1. Cimabue rediscovery
Arguably the rediscovery of the year a panel by Italian artist Cimabue (c.1240-1302) that drew dramatic competition at French auction house Actéon, becoming the eighth most expensive Old Master ever sold.
Estimated at €4m-6m, it was the first work fully attributed to the Florentine early Renaissance master to be offered at auction.
The 10 x 8in (26 x 20cm) tempera with gold background on poplar panel depicts the mocking of Christ and was discovered during a house clearance in the town of Compiegne. It was spotted by one of Actéon’s specialists, Philomène Wolf, in the kitchen hanging above a hotplate.
At the sale in Senlis, around 50 miles from Paris, on October 27, it drew bidding from six or seven interested parties including Moretti of London who placed the winning bid at €19.5m (£16.9m). Moretti is understood to have acquired it on behalf of two collectors.
2. Giovanni di Paolo’s St Clare
Two rare and recently restituted panels by Sienese artist Giovanni di Paolo (c.1399-1482) were the highlight of Christie’s Old Master evening sale on December 3. The two paintings in tempera and gold came from an altarpiece created for an establishment of Saint Clare’s order, presumably in Siena.
They had been owned by Harry Fuld (1872-1932), a Jewish businessman whose family were forced to flee from Nazi persecution in 1939. The two panels ended up in Berlin’s Kaiser Friedrich Museum (later renamed the Bode Museum) but were returned to the family earlier this year.
The first of the predella panels offered at the auction depicted Saint Clare rescuing the shipwrecked. It was estimated at £1.5m-2m. The visionary subject and creative style added to its market freshness as an attractive commercial proposition.
After a strong competition, it sold to a phone buyer who saw off three rivals by repeatedly upping the bidding by ‘double-increments’ of £400,000. Knocked down at £4.5m, it set an auction record for di Paolo.
The same buyer secured the following lot, a similarly-sized panel showing The Investiture of Saint Clare. Estimated at £600,000-800,000, it fetched £3m.
3. Panel by The Master of Vissi Brod
Another significant rediscovered Old Master was sold on November 30 at a provincial French auction house. A late Gothic panel offered at Cortot & Associés of Dijon drew nine bidders and was knocked down at €5m (£4.27m) to a dealer acting for the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Estimated at €400,000-600,000, the panel was by an anonymous mid-14th century painter who was active in Bohemia. Working in the International Gothic style, the artist is known as The Master of Vissi Brod after the altarpiece created for the Cistercian convent of that name in southern Bohemia.
The small tempera on fruitwood panel, which measured 10.25 x 8.75in (26 x 22cm) and depicting the Virgin and Child enthroned, is thought to be a devotional panel produced by the Master of Vissi Brod c.1350 as a private commission. Prior to the auction it was kept in a private Burgundian collection for probably more than a century before being consigned to the auction house.
A curator at the museum said it will now be carefully restored to remove the overpainted background and reveal the elaborate architectural scene underneath.
4. Johann Liss’ Mary Magdalene
Among the lots sold at Sotheby’s in London on July 3 were works reportedly consigned by DFS founder Graham Kirkham. These included a rarely available and well-preserved canvas by Johann Liss (c.1595-1631) which sold at £4.8m to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
The Temptation of Saint Mary Magdalene broke its own auction record for the artist set back in 1994 when the work made £900,000 at Christie’s.
The German painter’s travels across Europe meant he developed a highly individual style that Sotheby’s specialist Andrew Fletcher described as a “melting pot of early Baroque from northern Europe, Caravaggist drama and Venetian colouring”.
While few works by Liss now remain in private hands, The Temptation of Saint Mary Magdalene was in “amazing condition”, said Fletcher.
5. ‘Sandro Botticelli’ portrait
Spectators at an auction at Schuler in Zürich on June 28 were left flabbergasted when a Quattrocento panel painting with a SFr5000-7000 estimate catalogued as ‘in the style of Sandro Botticelli (c.1445-1510)’ was knocked down at SFr6.4m (£5.16m) after an intense 10-minute bidding battle.
The portrait of a young man, offered for sale, had been in a Swiss private collection since 1924. A spokesman for the auction house told ATG: “Nobody could believe their eyes or ears at what was happening in the room.”
Multiple international bidders – several in the room and 13 on the phone – were prepared to overlook extensive overpaint and what had been a highly critical conservation report.
The 21 x 13in (53 x 34cm) panel featured an old repair while analysis provided to the auction house by the Swiss Institute for Art Research in Zürich had found “extensive manipulations in principal parts of the portrait and the results of a post-1961 restoration, which fundamentally detract from the historic authenticity”.
However, the picture came with a long provenance and on occasions in its history has been classified as the work of Filippino Lippi, Botticelli’s one-time pupil.
6. Frans Snyders still life
A major price for an Old Master in the English regions came in Wiltshire on May 14 when a still-life by Flemish painter Frans Snyders (1579-1657) caught the eye of multiple bidders.
Offered at Kidson-Trigg’s saleroom near Highworth, Swindon, the oil on wood panel of dead game and a bowl of fruit had the trademark features of the Antwerp painter who was closely associated with Rubens and van Dyck.
Not only did the work feature the artist’s distinctive signature to the lower left, it also had a label on the back for a 1964 exhibition at London dealership Leonard Koetser. It came to auction after being discovered in a property for which Kidson-Trigg was conducting a probate valuation.
In the Kidson-Trigg catalogue, the work was estimated at £60,000-100,000.
With bidding both in the room and on the phone, the lot was eventually knocked down at £300,000.