Art Market Monitor: Rediscovered and Restituted Artwork Bring Sotheby’s London Auction to $14 M.

December 11, 2020 by Angelica Villa

Alessandro Botticelli, Christ on the Cross adored by Saints Monica, Augustine, Mary Magdalen, Jerome and Bridget of Sweden

Courtesy Sotheby’s

On Thursday, Sotheby’s staged its end of season old masters evening sale at its London headquarters which brought in £10.6 million ($14.2 million), across 23 lots. The evening sale saw a sell-through rate of 72.4 percent, and fell short of its estimate pre-sale hammer price of £9.5 million-£14.4 million by 10 percent.

Among the top sellers was prolific 16th century Antwerp master David Teniers the Younger’s The Wine Harvest, one of the largest works by the artist to come to market. It sold for the first time in over two centuries for £3.6 million ($4.87 million). The work hammered around the low estimate. Formerly in the collection of the noble English Gage family, The Arts Council England published in September a notice of the present owner’s intent to sell the painting. Andrew Fletcher, Sotheby’s head of old masters paintings in London confirmed the painting went to a private collector and will stay in the U.K. The result also marks the second highest price for a work by Teniers, next to his standing record price of $6 million, paid for a tavern scene at Christie’s London in 2019.

“It has more of a narrative that most Teniers paintings do,” Fletcher said of the star lot. “We’re used to seeing tavern interiors or peasants dancing outside of town. This had a real subject to it, a real theme, that is what set it apart from other works. It lifts Teniers up monetarily into one the great painters of the 17th century,” said Fletcher, calling it “the greatest Teniers to come to the market in living memory.”

The second highest result was Sandro Botticelli’s religious scene Christ on the Cross adored by Saints Monica, Augustine, Mary Magdalen, Jerome and Bridget of Sweden— the only work that came to the sale with a guarantee sold for £1 million ($1.4 million), against an estimate of £800,000-1.2 million, going to an online bidder based in Asia. The seller purchased the work at Christie’s in 2003 when it was attributed then to The Master of Apollo and Daphne (Florence) for $284,500. Now, resurfacing on the market after 17 years in private hands, the painting, offered with a new attribution to the Florentine master Botticelli, has appreciated in value by 392 percent.

The increase in value coincides with developments in research around the artist’s late output. “The scholarship around Botticelli’s production after the mid-1480s, which we consider late Botticelli has crystallized properly since about 2005, said Fletcher. The example is from the artist’s commercial period in the late 1480s-90s with his output geared toward the merchant class, according to Fletcher. “There has been this whole corpus of works previously attributed to all sorts of people, various artists in the Botticelli following workshop, which are now firmly believed to be my Botticelli himself,” said Fletcher of the time between the Botticelli’s last sale in 2003 and the present. “In a way, the consignor holding the piece for so long since that time has benefitted from the developments made in Botticelli scholarship over that period.

Hans Eworth, Portrait of Joan Thornbury, Mrs Richard Wakeman

Courtesy Sotheby’s

Elsewhere in the evening sale, Portrait of Joan Thornbury, Mrs Richard Wakeman, featuring a memento mori vanitas, by the Flemish painter Hans Eworth who was active in 16th century England. The seller bought the intricate work at Christie’s in 1967 for £12,000 and sold it today for £983,000 with fees ($1.3 million), making twice its estimate of £400,000. The artist, who is known for his proximity to Holbein, was a court painter for Queen Mary I for whom he completed several portraits that share qualities similar to the present work.

From a Japanese collection, Spanish Baroque painter Bartolomé Murillo’s Mater Dolorosa, depicting the Madonna weeping, sold for £239,400 ($319,000). It went for three times it’s low estimate of £100,000, realizing an increase in value by 275 percent since its last sale at Sotheby’s London in 1987 for £63,800 with buyer’s fees. Elsewhere, Spanish master Jusepe de Ribera’s Saint Teresa of Avila, which had been offered via Sotheby’s private sale platform prior to the auction, sold for £113,400 ($151,000), marking a 7.42 percent appreciation in value since its sale 6 years ago at Sotheby’s in London, where the seller purchased it for £122,500.

Other rediscoveries at the lower price end of the sale outperformed. German painter active in Vienna in the 18th century Heinrich Friedrich Füger’s neoclassical painting Jupiter, restituted this year to the heirs of the original owner Benno Korner (of Ostrava), a jewish engineer whose collection was seized during WWII in 1939, surpassed expectations. Estimated at £40,000, the work sold for four times its low estimate for £163,800 ($218,000)—setting a record for the artist, nearly double the last price of $121,197, paid for his portrait of Leopold II at Christie’s London in 2013.

The present work made its way to the market this year after Korner’s heirs were granted rights to the painting by the Czech government. The Toronto-based art recovery firm, Mondex Corporation, aided in the process, which its founder, James Palmer, estimates took a total of two years.

Heinrich Friedrich Füger, Jupiter (18th century)

Courtesy Sotheby’s

“We were engaged by the heirs to conduct the provenance research to prove their entitlement to it,” said Palmer in an interview on how the firm became involved to the project, adding that the painting was located at a museum in Ostrava. “In this case, the government was quite cooperative,” said Palmer in the firm’s efforts to retrieve the work. After restoration, the painting was sent directly from Ostrava to Sotheby’s, according to Palmer.

Several works recovered through Mondex’s efforts have surfaced at auction. In 2015, a double portrait by Ferdinand Bol that had been on long-term loan at the Museum Tongerlohuys, Roosendaal and restituted to a descendant of Gustaaf Hamburger followed a similar track as the Füger lot. Estimated at €30,000, the work found a buyer during a Christie’s old masters sale in Amsterdam at three times the estimate for €109,500.

While rediscoveries topped the evening auction, at other points, some lots reappearing at auction failed to meet expectations. Among the works that failed to placed with new buyers was Dutch 17th century painter Jan Haviksz Steen’s The Dancing Couple, estimated at £1 million-£1.5 million. Anthony Van Dyck’s Portrait of George Hay, which the seller purchased in 1994 for at Sotheby’s London for £72,000 also bought in on Thursday’s sale at an estimate of £150,000-200,000.