Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- A Raphael drawing sold last night at auction for $47.8 million, the highest price for any work on paper.
The black chalk “Head of a Young Apostle” by Raffaello Sanzio (1483-1520), called Raphael, went for about three times its hammer-price estimate of 10 million pounds ($16 million) to 15 million pounds at Sotheby’s, London. There was applause as it fetched 29.7 million pounds with fees after a 17-minute battle.
“It was the right price for a fantastic drawing,” said the London dealer Stephen Ongpin, who was the underbidder. “I just couldn’t go any further.”
Museum-quality works by the world’s most famous artists are fetching higher prices as new buyers enter the market and rich collectors concentrate their investments on the rarest trophies. Though Old Masters are a less fashionable collecting area than contemporary art, famous names such as Raphael continue to be premium brands.
Ongpin competed against fellow London dealer Jean-Luc Baroni, Sotheby’s New York-based Old Master head, George Wachter, and the winner, Natasha Mendelsohn, who looks after private clients at Sotheby’s London. The auction house wouldn’t confirm if Mendelsohn was bidding for a Russian buyer.
The Raphael had been acquired 300 years ago by William Cavendish, 2nd Duke of Devonshire, and kept in the family collection at Chatsworth, Derbyshire. It is a study for one of the figures in “The Transfiguration,” a much-admired late painting by Raphael now in the Vatican Museum, Rome.
Its price was the highest this year for a lot sold at auction in Europe. It was also the second highest for any Old Master after the Rubens painting “Massacre of the Innocents,” which raised 49.5 million pounds at Sotheby’s in 2002.
In December 2009, Raphael’s black chalk “Head of a Muse” sold for 29.2 million pounds ($47.6 million at the time) at Christie’s International, setting a then-auction record for a work on paper. It was bought on the telephone, dealers said, by the U.S.-based collector Leon Black, chief executive of Apollo Global Management LLC and a trustee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Baroni was the under bidder on that occasion.
Peregrine Cavendish, who is the 12th Duke of Devonshire and deputy chairman of Sotheby’s, is raising money to preserve his home. He also offered for sale two 15th-century Flemish manuscripts from his ancestral house.
The chivalric romance “Deeds of Sir Gillion de Trazegnies in the Holy Land,” formerly owned by King Francis I of France, sold to a bid in the room from the Basel-based manuscript dealer Joern Guenther for 3.9 million pounds, bidding on behalf of the J. Paul Getty Museum. It had been estimated at 3 million pounds to 5 million pounds.
“Mystere de la Vengeance,” made in 1468 for Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, didn‘t attract any bidding. Featuring 20 large illustrations, this text of a court play was the most expensive illuminated manuscript sold at auction when it fetched 493 pounds and 10 shillings in 1812. It was priced here at 4 million pounds to 6 million pounds.
The most expensive painting last night was “The Prayer Before the Meal” by Jan Steen. This tranquil scene, showing a young family in an atmospherically lit interior, by one of 17th-century Holland’s foremost genre painters, had been entered fresh to the market from Sudeley Castle, Gloucestershire.
Guaranteed to sell through a third-party “irrevocable” bid, the signed panel painting, dated 1660, was bought by the guarantor for 5.6 million pounds.
Competition was often galvanized by telephone bidding from the auction house’s client services staff who look after Russian buyers. Irina Kronrod, taking telephone bids, paid 3.3 million pounds for a Bernardo Bellotto view of the Grand Canal, Venice, and 1.3 million pounds for a Pieter Brueghel the Younger painting, “The Village Lawyer’s Office.” Both lots almost doubled their presale upper estimates.
An online bidder paid a further 1.3 million pounds for an early 16th-century Florentine portrait of a teenage boy identified as Giovanni Daddi, a member of a family of bankers. Though the identity of the artist was unknown, the almost-pristine oil on panel painting sold for more than an upper estimate of 800,000 pounds. The price was the highest paid by an internet bidder outside a specialist online auction, Sotheby’s said.
Sotheby’s raised 58.1 million pounds with fees from its 51 lots, with 74.5 percent of the material successful. The presale estimate was 35.6 million pounds to 52.9 million pounds. The equivalent event last year raised 20.1 million pounds.
Dealers regarded quality levels at Sotheby’s as higher than they had been the previous evening at Christie’s International, where almost half the Old Master lots failed to sell.
“There was a world of a difference between the two auctions,” the New York-based dealer Otto Naumann said in an interview. “Sotheby’s had more interesting paintings that were fresh to the market. Good things do well, mediocre things don’t even sell. That rhymes, by the way.”
Christie’s had 54 lots that raised 11.6 million pounds with fees, slightly more than the low estimate, based on hammer prices, with 46 percent of the lots unsuccessful. The total was less than half the 24.1 million pounds achieved at the same sale last year, emphasizing dwindling demand for middling-quality historic pictures.
“It’s a tough environment for business-getting at the moment,” James Bruce-Gardyne, Christie's auctioneer, said. “Some sellers preferred to enter works in our Old Master auction in New York in January and the economic situation has affected buyers from countries like Italy.”
The Christie’s top price was the 2.1 million pounds with fees paid by the London-based dealer Johnny Van Haeften for the Homer-inspired canvas, “The Meeting of Odysseus and Nausicaa,” by the 17th-century Flemish painter Jacob Jordaens. Never offered at auction before, it had been estimated at 500,000 pounds to 800,000 pounds.
(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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