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Auction Surprise as Sea Scene Tops Art at Sotheby’s

"The Surrender of the Royal Prince," a 17th-century painting of an Anglo-Dutch sea battle by Willem van de Velde the Younger. The work sold for a top price of 5.3 million pounds at Sotheby's July 4 auction of Old Master paintings in London. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg.

A Dutch sea-battle scene was the top lot at an auction in London last night as Old Masters brought the summer season of art sales to an end.

Sotheby’s event of 43 lots raised 32.3 million pounds ($50 million) with fees, against an estimate of as much as 40.3 million pounds, based on hammer prices, with 67 percent of the works successful.

This time, the New York-based house had fewer big-name trophies than Christie’s International, which the evening before raised 85.1 million pounds, a record for an Old-Master auction.

“It’s a whole new market from what it was 10 years ago,” the London-based adviser Hector Paterson said. “Private collectors are buying the best things at auction, making it too expensive for dealers to buy for stock.”

Willem van de Velde the Younger’s 17th-century painting of the surrender of a British flagship to a Dutch fleet in 1666 was estimated at 1.5 million pounds to 2.5 million pounds. It hadn’t been seen at auction for more than 30 years.

The London-based dealer Johnny van Haeften pursued the lot to 3.6 million pounds. After a 9-minute battle the painting was won by a Dutch collector, represented by the dealer William Noortman, for 5.3 million pounds.

The auction’s most highly valued lots were a Lucas Cranach the Elder altarpiece and a Pieter Breughel the Younger painting of “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent.” Both were estimated at 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds.

Guaranteed Cranach

Cranach’s 1511-1512 “Feilitzsch Altarpiece” was one of two works guaranteed to sell through third-party “irrevocable bids.” Christie’s guaranteed eight lots the previous evening.

Formerly owned by the German politician Konrad Adenauer, the Cranach sold for 4.3 million pounds to the guarantor.

The Breughel, based on a 1559 painting by the artist’s more famous father, was crammed with more than 100 figures. It had been bought for $2.7 million at Christie’s, New York, in 1989. This time, it sold for 4.5 million pounds to a telephone bidder.

Another surprise of the evening was the five-times-estimate price paid for “Christ Among the Doctors” by the Italian Baroque painter Orazio Borgianni.

The auction result database Artnet records fewer than 10 authenticated works by the Roman follower of Caravaggio appearing at public sales.

This early composition, dating from about 1610 and never offered before at auction, sold for a record 3.4 million pounds after being valued at 400,000 pounds to 600,000 pounds. The previous auction high for the artist was just 133,500 pounds in 1998.

Bidding Battle

Alexander Bell, Sotheby’s worldwide co-chairman of Old Master paintings, gave the winning bid on behalf of a private client. He fought off competition from at least four under bidders, including the London-based agent Robert Holden and the dealer Fabrizio Moretti.

Earlier in the day at Sotheby’s, the Swiss-based collector and dealer David Lachenmann gave 1.9 million pounds for a newly rediscovered Canaletto study of Venice.

The detailed pen-and-brown-ink sheet showing the Campo di San Giacomo di Rialto, the traditional center of the Venetian banking industry, had been estimated at 300,000 pounds to 500,000 pounds. Six bidders pushed the price to a record level for a work on paper by the artist. The drawing hadn’t been seen in public since 1876.

(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 Jorg von Uthmann on Paris art, Warwick Thompson on London theater and Jason Harper on cars.

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