Christie’s Old Masters Evening Sale was held in London on 7 December, totalling £21,772,000 ($29,109,164). The sale was led by El Greco’s Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation, which sold for £6,871,250 (US$9,186,861), becoming the second highest price for the artist at auction.
Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation
Estimated at £5m-7m, Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation is El Greco’s most celebrated depiction of the saint. Prior to El Greco, artists tended to depict Saint Francis at the moment of his stigmatisation. But El Greco took a different approach. In this painting, El Greco showed the saint deep in contemplation at the entrance to a cave on Mount Alverna, alongside his faithful companion, Brother Leo.
The painting came from the collection of Stanford Z. Rothschild Jr., a Baltimore investor and philanthropist. It was knocked down for £5.9m and sold for £6.87m (US$9.18m) to a telephone bidder.
Saint Dominic in Prayer
The auction record for El Greco is held by Saint Dominic in Prayer, which was sold for £9.2m (US$13.9m) at Sotheby’s London in 2013.
Estimated at £400,000-600,000, Bartholomäus Spranger’s Mercury carrying Psyche to Mount Olympus also attracted strong interest from buyers. This work is one of the first major paintings produced by Bartholomäus Spranger after being summoned to the Imperial Court in Vienna in 1575, illustrating one of the penultimate events in the story of Cupid and Psyche. The painting was hammered down for £2.8m and sold for £3.36m (US$4.5m), setting a new world record price for the artist at auction.
Another top lot of the sale was Rembrandt’s Portrait of Petronella Buys, estimated at £1.5m-2.5m. An old inscription on the back of the present work (now indecipherable), which not only identified the sitter as Petronella Buys, but also implied there was a companion portrait of her husband. Hofstede de Groot found a portrait that corresponded, not only in terms of shape, size and support, but also in composition, style and obviously date, in the National Gallery picture. This work was also hammered down for £2.8m and sold for £3.36m (US$4.5m).
One of the highlights of the sale was Jacob van Ruisdael’s Sailing vessels in a stormy sea near a rocky coast. Though Jacob van Ruisdael painted only around thirty marine pictures, of which only twenty-four are recorded as extant. He was one of the very best painters who could also depict a tempestuous sea with violent waves lashing against rocks and dunes. The painting was hammered down for £1.2m and sold for £1.44m (US$1.9m), far exceeding its pre-sale estimate £300,000-500,000.
Top four lots (by prices realized)
Doménikos Theotokópoulos, called El Greco. Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation.
Lot no.: 14
Size: 110 x 64.5 cm
- Conde de Adanero, mid-19th century.
- Marques de Castro Serna, 1902-8.
- Conde de Campo Giro, 1927.
- Marques de Albayda.
- Anonymous sale [Property of a Family]; Christie's, London, 13 December 1996, lot 129, where acquired by the present owner.
Hammer price: £5,900,000
Price realized: £6,871,250
Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn. Portrait of Petronella Buys.
Lot no.: 10
Size: 79.5 x 59.3 cm
- (Probably) Commissioned by the sitter's brother-in-law, Jacques Specx (1588/89-1652), by 1635, and by descent to his daughter,
- Maria de Gruijter, née Specx (1636-1704), Amsterdam.
- Anonymous sale; C. S. Roos, Amsterdam, 28 August 1820, lot 85 (180 florins to Engelberts).
- Christiaan Everhard Vaillant (1746-1829) or Jacobus Sargenton; (†), J. de Vries, Amsterdam, 19 April 1830, lot 74 (550 florins to Roos).
- Adrian Hope; his sale (†), Christie’s, London, 30 June 1894, lot 56 (1,300 gns. to Weilheim).
- with C. Sedelmeyer, Paris, 1898.
- with Knoedler, New York.
- Joseph Jefferson (1829-1905), New York.
- with A. Preyer, The Hague.
- with F. Kleinberger, Paris.
- August Cornelius de Ridder (1837-1911), Schönberg, near Cronberg, Frankfurt-am-Main.
- Michel van Gelder, Château Zeecrabbe, Uccle, Brussels, by 1914.
- with D. Katz, Amsterdam, 1948.
- André Mayer, New York, by 1970; Sotheby's, New York, 23 October 1980, lot 12.
- with Wildenstein, London and New York, from whom acquired by the present owner.
Hammer price: £2,800,000
Price realized: £3,368,750
Bartholomäus Spranger. Mercury carrying Psyche to Mount Olympus.
Lot no.: 13
Size: 95.3 x 135.4 cm
- (Probably) Given by the artist to Rudolf II, Holy Roman Emperor (1552-1612), in 1576, inv. no. 879.
- Anonymous sale; Internationales Kunst und Auktionshaus, Berlin, 9 May 1933, lot 231.
- with Wolfgang Gurlitt Galerie, Munich, 1962.
- Anonymous sale; Lempertz, Cologne, 18 November 1965, lot 201.
- Acquired at the above sale by the family of the
- present owner and restituted to the heirs of Dr. Curt Glaser, October 2017
Hammer price: £2,800,000
Price realized: £3,368,750
Jacob van Ruisdael. Sailing vessels in a stormy sea near a rocky coast.
Lot no.: 9
Size: 47 x 65.2 cm
- L.H. Hicks; his sale, Christie's, London, 20 December 1905, lot 92.
- M. Littleton, 1913.
- with R.L. Douglas, 1913.
- with Kleykamp, The Hague, by 1925.
- with Colnaghi, London, 1925.
- Etienne Nicolas, Paris.
- Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 27 June 1962, lot 32, sold for £2,500 to Katz, possibly for the following,
- Dr. Hans Wetzlar, Amsterdam; his sale (†), Sotheby Mak van Waay, Amsterdam, 9 June 1977, lot 76, sold for 200,000 guilders to the following,
- with Colnaghi, London.
- with Galerie Nathan, 1978.
- Hans Peter Wertitsch, Vienna, 1987, and by descent to the present owners.
Hammer price: £1,200,000
Price realized: £1,448,750
Auction house: Christie’s London
Sale: Old Masters Evening Sale
Date: 7 December 2017
Sale Total: £21,772,000 (US$29,109,164)
Lots offered: 35
Sell-through rate: 77%
Average price per lot: £806,370 (US$1,078,117)