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Traditional 17th century Flemish and Dutch Golden Age pictures emerged as the heavyweights of the series, producing some of the most competitive bidding and, despite some notable selectivity, topping the price lists of at least four sales held during the first week of December.

The largest concentration in the category came from the collection of Dutch entrepreneur Eric Albada Jelgersma, who died earlier this year. Offered in a single-owner sale of just Dutch and Flemish pictures, Christie’s evening auction on December 6 made a major contribution to the series, making a hammer total of £18.03m.

Rembrandt portrait

Elsewhere, there was the sale-topping £8.2m portrait of a young Christ in prayer by Rembrandt van Rijn (1606-69) at Sotheby’s evening sale (where Dutch and Flemish artists made up half of the works and most of the money), and an exceptionally rare drawing of a swaggering youth by Lucas van Leyden that sold for an estimate-busting £10m at the single-owner sale of art from Rugby School at Christie’s.

One of only 28 surviving drawings by the Dutch artist, it fetched the third-highest price for an Old Master drawing at auction (both works featured in ATG No 2371).

Flemish Baroque artist and leading painter of the English court, Sir Anthony van Dyck (1631-60), was also among the top lots with three portraits of royal children.

A young Charles II, the Prince of Wales, and his sister Princess Mary (a ‘master and studio’ portrait) sold at Sotheby’s for £2.3m and £650,000 respectively, while another van Dyck portrait of Mary, the finest of the trio, was knocked down at Christie’s for £5m (also see ATG No 2371).

The ‘Leonardo effect’, much talked of since Salvator Mundi famously made $400m at Christie’s New York last November, was directly evident at Sotheby’s evening sale where a depiction of Christ, painted in around 1510 by ‘a close associate’ of Leonardo da Vinci, drew eager bidding. Although an inferior work, its likeness to Salvator Mundi was evident and it soared to £720,000, over double the top guide.

In all, just over 650 lots were offered across seven sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams (25/20/12.9 or 12.5% buyer’s premium), totalling just over £80.5m hammer, with sell-through rates ranging from a patchy 46% at Bonhams to a robust 86% at Sotheby’s evening sale. The latter was the highest selling rate the auction house had achieved in the category across both London and New York sales, helped by a slimmed-down offering of just 42 lots.

In terms of pure money, the December sales bettered the traditionally stronger summer Old Master series by around £17m, but this was achieved by offering over three times the number of lots.

Report of Christie's sale

Report of Sotheby's sale

Report of Bonhams sale