The premium-inclusive total from the six sales of Old Master and 19th century art held at Sotheby’s and one Old Master drawings sale at Christie’s was $86.5m (£60.9m). This figure was well above the $45.96m (£36.6m) generated at the equivalent sales in 2017.
Starting last year, Christie’s shifted its main Old Master sales in the Big Apple to April (branded as ‘Classic Week’ as held alongside auctions of antiques and antiquities). This left the field clearer for Sotheby’s, whose overall totals were lifted by two single-owner consignments in particular – the Barnet collection of drawings and the selection of paintings and sculpture from the collection of Old Master dealer Otto Naumann, who is retiring from his New York gallery.
Here are five highlights from the sales across the week.
£1 = $1.42
1. Samuel Palmer’s Shoreham drawing
A small pen and ink sketch by Samuel Palmer (1805-81) was the work that brought the strongest interest at Sotheby’s sale of drawings from the collection of the late Howard and Saretta Barnet.
Dating from c.1831, A Church With A Boat And Sheep was one of visionary landscapes Palmer produced during his fabled ‘Shoreham’ period when he lived in the rural Kent village and created some of his most famous pictures.
Against a $250,000-350,000 estimate, it was eventually knocked down at $2m (£1.4m) to a private New York collector with the price setting a record for Palmer at auction. Overall the sale generated a hammer total of $9.54m (£6.71m) with 19 of the 28 lots sold on the day (95%). The high estimate for the auction was $7.2m.
2. Claude Lorrain landscape
The Barnet collection which was assembled by the New York couple over 40 years included some of the finest Old Master drawings to have appeared on the market in a generation. In the video below which the auctioneers released before the sale, Sotheby’s head of Old Master drawings Gregory Rubinstein mentions how the Barnets “collected in a very unusual and very careful way.. in every case they bought only the very best objects of the type”.
Another of the major attractions was a Claude Lorrain (1604-82) landscape drawing, The Valley Of The Aniene, Near Tivoli, With The Ruins Of The Aqua Anio Novus Aqueduct. The brown ink sketch was billed as “one of the finest and most significant drawings by the artist remaining in private hands”, and had not been seen in public since it was exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, around 40 years ago. Against an estimate of $600,000-800,000, it sold at $1.35m (£950,700) to a private buyer.
3. Canaletto waterfront vedute
The top lot of Sotheby’s Master Paintings evening sale was a pair of waterfront views by Canaletto depicting the recognisable facades in La Serenissima, the Church of the Redentore, and the Prisons of San Marco. While there are other known views of the Church of the Redentore by Canaletto, no other versions are known of this view of the prisons. The auctioneers had arranged an irrevocable bid from a third party ahead of the sale and, on the night, the lot sold for a mid-estimate $3.5m to a private collector. Overall, the sale generated a £39.8m (£28m) hammer total with 55 of the 73 lots finding buyers (75%).
4. Portrait of Cristoforo Segni
A portrait of Cristoforo Segni painted and signed by both Velázquez (1599-1660) and Italian painter Pietro Martire Neri (1601-61) was offered at Sotheby’s Master Paintings evening sale in New York. The subject was Maggiordomo to Pope Innocent X and this portrait was believed to have been painted in c.1650 on Velázquez’s second trip to Rome. Acquired by an ancestor of the vendor in 1958, it featured in an exhibition dedicated to Velázquez at the Grand Palais in Paris in 2015. Here it was estimated at $3m-4m, with a symbol in the Sotheby’s catalogue denoting that it was another lot subject to an irrevocable bid. On the night, it sold at $3.4m to a European collector.
5. Giovanni Bilivert’s Venus
The top lot at Sotheby’s stand-alone sale of works consigned by Old Master dealer Otto Naumann who is retiring from his New York gallery was Giovanni Bilivert’s (1585-1644) small-scale painting on copper, Venus, Cupid and Pan. Depicting the goddess of love dipping her feet in a shallow pond, the highly polished surface and vivid colours helped draw admirers at the auction on January 31. Estimated at $300,000-500,000, it was eventually knocked down at $720,000 (£507,040). The overall hammer total for the sale was $4.98m (£3.51m) with 30 of the 39 works (77%) finding buyers.
6. JMW Turner’s Lake Lucerne
A watercolour by JMW Turner (1775-1851) depicting Lake Lucerne in Switzerland led the Old Master & British Drawings sale at Christie’s New York on January 30. Showing a panorama over the lake from the resort of Brunnen, it was one of a group of studies made by the artist of this location, but this was the only one not part of the artist’s bequest to Tate Britain. Estimated at $800,000-1.2m, it was knocked down at the auction for $900,000 (£633,800). The sale’s overall hammer total was $3.18m (£2.24m).