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Bellotto and Brueghels Bomb at Christie’s Old Master sale in London

July 9, 2015
Lot 41. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp) The Outdoor Wedding Dance signed and dated '·P· BREUGHEL · 1621' (lower left) oil on oak panel, stamped on the reverse with the coat-of-arms of the City of Antwerp and the clover leaf panel-maker's mark of Michiel Claessens (active Antwerp 1590-1637) 16 x 20½ in. (40.5 x 52 cm.) Estimate: £1,200,000 – £1,800,000 ($1,888,800 - $2,833,200)

Lot 41. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)
The Outdoor Wedding Dance
signed and dated ‘·P· BREUGHEL · 1621’ (lower left)
oil on oak panel, stamped on the reverse with the coat-of-arms of the City of Antwerp and the clover leaf panel-maker’s mark of Michiel Claessens (active Antwerp 1590-1637): 16 x 20½ in. (40.5 x 52 cm.)
Estimate: £1.2-1.8 million ($1,888,800 – $2,833,200). This lot sold for a hammer price of £1 million (£1,202,500 with fees).

Christie’s Old Master & British painting July 2015 evening sale in London kicked off amid controversy with the withdrawal of six paintings from Russborough House in Ireland, and suffered some major losses when the star lot, a Bellotto of Dresden (below), and three of four heavily promoted works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger failed to sell (below).  Seven of the evening’s works came from the Cunningham Collection, of which three failed to find buyers including an Italianate scene by Nicolaes Berchema Jan van Goyen dune landscape with figures, and a de Heem still life.  The sale grossed £18,993,500, less than half the £39+ million achieved at Sotheby’s the night before, and 18 works went unsold. As Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina tweeted (below), Christie’s has trailed Sotheby’s in Old Master sales for the past three years.

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Lot 1. Giovanni di Paolo (Siena c. 1399-1482) Christ as the Man of Sorrows on gold ground panel 5 ¾ x 4 1/8 in. (14.6 x 10.5 cm.) Estimate: £60,000-80,000 ($94,440 - $125,920). Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 1. Giovanni di Paolo (Siena c. 1399-1482)
Christ as the Man of Sorrows
on gold ground panel: 5 ¾ x 4 1/8 in. (14.6 x 10.5 cm.)
Estimate: £60,000-80,000 ($94,440-125,920). This lot sold for a hammer price of £80,000 (£98,500 with fees). 
Click on image to enlarge.

The sale began with an early Giovanni di Paolo (above) followed by a nicely executed Sano di Pietro (below), embellished with refined punch work (I am, however, still not convinced he is the Osservanza Master). Lot 3, a work by Nicolás Francés (below) that failed to sell this past January at Christie’s in New York, and at roughly the same estimate ($300,000-500,000), sold well below its low estimate of £200,000, hammering for £150,000 (£182,500 with fees).  Lot 6, a Studio of Quentin Metsys Madonna of the Cherries lit up the salesroom and shot past its £80,000 high estimate to hammer for £210,000 (£254,500 with fees), but that level of excitement proved fleeting.  It was a workmanlike effort to get to the final lot.

Lot 2. Sano di Pietro (Siena 1405-1481) The Madonna and Child inscribed 'AVE·GRATIA·..A·dOM' (on the Madonna's halo) on gold ground panel 16 ¼ x 11 5/8 in. (41.2 x 29.6 cm.) Estimate: £150,000 – £250,000 ($236,100 - $393,500) Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 2. Sano di Pietro (Siena 1405-1481)
The Madonna and Child
inscribed ‘AVE·GRATIA·..A·dOM’ (on the Madonna’s halo)
on gold ground panel: 16 ¼ x 11 5/8 in. (41.2 x 29.6 cm.)
Estimate: £150,000-250,000 ($236,100-393,500). This lot sold for a hammer price of £140,000 (£170,500 with fees).
Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 3. Nicolás Francés (active León 1434-1461) The Mass of Saint Gregory on gold ground panel, with the original gessoed reverse, in an integral frame: 12 ¼ x 8 ¼ in. (31.1 x 20.9 cm.) Estimate: £200,000-300,000 ($314,800-472,200). Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 3. Nicolás Francés (active León 1434-1461) The Mass of Saint Gregory
on gold ground panel, with the original gessoed reverse, in an integral frame: 12 ¼ x 8 ¼ in. (31.1 x 20.9 cm.)
Estimate: £200,000-300,000 ($314,800-472,200). This lot sold for a hammer price of £150,000 (£182,500 with fees).
Click on image to enlarge.

