Sotheby’s sale of Old Master and British paintings in London on July 4th lacked the big-ticket item that propelled Christie’s sale the previous evening to $133.4 million. Of 43 lots offered, 29 found buyers (or 67%) for a total of $50.6 million, at the low end of the $41.5 million–$62.8 million estimate (final totals include the buyer’s premium, estimates do not).
Two paintings carried estimates of $6.2 million–$9.3 million—the highest of the sale—and both were able to hurdle the low end once fees were added. First was a triptych by Lucas Cranach the Elder dubbed the Feilitzsch altarpiece. Jobst von Feilitzsch commissioned the piece in 1511 for the family chapel, where it remained for over 400 years (he appears on the left panel in a wide fur collar). The painting was sold by the estate of Heinz Kisters, a German businessman whose widow, Gerlinda, offered a late Titian showing the Virgin and Child with two saints at Sotheby’s New York last year that brought $16.9 million and set a record for that artist. The Cranach altarpiece sold for $6.7 million, far from the high estimate but still the third highest price paid for a work by the artist at auction.
The Battle between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Brueghel the Younger was the other headlining lot. The work is one of five recorded versions by the artist on the theme of the Shrovetide festival, which are all derived from Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s composition in the collection of the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. In December of last year another one of the Younger’s versions sold at Christie’s London for a record $10.7 million against estimates of $5.5 million– $7 million. The one on offer at Sotheby’s this week was picked up in 1989 for $2.7 million. This time around, the canvas fetched $7 million.
The Battle between Carnival and Lent was one of three Brueghel II canvases on offer. Saint John Preaching to the Masses in the Wilderness brought $1.9 million, while The Tower of Babel, priced at $3.1 million–$4.7 million, went unsold.
Top lot honors was instead taken by a naval scene by the renowned marine painter Willem van de Velde the Younger. It shows an English ship named the Royal Prince surrendering to the Dutch fleet during the Four Days’ Battle of 1666. Estimated to bring as much as $3.9 million, the work climbed to $8.2 million and reportedly sold to a Dutch collector.
A few other lots incited spirited bidding. Christ Amongst the Doctors, a Carravagesque painting by Orazio Borgianni that shows Jesus calm and bathed in light surrounded by a frenzied group of physicians, sold for $5.3 million against a high estimate of $930,000 and set the record for the artist. Elsewhere, a lush portrait of Edward VI, based on an official portrait of the king, by William Scrots was expected to bring $775,000–$1.1 million but fetched $2.6 million.