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Bidding Contest Pushes Venice Painting to Record $42.7 Million

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July 7 (Bloomberg) -- A view of Venice’s Grand Canal by Francesco Guardi sold last night for $42.7 million, the second-highest price paid at auction for an Old Master painting, as buyers selected only the best historic works.

The Guardi artist-record value of 26.7 million pounds at Sotheby’s contributed more than half of the evening’s total of 47.6 million pounds from 73 lots, of which 31.5 percent were unsold.

“There isn’t a public market for Old Masters, it’s for professionals,’’ the New York-based dealer Richard Feigen said in an interview. “Prices are far below what are being achieved for modern and contemporary works, and there are so few great things that are fresh to the market.’’

Old-Master values have struggled to keep pace with those of more fashionable works by 20th-century and living artists. Traditional paintings have a smaller pool of collectors, and while buyers still fight for museum-quality discoveries, less desirable, previously-offered works attract less demand.

The Guardi, estimated at 15 million pounds to 25 million pounds, was bought by a phone bidder represented by company’s New York-based Impressionist and modern co-chairman Charles Moffett, against lengthy competition from another phone bidder.

One of four 78-inch-wide (1.98 meter) canvases the artist painted in the late 1760s, it was rated by dealers to be the best work by Guardi to have appeared at auction since 1989, when another from the same series sold for 94.4 million French francs ($15.9 million) at Sotheby’s Monaco.

Channon Heirs

The painting was being sold by heirs of the Conservative politician Paul Channon, who died in 2007, and had never been offered at auction before. The record auction price for an Old Master is 49.5 million pounds, for Peter Paul Rubens’s “Massacre of the Innocents’’ at Sotheby’s London in 2002.

A panel painting of the Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist by the Italian artist Correggio was also a debut consignment. Described as an early work dating from about 1515, it had been in a Swiss collection for at least a century and estimated at as much as 3 million pounds.

Paintings by Correggio rarely appear on the market. Though the panel was covered in a varnish that deterred some bidders, it was bought by the London dealer Angela Nevill at 3.6 million pounds, underbid by New York gallerist Otto Naumann.

Naumann gave a mid-estimate 2.7 million pounds for an altarpiece panel by the German renaissance painter Hans Schaeufelein, who worked with both Durer and Holbein.

“It was a museum picture that should have made 4 million pounds,’’ said Feigen.

A freshly discovered study of a young member of the Carmelite order, described by art experts as an early work by the 17th-century Flemish artist Anthony van Dyck, sold within estimate for 713,250 pounds, to a telephone buyer.

The sale was estimated to raise 31.1 million pounds to 48.1 million pounds. Only four lots made more than 1 million pounds and the total was less than half the record 108.8 million pounds Sotheby’s achieved at its contemporary-art auction on June 29.

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

To contact the writer on the story: Scott Reyburn in London at sreyburn@hotmail.com.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Beech at mbeech@bloomberg.net.

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