’s investment amounted to about 9 million pounds, according to dealers with knowledge of the matter.
The Guercino was bought in the room by the London-based dealer Dickinson against a low estimate of 5 million pounds. The 7-foot-high Baroque canvas had been acquired in Rome by the 1st Earl Spencer in 1768 and had hung in the family’s London residence, said Christie’s.
Seventy-six percent of the evening’s successful works sold for hammer prices that were either below or within estimate, including all four of the most expensive lots.
“They sold the best things and the bidding was a bit thin,” London-based dealer Julian Agnew said in an interview after the sale.
The veteran Milwaukee-based art investor Alfred Bader gave a record 5.6 million pounds for a recently-restituted portrait of the fur-clad Nuremberg businessman Sigismund Baldinger by the 16th-century German artist Georg Pencz.
A panel painting of the Madonna and Child that was “substantially” by the Venetian renaissance master Giovanni Bellini, according to Christie’s catalog, sold in the room for a record 3.5 million pounds to the London-based dealer Johnny van Haeften taking instructions over a cellphone. Dealers said the paint was in thin condition. At least one Russian client was among the underbidders, said Christie’s.
“I find the market inexplicable,” Di Robilant said. “There’s so little connoisseurship. A worn Bellini makes a record and a late masterpiece by Guercino sells below the estimate.”
The works that attracted the most competition were an oil- on-paper study of a sleeping soldier by the 18th-century Bolognese painter Ubaldo Gandolfi and a self portrait on canvas by the 17th-century Neapolitan artist Salvator Rosa. Both fresh to the market, the Gandolfi sold in the room to the Maastricht-based dealer William Noortman for 373,250 pounds and the Rosa to a telephone buyer for 769,250 pounds against low forecasts of 40,000 pounds and 100,000 pounds each.
“If we can set encouraging estimates, we get a lot of bidders,” Richard Knight, Christie’s international co-head of Old Master and 19th-century paintings and drawings, said in an interview after the sale.
The equivalent auction last year -- the first in Christie’s new format of Old Master and 19th-century paintings and drawings -- fetched 20.3 million pounds with a 76 percent success rate from 63 lots.
(Scott Reyburn writes about the art market for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)