Venus and Adonis

Venus and Adonis, catalogued as by Titian and workshop – £9.5m at Sotheby’s.

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The overall total of the sales at Sotheby’s, Christie’s and Bonhams was £56.3m, a figure that surpassed the £41.4m from the equivalent series last year.

The evening sales, however, continued to be somewhat slim affairs of under 40 lots, even after certain pictures had been drafted in from other categories - such as a work by English aesthetic painter John William Godward (1861-1922) and a seascape by Russian artist Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900), both offered at Sotheby’s.

Sotheby's saleroom

The saleroom action at Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s, though, had the pick of the consignments this time and the top lot of the week when a version of Titian’s (c.1485-1576) Venus and Adonis was knocked down at £9.5m to a phone bidder at its Old Master evening sale on December 7 (pictured, top).

Estimated at £8m-12m, it was catalogued as by Titian (c.1485-1576) and workshop. Its former owner was the Lausanne collector Patrick de Charmant who died in 2010 and who had previously consigned it to Christie’s in 1998. Back then it was catalogued as ‘Titian and studio’ and failed to sell against a £1m-1.5m estimate. Here it carried a third-party guarantee which meant it was always bound to sell on the night.

Around a dozen renditions of Venus and Adonis survive, including famous versions held by the Prado in Madrid, the J Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, but the level of Titian’s involvement in some of the other works is a matter of some debate.

In the last seven years this 5ft 10in x 6ft 6in (1.77 x 1.99m) oil on canvas had undergone technical analysis which, according to Sotheby’s, has borne out ‘Titian’s direct involvement in the development of the painting’.

In the catalogue it was dated to 1555-57. Sotheby’s said the £1 1.2m price (including premium) “matched the second-highest price at auction for any work featuring Titian’s hand”.

Highest in six years

Overall, 31 of the 36 lots (86.1%) at the sale got away for a £32.7m total including premium. This figure represented the highest for a December Old Master evening sale at Sotheby’s in six years. It was also a marked improvment on the firm’s London sale in this category in July - which raised £7.1m from only 20 lots.

The current sale benefited from 16 works from the collection of Juan Manuel Grasset, a Spanish civil engineer who died in 2020 and was a major Old Master collector for over four decades, especially of Dutch and Flemish still-lifes. Together the group realised a combined £12.7m including premium.

Five bidders competed for a still-life of flowers in a glass vase with insects and fruits by Jan Davidsz De Heem (c.1606- 83) which was carried over a £1m-1.5m estimate to £2.2m.

Grasset had bought it for £200,000 at Sotheby’s in 1987.

Three bidders vied for a Floris Claesz. van Dijck (1575- 1651) ‘display piece’ showing flowers, porcelain, pewter and cheese spread out on a table.

Estimated at £600,000- 800,000, it took £1.7m, a record for the artist at auction and a notable return on the £290,000 Grasset had bid at Sotheby’s in 1995 to acquire it.

Party time

Jean-François de Troy's The Reading Party

The Reading Party by Jean-François de Troy – £2.4m at Christie’s.

Christie’s evening sale the following night posted a £13.1m total with 27 of the 30 lots (89%) selling.

It was led by The Reading Party by French rococo painter Jean-François de Troy (1679- 1752), which came to auction from the collection of Lord and Lady Weinstock who had purchased it from London dealer Edward Speelman.

The couple’s collection of fine and decorative art had been kept at Bowden Park, their classical family home in Wiltshire, and much of it had been dispersed in a 289-lot dedicated sale that raised £4.39m at Christie’s in November. The 2ft 8in x 2ft 2in (82 x 65cm) signed oil on canvas here dated from 1735 had earlier provenance to the Baron Salomon Albert (‘Salbert’) de Rothschild (1844-1911). It was billed as ‘one of the artist’s finest and most seductive tableaux de mode’ (small-scale genre scenes depicting the rarefied world of the Parisian elite). Only 11 such works by de Troy are known, five of which are in museums.

Estimated at £2m-3m, it was knocked down at £2.4m, the second-highest price for the artist according to Artprice.

Alchemist’s lab

Meanwhile, Bonhams’ Old Masters paintings sale on December 7 made a total of £1.81m including premium from 72 lots.

It was led by a fascinating interior by David Teniers the Younger (1610-90). Showing an alchemist at work in his makeshift laboratory with a stuffed alligator hanging from a ceiling beam, it was part of the Roy Eddleman collection which is being sold to benefit the Quantum Institute at the University of California.

Estimated at £300,000- 500,000, it sold at £420,000.