The rare oil on panel by the Master of the Embroidered Foliage – a painter or a group of painters active in Brussels and Bruges between 1480- 1510 – had last appeared at auction back in 1934 (it sold at Christie’s for £819).
It came up at Bonhams' (27.5/25/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) Old Masters sale on July 6.
Only around a dozen works with this attribution are known, all identified by the patterns of greenery which were depicted in a way which resembled embroidery stitching.
Most known paintings are devotional panels of the Virgin and Child and follow earlier works by the Brussels artist Rogier van der Weyden (1399-1464).
One such picture made a multiestimate $2.05m (£1.58m) at Freeman’s in Philadelphia in 2019, breaking the artist’s auction record of €1.42m (£1.14m) including premium set by another depiction of Adam and Eve sold at Christie’s Amsterdam in 2012.
The work at Bonhams, a 19¾ x 13¼in (50 x 34cm) oil on panel, was similar in size and had an almost identical composition to the Christie’s Amsterdam picture. Another version of the Adam and Eve subject is in the Wilhelm-Hack Museum in Ludwigshafen, Germany.
Given the rarity of the panel and the previous prices for the Master, the £25,000-30,000 estimate looked significantly undercooked. Although low estimates are sometimes applied to works in order to drum up interest, mainly in cases where the vendor does not insist on a higher reserve, it was unclear whether that was the case here.
Whatever the background, the bidding took off on the day. The lot was eventually knocked down at £640,000 to a European buyer on the phone.
The price led Bonhams’ sale which raised an overall hammer total of £1.39m with 41 sold of the 73 lots sold (56%).
Also bringing demand and going over estimate was a view of the outskirts of Antwerp by Jacob Grimmer (c.1525-90).
Depicting Kiel on the river Scheldt, a small village which is now a district of the Belgian city, the 17 x 20¼in (43 x 51cm) oil on panel had a view of Antwerp in the distance as well as figures to the foreground.
It relates to a larger view of the same scene dated 1578 which is now in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp. Although the two pictures have similar compositions, the larger work has more a more elaborate landscape and also a greater variety of figures and animals. The catalogue therefore suggested that this picture may have been commission that Grimmer received to make a smaller rendition based on one of his bestknown works.
Although it had a few condition issues including some scuffs and a layer of varnish, the historical and topographical interest helped it surpass a £30,000-50,000 estimate. Knocked down at £55,000 to a European buyer on the phone, it made a decent price for a work of this size.