LONDON - Gathering works for the December Old Masters sale always presents an enjoyable challenge. The London auction season ends with the July Old Masters sale and soon after we, and the rest of the world, all quite rightly get into holiday mode. Limited business can be done over the summer months, which leaves just a short period to assemble our December evening sale. 

This year, by the end of the summer, we were fortunate enough to have our star lot: Canaletto's poetic views of St Marks and Rialto. Depicting perhaps the two most recognisable views in Venice, they are in pristine condition and are a significant example of the greatest view-painter of all at the apogee of his career. Their survival as a pair is all the more remarkable, having been sold as separate lots in 1818.

Canaletto’s Venice, the Grand Canal Looking North-East from the Palazzo Dolfin-Manin to the Rialto.

We also secured a wonderful group of paintings by the Lucas Cranach, father and son. Each comes from a different collection and they beautifully complement each other. The smallest and most intimate is an immaculately preserved Lucretia from the mid 1520s by the elder Cranach, just 12 cm. in diameter; next is an equally well-preserved and finely executed Virgin and Child from after 1537 by the younger Cranach, contemplative but striking in its restrained use of colour and fiercely black background; and finally a monumental Crucifixion, also by the younger Cranach, filled with a myriad of figures expressing sorrow, joy, anger and despair.

Lucas Cranach The Younger’s The Crucifixion.

Soon after these key works were consigned to our sale, the Dutch arrived. First, Aert van der Neer's exquisite Kolf players on the ice. So fresh is the surface and so rich the glaze, it’s as if it has arrived straight from the artist's easel. Then came Frans Hals' ebullient portrait of a gentleman – the sitter seemingly the recent beneficiary of several good dinners, and rather proud of it – to complete as fine a duo of Dutch masterpieces as one could hope for. 

Aert van der Neer’s Kolf Players on the Ice.

Michele Marieschi's electric view of St Marks with the Uscita in Pozzetta of Doge Pietro Grimani completes a stellar line-up in this auction – a canvas so full of life, vibrancy and colour that when studying it, like the van der Neer, one can feel the artist at work with each paint-loaded flick of the brush. This is perhaps because it has, extraordinarily, been in the ownership of one single family since acquired from Marieschi's widow in 1743. Painted nearly 40 years later are Angelica Kauffmann's masterpieces, presented as a diptych of informal portraits of loving parents with their coquettish brood.

Angelica Kauffmann’s Portrait of Mary May with her Daughters.

Finally, sharing the brilliance of the Hals comes Sir Thomas Lawrence's powerful and psychologically charged portrayal of Arthur Wellesley, Duke of Wellington, which, like the Marieschi, has had just one careful owner. It is one of those all too uncommon instances in the realm of portraiture when a great artist, at the top of his game, perfectly captures the essence of a great man.