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Offered immediately before the traditional evening sale, the stand-alone collection of Dutch entrepreneur Eric Albada Jelgersma and his wife Marie-Louise Albada Jelgersma got the night off to a solid start.

Billed by the auction house as “one of the most important private collections of Golden Age Dutch and Flemish pictures to have been formed in living memory”, the 40-lot sale included portraiture, landscape, genre, and still-life painting.

The headline lot was a pair of sombre marriage portraits by Frans Hals (1581-1666), painted at the height of his artistic powers in Haarlem in 1637.

The 3ft x 2ft 3in (93 x 68cm) oils of the young simply attired husband and wife were given the seal of approval by the late American art historian, Seymour Slive, who described them as “outstanding, superlative works by Hals, in a nearly miraculous state of preservation”.

Of the 36 pendant portraits identified by Slive in his catalogue raisonné on Hals, the pair were also deemed to be the finest of three remaining together in private hands.

Guided at an ambitious £8m-12m, they were knocked down at £8.7m to dealer Bob Haboldt, who saw off competition from a phone bidder. However, the price per picture was still some way behind the auction high for Hals

– a 1634 portrait of wealthy Dutch merchant Tieleman Roosterman, which made £7.5m at Christie’s London in July 1999 from a sale of the Rothschild collection.

Golden great

The Albada collection also achieved an artist’s record for Judith Leyster (1609-60), regarded as the greatest female painter of the Dutch Golden Age.

Merry Company, a 2ft 5in x 2ft (74 x 63 cm) oil on canvas of three young revellers, was painted in c.1629, when the artist was just 20. It had been included in key Leyster exhibitions, most recently at the 2009 exhibition at the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem and the National Gallery of Art in Washington to mark the 400th anniversary of Leyster’s birth.

Such was the calibre of the work, the auction house set a £1.5m-2.5m estimate, well above the highest price ever paid for her work: a premium-inclusive £485,000 set in the same rooms two years before.

In the event, it sold on bottom-estimate £1.5m to a lady bidding in the room. The same buyer had also bought the van Dyck portrait of Charles II at Sotheby’s the evening before, and is reported to be a representative of Geneva-based commodities firm The Klesch Group.

Flemish flourish

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The Netherlandish Proverbs by Pieter Brueghel the Younger sold for £5.4m at Christie’s.

The star attraction among the Flemish material at Christie’s was The Netherlandish Proverbs, an animated scene teeming with figures representing over 100 proverbs by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1636).

Based on the original composition by his father, Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the painting is one of nine autograph versions known by Brueghel the Younger, with this example considered one of the finest and comparable to probably the earliest surviving version that now hangs in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.

Offered from the multi-million-pound art collection of New York couple Herbert and Adele Klapper in the evening sale of mixed-owner Old Masters, it drew four phones and commission bids, before it was sold just below top estimate at £5.4m to a phone buyer bidding via Henry Pettifer, Christie’s head of Old Masters department.

The auction house reported Asian bidding on the picture, which had been exhibited in mainland China and Hong Kong before the sale. The price achieved was the second highest for the artist at auction.

Lawrence record

Among the British pictures, a new record was set for Thomas Lawrence (1769-1830) and his polished portrait of Lady Selina Meade (1797-1872), which had come to the vendor via direct descent from the sitter.

Painted at the height of Lawrence’s popularity in 1819 and exhibited at the Royal Academy a year later, the 3ft 6in x 2ft 1in (76.5 x 63.5cm) oil on canvas drew multiple bids against an £800,000-1.2m estimate.

The portrait eventually sold for £1.9m to a phone buyer bidding via Pettifer who secured it against another phone and a bidder in the room. It surpasses the previous record by £50,000, paid in the same rooms in 2006 for an 1821 portrait of the Duke of Wellington.