Asian New Money Fights Russia as Constable Tops Art Sale

"The Lock" by John Constable. The 1824 landscape was sold by Christie's International in its auction of Old Master and British paintings in London on July 3. Source: Christie's Images Ltd. 2012 via Bloomberg.

Paintings by Constable and Rembrandt starred at a $133 million auction in London last night that set a record total for any sale of Old Masters.

Constable’s 1824 landscape “The Lock” sold for a top price of 22.4 million pounds ($35 million), a record for the artist at auction, as Christie’s International found buyers for 84 percent of 64 lots.

In recent years, totals at auctions of historic European paintings -- traditionally the most expensive of artworks -- have lagged behind those at sales of Impressionist and contemporary pieces. Demand last night was bolstered by new bidders from emerging economies, said Christie’s, which had showed some of the pictures in Doha, Moscow, New York, Hong Kong and Amsterdam.

“We’re seeing the internationalization of the Old-Master market,” Jussi Pylkkanen, president of Christie’s Europe, said after the sale. “Asian and Russian clients are now buying.”

Christie’s confirmed that an Asian client was the lone telephone bidder for the 1626-27 Rembrandt painting “A Man in a Gorget and Cap,” at 8.4 million pounds. The work was one of 11 paintings being sold by Pieter Dreesmann, the son of the late Dutch department-store heir Anton Dreesmann.

All the Dreesmann lots sold, raising 25.3 million pounds, against an upper estimate of 27.6 million pounds. Most had been acquired within the last 15 years from the Maastricht-based dealer, the late Robert Noortman.

Asian bidders paid a further 2.6 million pounds and 1.8 million pounds respectively for 17th-century still lives by Balthasar van der Ast and Adriaen Coorte from the collection.

Taste Tribute

“It was a tribute to Noortman’s taste,” the Paris-based dealer Robert Haboldt said. “The market is good for quality pictures in fine condition that haven’t been overestimated.”

The Constable was the most highly valued lot, at 20 million pounds to 25 million pounds, and was consigned by Baroness Carmen ‘Tita’ Thyssen-Bornemisza, a former Miss Spain, who became Baron Hans Thyssen-Bornemisza’s fifth wife in 1985. It had been acquired by him at Sotheby’s in 1990 for 10.8 million pounds, then a record for any British painting sold at auction.

The work was guaranteed to sell courtesy of a third party “irrevocable bidder” that dealers identified as one of the auction house’s Russian clients. There were no other bidders and the unidentified guarantor was the buyer, Christie’s said.

Price Question

“There just aren’t any private collectors for this kind of picture at the moment,” the New York-based dealer Richard L. Feigen said. “The Constable sold for the price of a second-tier Warhol. It’s ridiculous.”

Feigen said the Constable was the best painting in the sale, together with an unrestored panel of Christ flanked by Saints Paul and Peter by the 14th-century Sienese master Pietro Lorenzetti.

Thought by experts to the lower predella section from an altarpiece now in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, this was bought by Feigen for a record 5.1 million pounds, five times the lower estimate. The New York dealer wouldn't reveal the identity of the client he was representing.

Other records included the 4.6 million pounds given by a phone bidder for an oil-on-copper painting by Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael of the god Vulcan surprising his wife Venus in bed with Mars, and the 3.7 million pounds from the London dealer Jean-Luc Baroni for a Pieter Jansz Saenredam landscape. Both these 17th- century Dutch works were discoveries in unrestored condition.

The event raised 85.1 million pounds with fees against an estimate of 61.8 million pounds to 88.3 million pounds, based on hammer prices. It surpassed the 68.4 million-pound previous high for an Old Master auction at Christie’s in December 2009.

Masterpiece Sale

Elsewhere, a Rodin bronze of “The Kiss” was snapped up at the Masterpiece London fair.

Now in its third year, Masterpiece is billed as the U.K. capital’s equivalent of the European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, with the addition of luxury brands such as Rolls-Royce cars, Ruinart champagne and Vacheron Constantin watches.

More than 160 dealers are exhibiting in a temporary structure on the Chelsea Embankment. Sheikh Saud al Thani of Qatar and Charles Saatchi were among 5,175 VIPs at the preview.

Sladmore Gallery sold a bronze of “The Kiss,” cast during Rodin’s lifetime, to a Swiss collector for $2 million. A Middle East client bought a pair of earrings by the Parisian jeweler JAR from Symbolic & Chase for $500,000.

A hand-signed 1895 lithograph of Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” -- one of just 26 made -- is being offered by the Oslo-based dealer Kaare Berntsen, priced at 1.7 million pounds. The fair runs through tomorrow.

Pace Space

Pace Gallery is the latest New York contemporary-art dealership to announce that it’s opening a London space to coincide with the Frieze Art Fair in October.

It has commissioned the U.K. architect David Chipperfield to renovate a gallery in 6 Burlington Gardens, part of the Royal Academy of Arts. The space was previously occupied by Christie’s dealership, Haunch of Venison.

Pace joins fellow New York dealers Per Skarstedt, Michael Werner and David Zwirner scheduling to open spaces for Frieze.

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

Muse highlights include James Russell on architecture and Hephzibah Anderson on books.

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