An endearing pairing of Jan Brueghel the Elder tondos (in matching, outlandish frames), sold at the low end of its pre-sale estimate.  According to the lot notes:

This beautifully preserved pair of panels, which have never before been published, were painted at the outset of Jan Breughel the Elder’s Antwerp career, after a seven year sojourn spent in Italy. He travelled there as a young man of twenty-one in 1589, working first in Naples, then in Rome, under the patronage of Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, and finally in Milan for Cardinal Federico Borromeo. He had returned to Antwerp by October 1596 and the following year registered as a master in the Antwerp guild of painters.

Lot 11. Jan Breughel I (Brussels 1568-1625 Antwerp) A rocky landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt; and A wooded landscape with the Temptation of Christ the former signed and dated '?BRVEGHEL ? 1598 ? ' (lower centre); the latter signed and dated '? BRVEGHEL ? / 1598' (lower right, on the rock) oil on oak panel, circular 8½ (21.6 cm.) diameter one of two Estimate: £500,000-800,000 ($785,000-1,256,000). Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 11. Jan Breughel I (Brussels 1568-1625 Antwerp)
A rocky landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt; signed and dated ‘?BRVEGHEL ? 1598 ? ‘ (lower centre)
oil on oak panel, circular: 8½ (21.6 cm.) diameter – one of two
Estimate: £500,000-800,000 ($785,000-1,256,000). This lot sold for a hammer price of £500,000 (£602,500 with fees).
Click on image to enlarge.

 

Lot 11. Jan Breughel I (Brussels 1568-1625 Antwerp) A rocky landscape with the Rest on the Flight into Egypt; and A wooded landscape with the Temptation of Christ the former signed and dated '?BRVEGHEL ? 1598 ? ' (lower centre); the latter signed and dated '? BRVEGHEL ? / 1598' (lower right, on the rock) oil on oak panel, circular 8½ (21.6 cm.) diameter two of two Estimate: £500,000-800,000 ($785,000-1,256,000). Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 11. Jan Breughel I (Brussels 1568-1625 Antwerp)
A wooded landscape with the Temptation of Christ; signed and dated ‘? BRVEGHEL ? / 1598’ (lower right, on the rock)
oil on oak panel, circular: 8½ (21.6 cm.) diameter – two of two
Estimate: £500,000-800,000 ($785,000-1,256,000). This lot sold for a hammer price of £500,000 (£602,500 with fees).
Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 12. Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael (Utrecht 1566-1638) The Flight into Egypt signed and dated 'JOACHIM / WTE·WAEL·FECIT / 1601' (lower centre, on the rock) oil on copper 6 1/8 x 8 ¼ in. (15.5 x 21 cm.) Estimate: £200,000-400,000 ($314,000-628,000). Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 12. Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael (Utrecht 1566-1638) The Flight into Egypt
signed and dated ‘JOACHIM / WTE·WAEL·FECIT / 1601’ (lower centre, on the rock)
oil on copper: 6 1/8 x 8 ¼ in. (15.5 x 21 cm.)
Estimate: £200,000-400,000 ($314,000-628,000). This lot sold for a hammer price of £400,000 (£482,500 with fees).
Click on image to enlarge.

According to the catalogue, “this panel [by Wtewael] stands alone as his only recorded treatment of the Flight into Egypt.”  The final paragraph of the entry states:

The work is listed in the catalogue raisonné by Anne Lowenthal, 1986, under catalogue number A29 as ‘having disappeared in November 1963 from owner’s home’. This entry was based on an advertisement in Apollo Magazine, 81, May 1965, p. 409. Christie’s has obtained a certificate from the Art Loss Register confirming that the work is not listed on the Art Loss Register database and the Art Loss Register are not aware of any claims in respect of the work.

There’s great lyricism to the composition and the execution of the figures, so no surprise that it hammered at the top of its £200,000-400,000 estimate – £400,000 (£482,500 with fees).

Lot 14. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637 Antwerp) The Wedding Feast oil on oak panel 28 ¼ x 41 ¼ in. (71.8 x 104.7 cm.) Estimate: £1,500,000 – £2,500,000 ($2,334,000 - $3,890,000)

Lot 14. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637 Antwerp) The Wedding Feast
oil on oak panel: 28 ¼ x 41 ¼ in. (71.8 x 104.7 cm.)
Estimate: £1.5-2.5 million. Bidding on this lot stopped at £1.2 million and it failed to sell.
($2,334,000 – $3,890,000).

