The Abduction of Europa by Jacopo Amigoni, £420,000 at Sotheby’s.

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The auction on July 6 offered only 20 lots of which 18 sold (90%) for a £7.1m total including premium.

Sotheby’s series overall raised £12.4m from four Old Master sales, which was less than half the £28m from the equivalent sales last year.

The auction house pointed out that six further Old Masters were included in its Jubilee sale the week before, raising a combined £4m, and the current series came on the back of the second-highest total for a New York sale in this category in over a decade in January. The firm also anticipates an improvement in supply for the next London series in December.

With the evening sale hit by its star lot failing to get away – a marine scene by Willem van de Velde the Younger (1633-1707) that was pitched at £4m-6m – in the end it was led by a small village scene by Pieter Brueghel the Younger (c.1564-1637).

Peasants feasting and merrymaking in a village street, a 17¼in x 2ft 1in (44 x 63cm) oil on oak panel was one of the lots sourced from a European vendor. It had been acquired from Sotheby’s back in 1983 when it made £105,000.

Son’s own inspiration

One of eight recorded autograph versions of a subject that was entirely of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s own devising (rather than a composition repeated from one of his father’s originals), it was estimated here at £1m-1.5m but sold below predictions at £950,000.

Despite dipping below estimate – perhaps some British based bidders were put off by the prospect of paying extra import VAT – the price represented a healthy return on the 1983 outlay even when taking inflation into account.

Amigoni duo

More competition on the night came for two paintings by Jacopo Amigoni (1682-1752) which had not appeared at auction since 1827 (where they fetched £3.17s.0d. at Christie’s).

Not long after that sale they ended up in the collection of Chambré Brabazon Ponsonby-Barker (1762-1834) of Bocking Hall, Essex, and Kilcooley Abbey, Co Tipperary. They descended through the family and had been kept at the Kilcooley estate until the family moved out in 2004 – the property was later sold to a development company.

Both large scale and previously unpublished examples of the Venetian Rococo, they had since been put on public view for the first time in centuries at the National Trust’s Osterley Park & House where they were on loan until April this year.

With the two lots offered separately at Sotheby’s, The Abduction of Europa came first to the auction block. The 4ft 1in x 5ft 1in (1.24 x 1.54cm) oil on canvas, pictured above, with sumptuous colouring and well preserved impasto was estimated at £200,000-300,000, but after bringing a good level of interest was knocked down at £420,000, a record for the artist according to Artprice.


The Idolatry of Solomon by Jacopo Amigoni, £160,000 at Sotheby’s.

The following lot, Amigoni’s similarly sized depiction of The Idolatry of Solomon, was another technically admired work but the subject was deemed less commercial. Estimated at £100,000-150,000, it sold at £160,000 – also a credible, if more average, sum for the Italian painter.