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It was he who identified two previously unknown religious paintings by Goya (see Antiques Trade Gazette No 1589, May 17) in a private Madrid collection that were the stars of the sale. Of outstanding quality, particularly the Tobias and the Angel, the two sold for €1,750,000 (£1,285,000) each, well below their international value according to some informed observers, but inevitable given that they had been refused export licences a few days before the sale.

They will almost undoubtedly appear in the Museo del Prado before long.
At the sale, the Spanish State pre-empted a further six lots which they had previously barred from export. These included an English, Queen Anne secretaire-cabinet in black and gold lacquer which had a long provenance from a Spanish noble collection and was formerly in a palace in the town of Briones which is now occupied by the town hall. This was acquired for €130,000 (£95,590).

Also attracting enormous interest prior to the sale were pieces from a Chinese Export service known to have been made for the Balzola family whose heirs still owned it, albeit divided up between different family members. Among the pieces offered by Alcalá were two splendid tureens with their original chargers of which the one in the form of a boar’s head sold for €130,000 (£95,590) and the one in the form of a cockerel made €160,000 (£117,650). The colouring on both was remarkably fresh and bright.

Among paintings which will shortly be seen in Spanish museums was a 15th century oil on panel Sevillian School Lamentation, pre-empted for €115,000 (£84,560), and a work by the living Spanish painter Rafael Canogar, an undated, 231/2in x 2ft 5in (60 x 74cm) oil on panel of the Synagogue in Toledo which sold over estimate for €10,000 (£7350).

An interesting acquisition on behalf of the taxpayer was an early, figurative plaster sculpture by Lucio Fontana entitled Wounded Boy, San Juan, created in 1946 to commemorate an earthquake in the Argentinian city of San Juan. This made €23,400 (£17,205).

To the annoyance of the auctioneers, who have made their feelings known in the Spanish press, the State also refused export licences for other lots which they then did not go on to pre-empt, something they have a right to do under Spanish patrimony legislation, but a practice which many might consider prejudicial to the market. Thus two interesting, large, Spanish 17th century still lifes, one signed by a little-known artist called Alonso de Escobar, whom Alcalá identified in their catalogue text by William Jordan as the artist previously known as the Stirling Maxwell Master, were not allowed out of the country. The two paintings sold at €150,000 (£110,295) for the signed example and €275,000 for the unsigned one (£202,205), reflecting the different quality of the two.

Not everyone was in agreement about the attribution, and some observers suggested that they were actually by two different hands, with the unsigned one being by the Stirling Maxwell Master who would thus not be the mysterious Alonso de Escobar.

Alcalá Subastas have now sought a meeting with members of the Junta de Calificación y Exportación (Spain’s export licensing committee) as they feel they are being unfairly penalised by the export ban process. (More will be reported as the issue progresses.)

Other attractive lots that sold well at the Alcalá sale included a pietra dura and micromosaic table with a central micromosaic of Saint Peter’s that made €15,000 (£11,030) and a pair of Chinese export famille rose ceramic peacocks standing 211/4in (54cm) high which made €27,500 (£20,220). While La Granja glass is a standard item in Madrid salerooms, the group offered in this sale was particularly good, and a glass painted in gold with a scene of hunters in a landscape of around 1790, still with its original case and in bright, fresh condition, made €3250 (£2390).

Far exceeding its €200 estimate, a blue and white latticino glass, also from La Granja and dated to the second half of the 18th century, made €2750 (£2020). Among the more unusual lots in the sale were two bottles of wine from the cellars of Louis Philippe d’Orléans and dating from c.1830. These sold for €1400 (£1030).

Carpets also sold well at Alcalá, with an Aubusson, neoclassical carpet of around 1780 selling well over estimate for €16,000 (£11,765), despite being worn, faded and restored. An early 17th century Spanish Cuenca Lotto carpet, measuring 5ft 61/2in x 5ft 5in (1.69 x 1.65m), made €6500 (£4780).

Finally, the recent enthusiasm for Spanish vernacular furniture was again evident in the strong €15,000 (£11,030) paid for a large Spanish walnut table of c.1690 with elegant iron stretchers, which made nearly four times its estimate.

Alcalá held a much more modest sale on June 18-19, really more of a clearout. Among the successes was a Carlos IV Majorcan commode of neoclassical style which made €8000 (£5880). A collection of miniature furniture assembled in Madrid in the late 1950s was inevitably well received with a top price of €1600 (£1175) for a 19th-century English miniature tallboy in William and Mary style measuring 20 x 8 x 13in (51 x 21 x 33cm). Overall, top price in the sale was the €15,000 (£11,030) paid for a Portuguese, mid-18th century rosewood commode with attractive carving but possibly later mounts and handles.