Then the bevy of Brueghels that bombed began with The Wedding Feast (above). A Jacob Jordaens Hermes entertained by Calypso, kicked some life back into the sale, moving well past it £800,000 to hammer at £1 million (£1,202,500 with fees). Following a good cleaning, this painting should really sing. The aggressive estimate on the Richard Parkes Bonington (below) did not deter the handful of interested bidders and finally hammered at £2.15 million (£2,490,500 with fees), a record at auction for the artist.

Lot 26. Richard Parkes Bonington (Arnold, Nottinghamshire 1802-1828 London) A coastal landscape with fisherfolk, a beached boat beyond oil on canvas 23 ½ x 32 in. (59.7 x 81.3 cm.) Estimate: £2-3 million ($3,088,000 - $4,632,000).

Lot 26. Richard Parkes Bonington (Arnold, Nottinghamshire 1802-1828 London)
A coastal landscape with fisherfolk, a beached boat beyond
oil on canvas: 23 ½ x 32 in. (59.7 x 81.3 cm.)
Estimate: £2-3 million ($3,088,000 – $4,632,000). This lot sold for a hammer price of £2.15 million (£2,490,500 with fees).

Lot 31. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp) The Birdtrap oil on oak panel 15 3/8 x 22 ¼ in. (39 x 56.5 cm.) Estimate: £2-3 million ($3,088,000 - $4,632,000). Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 31. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp)  The Birdtrap
oil on oak panel: 15 3/8 x 22 ¼ in. (39 x 56.5 cm.)
Estimate: £2-3 million ($3,088,000 – $4,632,000). This lot failed to sell.
Click on image to enlarge.

And then a Birdtrap, one of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s most frequently produced compositions, came and went unsold.  A large El Greco of Christ on the Cross, which had been “in the same Spanish noble collection since 1772” and only resurfaced last year proved another bright spot, soaring past its £1.5 million high estimate to hammer for £2.1 million (£2,484,500 with fees). The Giulio Cesare Procaccini (below), “which has been part of the same Spanish noble collection for nearly three centuries,” was touted in the catalogue as one of the “most important works [of] his extant oeuvre.”  That’s a bit much – there are more lyrical, tightly composed and eloquent works by the artist.  However, there are several splendid passages so no surprise that it found a new home after all these centuries.

Lot 36. Giulio Cesare Procaccini (Bologna 1574-1625 Milan) Christ carrying the Cross signed with initials 'G. C. P.' (lower right) oil on canvas 85 ½ x 58 1/8 in. (217.2 x 147.5 cm.) Estimate: £300,000 –400,000 ($463,200 - $617,600). Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 35. Giulio Cesare Procaccini (Bologna 1574-1625 Milan) Christ carrying the Cross
signed with initials ‘G. C. P.’ (lower right)
oil on canvas: 85 ½ x 58 1/8 in. (217.2 x 147.5 cm.)
Estimate: £300,000 –400,000 ($463,200 – $617,600). This lot sold for a hammer price of £300,000 (£362,500 with fees).
Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 45. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp) The Kermesse of Saint George signed ‘P ? BREVGHEL? ’ (lower left) oil on oak panel 28 3/8 x 40 5/8 in. (72.1 x 103.2 cm.) Estimate: £2.5-3.5 million ($3,860,000 - $5,404,000). Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 45. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp) The Kermesse of Saint George
signed ‘P ? BREVGHEL? ’ (lower left)
oil on oak panel: 28 3/8 x 40 5/8 in. (72.1 x 103.2 cm.)
Estimate: £2.5-3.5 million ($3,860,000 – $5,404,000). This lot failed to sell. 
Click on image to enlarge.

The next Brueghel (above) was sold at Sotheby’s in London on July 7, 2005 for £2,248,000, so its failure marks a notable devaluation.  But it was the Bellotto that proved the big heartbreaker of the evening. The auctioneer opened at £5.5 million and “bidding” climbed at £500,000 increments until it hit £7.5 million.  He called out that number several times, swept the room with his gaze, before declaring the work unsold.

Lot 48. Bernardo Bellotto (Venice 1721-1780 Warsaw) Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe above the Augustus Bridge oil on canvas: 37 5/8 x 65 1/8 in. (95.6 x 165.4 cm.) Estimate: £8-12 million ($12,352,000 - $18,528,000). Bidding on this lot stopped at £7.5 million and it failed to sell. Click on image to enlarge.

Lot 48. Bernardo Bellotto (Venice 1721-1780 Warsaw)
Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe above the Augustus Bridge
oil on canvas: 37 5/8 x 65 1/8 in. (95.6 x 165.4 cm.)
Estimate: £8-12 million ($12,352,000 – $18,528,000). Bidding on this lot stopped at £7.5 million and it failed to sell.
Click on image to enlarge.

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