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Harvard Lecturer’s Persian Manuscript Fetches $12 Million

An illustrated page from the 16th-century Persian manuscript, the ``Shahnameh,'' (``Book of Kings''). It was estimated to sell for between 2 million and 3 million pounds at Sotheby's auction of Islamic works from the collection of the late Harvard lecturer Stuart Cary Welch in London on April 6. It sold for 7.4 million pounds with fees. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

A page from a 16th-century manuscript sold today for 7.4 million pounds ($12 million), an auction record for any Islamic work of art.

The illuminated sheet was one of the 258 illustrations to the “Shahnameh” and offered by Sotheby’s in its sale of works from the collection of the late Harvard lecturer Stuart Cary Welch. There were five telephone bidders.

“It’s one of the supreme examples of the art of the book,” the London-based dealer Brendan Lynch said.

The sale gave Middle Eastern buyers the chance to acquire one of the last illustrations from the book, showing King Faridun transformed into a dragon to test his sons’ courage.

The “Shahnameh” was made between 1520 and 1540 for Shah Tahmasp. The manuscript was owned by Arthur Houghton II, who donated 78 paintings to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1972.

Another 118 paintings were acquired from Houghton’s estate by the London-based dealer Oliver Hoare. In 1994, Hoare persuaded the Iranian government to accept these in exchange for Willem de Kooning’s 1952 painting “Woman III” in Tehran’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Both were valued at 13 million pounds at the time and were swapped at Vienna airport, according to the U.K.’s Independent newspaper.

The Abstract Expressionist canvas was subsequently acquired by the U.S. collector David Geffen in a sale brokered by the Zurich dealer Doris Ammann. Geffen sold the painting to the hedge fund manager Steven A. Cohen for $137.5 million in 2006.

The highest price for an Islamic work of art was previously the 6.2 million pounds paid for a 17th-century Persian carpet at Christie's, London, in April 2010.

Stubbs Horse

George Stubbs is set to become only the sixth Old Master artist to sell for more than 20 million pounds ($32.5 million) at auction.

The U.K. painter’s 1765 canvas of a champion racehorse has a minimum hammer estimate of 20 million pounds at Christie’s International on July 5, the London-based auction house said today in an e-mailed statement. The work has a bid from a third party guarantor to ensure its sale.

“It’s a trophy picture,” Alan Hobart, director of London’s Pyms Gallery, said. “Horseracing is a global industry. The money could come from anywhere.”

“Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, With a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey” shows a horse who won 27 races. The work was commissioned by Gimcrack’s owner, Viscount Bolingbroke.

Stubbs Record

The Stubbs was bought at Christie’s by the Woolavington Collection for 12,600 pounds in 1951. The auction record for Stubbs is 10.1 million pounds for “Brood Mare and Foals” at Sotheby’s in 2010. His “Whistlejacket” was bought by the U.K. National Gallery in a private treaty sale brokered by Christie’s for 15.75 million pounds including tax liabilities in 1998, according to the appraisers O’Toole-Ewald Art Associates, Inc.

Only paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Turner and Pontormo have broken the 20 million-pound auction barrier for Old Masters. Rubens’s “Massacre of the Innocents” is the most expensive, fetching 49.5 million pounds at Sotheby’s in 2002. A drawing by Raphael sold for 29.2 million pounds in 2009.

Freud’s Lover

A Lucian Freud portrait of his lover, valued at as much as 4.5 million pounds, was one of five works by the artist that attracted 2,500 people to a Moscow exhibition on April 2 and 3.

The first exhibition of works in Russia by the U.K. painter was organized by Christie’s to showcase “Woman Smiling” and four drawings being auctioned on June 28.

The 1958 portrait of Suzy Boyt, mother of four of the artist’s children, is being sold by a European collector who has owned it since 1985. The 1940s drawings belong to Kay Saatchi, the ex-wife of the collector Charles Saatchi. Estimates for each range from 80,000 pounds to 400,000 pounds.

Russian and Chinese collectors are attracted to Freud’s classical technique used in a contemporary way, said dealers. Roman Abramovich was the buyer of Freud’s “Benefits Supervisor Sleeping” at Christie’s in 2008, they said. Its $33.6 million was an auction record for a work by a living artist.

Banksy’s Hurricane

A 2008 Banksy work painted after Hurricane Katrina is being offered at a London auction. “Nola (Red),” showing a girl under an umbrella raining blood, is estimated to fetch as much as 80,000 pounds at Bonhams’s on April 13.

The Bristol, England-born graffiti artist painted more than a dozen murals in New Orleans in September 2008.

“Three years after Katrina, I wanted to make a statement about the cleanup,” Banksy said on his website. The seller was gifted the work by the artist and it is verified by Banksy’s Pest Control authentication office, said Bonhams.

(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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