Sotheby's old master sale delivers stellar performance

Sotheby’s latest Old Master and British Paintings evening sale in London ended the night on $117.1 million (approximately £68.3 million), smashing pre-auction estimates. It is the highest ever total for such a sale at Sotheby’s.
The statistics are outstanding – 81 per cent sold by lot, 95 per cent of works that went under the hammer were acquired at prices within or above their high estimate and there was a record level of participation for old master works.
As for the top lot of the evening, that honour went to the eighteenth century English painter George Stubbs, for his superb Tygers at Play (1770-75). It was sold to anAsian collector for £7.7 million.
It is a mesmeric painting, capturing the playful tussle between two leopard cubs. Alas, it has rarely been seen in public, passing from one private hand to another. In fact, it has only been exhibited four times since it first appeared at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
Henry Wyndham, chairman of Sotheby’s Europe, said that the results show a “great appetite” among today’s international collectors for old master works of an outstanding quality and with “exceptional provenance”.
He expanded by saying that “the key to unleashing the full potential of today’s market” is all about judicious presentation – it pays to “present such works with the right estimates in thoughtfully curated sales”.
His colleague Alex Bell, joint international head and co-chairman of Sotheby’s old master paintings department, added that this sale was a landmark event, one that has eclipsed the previous record of 2002, which realised £67.6 million.
“With 17 auction records and unprecedented international participation, we saw the market at its best: the prestigious aristocratic and private collections that constituted the core of tonight’s sale were the secret of this success,” he continued.
“Having remained in the same collections for centuries, most of the works carried the imprimatur of the greatest art patrons of the day, such as the Dukes ofNorthumberland and the Earls of Warwick and bore witness to the discerning eye of some of the most important collectors of the 20th century, including BaronCoppée and Barbara Piasecka Johnson.”
A total of 17 auction records were set, including the highest price ever paid for drawing by the epic renaissance painter Sandro Botticelli, Study for a Seated St. Joseph, his head resting on his right hand. This work, which is the first to go under the hammer since the nineteenth century, was picked up for a remarkable £1.3 million.
Old master works of art are currently enjoying a lot of popularity, with 2014 already proving to be an incredible season. The writer Susan Moore acknowledges as much in a piece for the Financial Times, explaining that something is happening with regards to collector and investor interest in this market.
“Feast and famine define the art market. A sale season, or even several in succession, may offer meagre pickings but the parched earth can suddenly turn green and lush, bearing extraordinary fruit,” she observed.
“This is such a year for Old Master drawings. Among the offerings at this summer’s London Art Week are the rarest of quattrocento Florentine drawings; outstanding Dutch and Flemish sheets from the Renaissance to the Golden Age; and fine French drawings.”
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