The Old Masters Evening sale achieved £35 million.

LONDON - If ever there was a time when the sale of an individual painting redefined a collecting category, it was last week at Sotheby's. El Greco's ethereal and intensely spiritual depiction of St. Dominic sold for £9.2 million, more than doubling the previous record for the artist set at Sotheby’s in 2000 and smashing the record for a Spanish old master painting by beating the £8.4 million paid for Velazquez's Santa Rufina in 2007, also at Sotheby's. The old masters had an unusually wide appeal, with bidders at the sale coming from three continents. 

El Greco’s Saint Dominic in Prayer sold for £9.2 million.

I cannot remember a better atmosphere in an Old Master Paintings auction. At times it felt as if we were selling Warhols and Richters, so widespread and lively was the bidding. It was a buoyant night with records galore – in addition to the El Greco, seven further artist records were set, including for Claude-Joseph Vernet’s magnificent chef d’oeuvre, a panoramic view of his hometown of Avignon, which sold for £5.3 million, beating the previous record by $1 million, which had also been set at Sotheby’s New York in 2011.

Gian Domenico Tiepolo’s extraordinary set of detached frescoes displaying, on gold ground, six scenes from the history of the Porto family of Vicenza, made £3.2 million. Encouragingly, all seven Netherlandish flower paintings found buyers selling for an aggregate £4.3 million, above the combined high estimate and showing exceptionally positive signs of strength in this important area of the market.

Gian Domenico Tiepolo’s detached frescoes sold for £3.2 million.

Eighty percent of lots found buyers, the highest sell-through rate in this category for many years and bidders came from an unprecedented 33 countries, the same number as participated in the Contemporary evening sale the week before.

These are exciting times for us and we feel that we have entered a new era for the Old Master Paintings market. We have tried, and I hope succeeded, to offer for sale the most exciting and diverse works we can find – and to present them in a more contemporary and visually enticing way both in our catalogues and in the galleries. Of course we are not alone in this endeavour, and I very much look forward to seeing what is on offer, and how it is all presented, at Frieze Masters in October. No doubt, as last year, there will be lessons to be learned.