LONDON - Competition between bidders in the saleroom is always exhilarating to witness, as everyone present becomes involved in the drama and the tension. In the Old Master Paintings Evening sale in London last night two bidders were chasing a striking portrait of a man in black by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, and their bidding drove the price far above the high estimate of £600,000, when it finally sold for £3.2 million ($5.3 million).
Auctioneer Henry Wyndham at the rostrum for the Old Master Paintings Evening sale.
That the under bidder was Russian underlined another aspect of this sale, which attracted collectors from 22 different countries. Old Master Paintings is a truly global collecting area, with collectors from Asia, Russia, Europe and the Americas, united by connoisseurship, showing sophistication and self-confidence in their own taste. In many ways they are analogous with European Grand Tourists of 300 years ago, displaying a level of enlightenment as they collect across categories and, as here, are comfortable buying works by both established names and unknown artists.
The top lot in the sale was also redolent of the Grand Tour, as a pair of supreme Venetian view paintings by Canaletto sold for £9,602,500 ($15,732,736). They were joined by a view of St Marks Square by Michele Marieschi, which sold for £1,202,500 ($1,971,619).
The combined Evening and Day sales totalled £37,928,450 ($62,187,487), confirming Sotheby’s position as market leaders in Old Master & British Paintings. This year has seen Sotheby’s reach a worldwide total in the field of $209.7 million, and last night saw five auction records added to that total, not least for Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s A Christmas Carol from the famous Leverhulme Collection, which sold for £4,562,500 ($7,480,675).