Two Records Set at Christie’s £31m Old Masters Evening Sale

From the perspective of buying artworks as an investment, Old Masters paintings are without question a conservative choice. The price goes steadily up, seldom showing signs of wild fluctuations. When we look at Christie’s Old Masters Evening Sale which took place on 5 July in London, it brought in a sale total of £31m with two new records set.

The Holy Family by Gerard David (1460-1523) was kept in the collection of a European family for a century. In 2003, it was auctioned for about US$1m at Christie’s New York.

Gerard David’s Self Portrait

Gerard David was an Early Netherlandish painter who enjoyed a huge success in his lifetime and ran two workshops in Antwerp and Bruges. In the present painting, David depicted the Virgin, the Child and Joseph. The apple the Christ Child holds in his left hand has a symbolic meaning of redemption of human sin in Christianity.  

The Christ Child holds an apple in his left hand

Estimated at £1.5m-2.5m, the painting was hammered down for £4.1m after an intense bidding between several telephone bidders. It was sold for £4.8m (premium included) to the client bidding through Paul Raison from the Old Masters department, setting an auction record for the artist.

Another work that took inspiration from the New Testament was Rembrandt (1606-1669)’s Christ presented to the people (‘Ecce Homo’). It depicts the scene in which Pontius Pilate asked the people of Jerusalem to decide whether Jesus or Barabbas should be spared execution. The work was hammered down for £2.2m and sold for £2.65m (premium included), a record price for a Rembrandt drypoint.

From left to right: Pontius Pilate, Barabbas and Jesus

The brutal-looking figure with a moustache and shaved head standing between and just behind the two principal figures was Barabbas, leader of a bloody insurrection. Christ was roped together with the rebel commander.

Rembrandt’s Self-Portrait

According to the New Testament, Jesus was brought to Pilate by the Sanhedrin, who accused Jesus of sedition against Rome by opposing the payment of taxes to Caesar and calling himself a king. After questioning Jesus, Pilate found no fault with Jesus, so he seemed reluctant to allow the crucifixion of Jesus. Following the custom of the Roman governor to release one prisoner at the Passover, Pilate brought out Barabbas and told the crowd to choose whether to release Barabbas or Jesus, in the hopes of getting Jesus released. The scene was captured in Rembrandt’s Christ presented to the people (‘Ecce Homo’).

Among the unsold works was Ruben’s portrait of her daughter Clara Serena, who tragically died at the age of 12 in 1623. When Rubens was executing the painting, his beloved daughter was already in her deathbed. As the painting went nearer to its completion, little Clara Serena’s life came closer to its end.


Top three lots

Ludovico Carracci (1555-1619). Portrait of Carlo Alberto Rati Opizzoni in armour, three-quarter-length, wearing the Order of the Knights of Malta, the city of Bologna beyond.

Lot no.: 36
Size: 102 x 86.2cm

  • Conte Luigi Amedeo Rati Opizzoni (1877-1946), Turin, to whom gifted by the city of Bologna (according to family tradition), before 1911, and thence by direct family descent (in New York by 1930), until sold in the following,
  • Anonymous sale [Property from a New York Estate]; Sotheby’s, New York, 27 January 2005, lot 125, when acquired by the present owner.

Estimate: £3,500,000 - 5,000,000
Price realised: £5,071,250

Gerald David (1460-1523). The Holy Family.

Lot no.: 31
Price realised: 40.9 x 33cm

  • Victor Martin Le Roy (1842 – 1918), Paris, by whom acquired in 1887 in Paris, and by descent through his daughter,
  • Jeanne Martin Le Roy, to her husband,
  • Jean Joseph Marquet de Vasselot (1871-1946), and by descent to the following.
  • Anonymous sale; Christie’s, New York, 24 January 2003, lot 36, when acquired by the present owner.

Estimate: £1,500,000 - 2,500,000
Price realised: £4,846,250

Rembrandt (1606-1669). Christ presented to the people (‘Ecce Homo’).

Lot no.: 22
Size: 38.7 x 44.8cm
Gabriel von Cronstern [II], probably acquired in the 1760s from Pierre Yver in Amsterdam.
By descent in the family of the Grafen Plessen-Cronstern, Schleswig-Holstein; their sale, Christie’s, London, Important Old Master Prints from a German Family of Title – Part I, 10 December 1991, lot 54.
Samuel Josefowitz (1921-2015), Lausanne; acquired at the above sale.
Then by descent to the present owners.
Estimate: £2,200,000 - 3,500,000
Price realised: £2,648,750

Auction summary

Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Old Masters Evening Sale
Sale date: 2018/7/5
Lots offered: 61
Sold: 45
Unsold: 16
Sold by lots: 74%
Sale total: £31,187,000