Christie’s Old Masters Sale Boosted by US$7.7m Restituted Cranach Painting

Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Portrait of John Frederick I, Elector of Saxony, that previously returned to its rightful owner was auctioned at Christie’s Old Masters sale in New York yesterday. Originally owned by Dutch-German art collector Fritz Gutmann, the painting was looted by Nazi agents in the Netherlands during the Second World War.

Fritz Gutmann, the son of the founder of the Dresdner Bank, was a renowned art collector. He established a private bank in Amsterdam after the First World War and settled with his family there. With his particular interest in male portraits from the German Renaissance, he purchased Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Portrait of John Fredrick I in 1922.

Fritz was a banker and a renowned art collector

Following the Occupation of The Netherlands in May 1940, Gutmann’s possession was stripped by Nazi agents, including Lucas Cranach the Elder’s Portrait of John Frederick IFritz and his wife Louise were arrested in 1943. They died in the camps of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, respectively, a year later.


Fritz Gutmann's Bosbeek in the Netherlands

Louise Gutmann died in Auschwitz concentration camp

The painting has returned to Gutmann heirs after nearly 80 years, with the assistance offered by Christie's. The restituted painting was offered at Christie’s Old Masters in New York this spring and became the most expensive lot at the sale. Estimated at US$1m-2m, it was hammered down for US$6.6m after an intense bidding battle and sold for US$7.7m, seven times its pre-sale estimate.

Simon Goodman, Fritz Gutmann's grandson, was thrilled about the recovery of the long-lost portrait

Painted in the 1530s, the portrait depicts John Fredrick I (1503-1554), an electoral prince and Head of the Schmalkaldic League of Germany, who was also the artist’s greatest patron and close friend. Cranach portrayed John Frederick half-length and in three-quarter profile, with his arms slightly cropped along the left and right edges to heighten his monumentality. Exuding confidence, John Frederick clad in splendorous attire gazes resolutely ahead, his commanding figure filling the picture plane.

The second top lot was Sir Peter Paul Rubens' A Satyr Holding a Basket of Grapes and Quinces with a Nymph. Estimated at US$5m-7m, the painting sold for US$5.7m.

Rubens painted the present lot around 1620, when his creative prowess was at its very peak. Being a favorite subject for the Flemish baroque painter, Satyr was a follower of Bacchus (the Greek god of wine, also known as Dionysus).

Rubens depicted the satyr as a half-man, half-goat creature, whose pinkish cheeks suggest he has been imbibing alcohol. Details can also be seen from the dirt beneath his fingernails, as he has picked these grapes or harvested these quinces.

The Virgin and Child, painted by Jan Gossart in his late years, was another highlight of the sale. Estimated at US$3m-5m, it sold for US$3.37m.

While Christ’s fidgety demeanour speaks of childish exuberance, his gaze shows that he is no ordinary infant. The connection between Christ and the spectator is further reinforced by the position of Mary’s left hand. While her thumb and middle finger encircle her child’s chubby foot, her index finger points beyond the picture plane, thereby creating a visual bridge between Christ and the viewer, reminding us of her role as the spiritual bridge between her son and mankind.

Top three lots at Christie’s Old Masters Part I

Lucas Cranach I (Kronach 1472-1553 Weimar). Portrait of John Fredrick I, Elector of Saxony (1503-1554)

Lot no.: 7
Size: 62.8 x 39.7 cm

  • Christian Wilhelm Schweitzer (1781-1856), Minister of State, Grand Duchy of Saxe-Weimar-Eisenach (1843-1848), Weimar, 1851.
  • Joseph Neustätter, Vienna, c. 1880.
  • with Galerie Helbing, Munich, 1922.
  • with Kurt Bachstitz, The Hague.
  • Fritz Gutmann, Heemstede (Haarlem) (1886-1944), purchased from the above 1922, until dispossessed in the Netherlands as a result of Nazi persecution.
  • Private collection, United States.
  • Returned to the heirs of Fritz Gutmann, 2018, pursuant to a settlement agreement between the parties which resolves any dispute over title.

Estimate: US$1,000,000 - 2,000,000
Hammer price: US$6,600,000
Price realized: US$ 7,737,500

Sir Peter Paul Rubens. A satyr holding a basket of grapes and quinces with a nymph

Lot no.: 41
Size: 104.8 x 75.8 cm

  • (Possibly) The artist, when recorded in the Specificatie as 'No. 174 Une piece d’une Nymphe et Satyre avec un panier, plein de raisins, sur fond de bois'; from whose estate given between 1640 and 1645 to
  • Salomon Nobeliers, Brussels.
  • Sir Alfred Chester Beatty (1875-1968), New York and Dublin, 1936, and by whom given in 1967 to his mother
  • Comtesse d'Aubigny d'Esmyards, Monte Carlo; Hôtel George V, Paris, 17 June 1980, lot 65, as Studio of Sir Peter Paul Rubens.
  • Private collection, Geneva, until circa 1985.
  • George Drago, Antibes.
  • with Galería Caylus, Madrid, by 1998, from whom acquired by the present owner.

Estimate: US$5,000,000 - 7,000,000
Hammer price: US$4,800,000
Price realized: US$5,712,500

Jan Gossart, called Mabuse. The Virgin and Child

Lot no.: 48
Size: 44.6 x 33.9cm

  • with Kunsthandel Cassirer, Berlin.
  • Mr. Alfred Hausammann (d. 2002), Zurich, from 1955 to 2002, on loan to the Kunsthaus, Zurich, from 1960 to 2001; (†), Christie's, London, 10 July 2002, lot 97, as 'Studio of Gossaert'.
  • Private collection, England.
  • Anonymous sale; Koller, Zurich, 28 March 2014, lot 3017, where acquired by the present owner.

Estimate: US$3,000,000 - 5,000,000
Hammer price: US$2,800,000
Price realized: US$3,372,500

Sale summary:

Auction house: Christie’s New York
Sale: Old Masters Part I
Sale date: 19 April 2018
Sale total: US$36,549,750