As a packed week for Old Masters lovers in New York drew to a close, auctions and pop-up shows alike demonstrated that the market moves quickly for acknowledged masters and A-plus examples from lesser names—but is increasingly bifurcated between the very finest, and all the rest.
In its 24 January sale of Old Master Drawings, Christie’s notched a total of $6.2m including buyer’s premium on 127 lots, a vast improvement from the $3.2m it made on 131 lots a year ago. The auction house recently snagged the former Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Stijn Alsteens to serve as the international head of its Old Master Drawings in Paris, and his former Met colleague and Italian school expert, Furio Rinaldi, is now overseeing the department in New York as an associate specialist. It is perhaps no surprise, then, that Venetian artists, including Guardi, Tiepolo, and Piazzetta made up half of the top ten prices at this week’s sales. Christie’s also held its first sale of Old Master Prints in New York in 15 years on 25 January, adding $4.6m with premiums to the week’s total.
A Peter Paul Rubens take on a Renaissance-era work by Giulio Romano, Scipio Africanus welcomed outside the gates of Rome, in black chalk, pen and ink with additional colour heightening, doubled its estimate ($500,000-$700,000) with a final price of $1.56m with fees, while a Goya landscape with a hunter and his dog (est $600,000-$800,000) fetched $1.1m with fees. More surprising was the performance of a small watercolour by Sir Edward Coley Burne-Jones, The Nativity, which carried a top-end estimate of $25,000 but was chased to $343,500 with fees. Of its solidly modelled figures, Alsteens says: “It reads like a bronze relief. When we saw it my colleagues and I immediately thought of Henry Moore”—which may account for its broad saleroom appeal.
One-of-a-kind works on paper are the focus of Master Drawings (through 28 January), a coordinated exposition in the galleries of 24 Upper East Side dealers, including specialists from London, Florence, Paris, and Vienna. Examples stretched back as far as the 14th century and into the late 20th, indicative of the expanding definition of “master” works. Along with pieces by Bassano (shown by Christopher Bishop), Vasari (by Didier Aaron), Il Guercino (by Day & Faber), and Delacroix (by Stephen Ongpin), there was also more recent fare by Reginald Marsh, Jean Cocteau, and David Hockney. Freshness was key: David Tunick of New York opened his vault to reveal a cache of Vienna Secession drawings not been seen on the market in 37 years, including a portrait of a woman sketched in blue pencil by Gustav Klimt, which sold to a new client.