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The Old Masters stay fresh in London

Old Masters, fresh sales | Auction house reshuffles | All change for London summer fairs | BADA revamp | New director for Artissima

17 December 2016

Apollo’s regular round-up of art market headlines and comment. Visit Apollo Collector Services for expert advice on navigating the art market.

Old Masters, fresh sales | The top end of the Old Master market can be a slave to very small pool of names, their repute ingrained over centuries. Extraordinary works such as Rubens’ Lot and his Daughters, found on the wall of a suburban bungalow and sold at Christie’s in July for £45m, are once-in-a-lifetime finds for auction house specialists.

As we wait for another Lot, it’s the gems by under-appreciated ‘minor masters’ and less confidently attributed works by household names that lead the market, as proved in last week’s solid round of London’s Old Master auctions (although the cumulative totals of five sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams did not match the price fetched by that one Rubens). Small offerings of cautiously estimated and fresh works saw success, with better selling rates than this time last year.

(mid 15th century), Master of the Osservanza

The Flagellation (mid 15th century), Master of the Osservanza

Sotheby’s bijou sale, with 83 per cent sold for £14.8 million, was held up by fresh to the market works from four private collections – those of the Marquess of Lothian, Forbes, Rutter and Von Lenbach. From the latter came the delicate 15th-century gold-ground panel of the Flagellation by the Sienese artist, the Master of the Osservanza. It sold for £1.4 million, double top estimate, to a representative of the Moretti Gallery. Top lot was Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s Return from the Kermesse, which realised £2.6m.

Christie’s had the misfortune of two headline works being withdrawn before the sale, a big dent in their potential total. Sir Edwin Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen – expected to make over £10m – was removed from the sale last month by Diageo to give the National Galleries of Scotland time to raise funds to buy. A last-minute withdrawal was a small Goya sketch (estimated at £4–6 million), pulled by vendor Borja Thyssen.

(c. 1625–26), Jacob Jordaens

The Holy Family with an Angel (c. 1625–26), Jacob Jordaens

But the sale was 81 per cent sold, totalling £12.2 million. It was topped by Jacob Jordaens’ strikingly human depiction of The Holy Family with an Angel (c. 1625–26), given a cautious £500,000-800,000 guide but sold for £1.8 million. Records were made for several artists including Judith Leyster, whose rediscovered self portrait fetched £485,000. The Art Newspaper reported that the leading expert on Leyster had been searching for this portrait all her life – and finally found it in the Christie’s catalogue.

Auction house reshuffles | It’s transfer season in the auction world. First, the changes at Christie’s, from where golden boy Brett Gorvy, chairman and international head of Post War and contemporary art, has departed after 23 years to join forces with dealer Dominique Lévy. Lévy and Gorvy will be quite the power duo.

Guillaume Cerutti and Patricia Barbizet

Guillaume Cerutti and Patricia Barbizet

Then, on 14 December, Christie’s announced that Guillaume Cerutti would take over as CEO from the new year, ‘on the recommendation of Patricia Barbizet’, the current chief executive. Barbizet, who succeeded Steven Murphy as CEO two years ago, will become vice chairman of the board and remain as CEO of Francois Pinault’s parent company, Artemis. On the same day, Sotheby’s announced that Christy MacLear, chief executive of the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, will join its advisory team in New York, working alongside Allan Schwartzman of Art Agency Partners fame.

All change for London summer fairs | London’s 2017 summer fairs season is set to look quite different from recent years. Haughton International Fairs’ Art Antiques London, launched in 2009, will not run in 2017. In a letter to exhibitors, the organisers cited ‘many and varied reasons for this decision not least the adverse trading conditions but also the high, and increasing, costs of producing the fair.’

Masterpiece London announced that Nazy Vassegh, who joined the fair as CEO in 2013, will step down at the end of 2016. A spokesperson told ATG this week that: ‘Masterpiece is looking for a replacement CEO, who would take up the role in the new year. Chairman Philip Hewat-Jaboor will work closely with the team on the fair until a replacement is announced.’

BADA revamp | The British Antique Dealers Association (BADA) has renamed the BADA Fair as BADA 2017 (15–21 March), part of an ongoing revamp of the association’s traditional brand. Following the general trend, BADA is going for a more modern and contemporary slant. Fair director Madeleine Williams told ATG they were ‘livening it up’ and wanted to ‘make sure the fair remains relevant for contemporary audiences’.

New director for Artissima | And finally, the curator and art historian Ilaria Bonacossa has taken up the directorship of Artissima, Turin’s contemporary art fair, for the next three years. She succeeds Sarah Cosulich, director for five years.

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