Canaletto, Memling expected to lead Old Masters sales

NEW YORK Mon Jan 23, 2012 12:10pm EST

NEW YORK Jan 23 (Reuters) - An early 14th century panel of the Virgin Mary, a view of Venice by Canaletto and a very rare oil on copper still life will be among the highlights of Sotheby's sale of Old Master Paintings this week.

Works by Peter Paul Rubens, Anthony Van Dyck and Francesco Guardi will also be included in the New York auction on Jan. 26, which is expected to exceed $60 million.

"It is a very full, rounded sale," said Christopher Apostle, the head of Old Master Paintings at Sotheby's New York, referring to works ranging from early Italian to French Rococo and 17th century Dutch masterpieces.

Among the top lots and the oldest to go under the hammer in the sale is the very rare work, "The Virgin Annunciate," a panel by the artist Simone Martini done around the early 1300s that was part of a diptych representing the Annunciation.

Apostle described the work which has a pre-sale estimate of up to $4 million as "the most elegant picture in the sale."

Canaletto's "Venice, a View of the Churches of the Redentore and San Giacomo, with a Moored Man-of-War, Gondolas and Barges," is expected to be another top attraction and has not been seen on the market since 1986.

It is one of three works in the auction from the collection of Britain's Lady Forte, whose husband founded the hotel and restaurant chain Trusthouse Forte. Expected to fetch $5 million to $7 million, the work was painted in the mid-1700s and is characteristic of Canaletto's attention to detail.

Another painting from the Forte estate, which was done in the 18th century by Jan van Huysum called "Still Life of Roses, Tulips, Peonies in a Sculpted Stone Vase," has a pre-sale estimate of up to $6 million.

Despite the sluggish global economy the art market has rebounded recently and Apostle expects the New York sale to generate interest from around the globe.

"There are people who are absolutely passionate about paintings," he explained. "If you buy good Old Masters there will always be a desire for them."

The sale will also include an early still life by Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, "A Still Life of Flowers in a Glass Beaker Set in a Marble Niche," which was probably painted in 1618 and was rediscovered after being lost for nearly 80 years.

Once part of the Russian Imperial Collections housed in The Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Apostle described it as "spectacular" and a work that could easily exceed its $1.5 million pre-sale estimate.

Works by Rubens, Frans Hals, Thomas de Keyser and Gerrit Dou will be also featured in Christie's Old Masters sales on Jan. 25-26 but the top lot is expected to be Hans Memling's "The Virgin Nursing the Christ Child," which could sell for as much as $8 million.

"Demand for top-quality Old Master works continues to rise among both new and experienced collectors and art dealers," said Nicholas Hall, the joint international head of Old Master and Early British Paintings. (Reporting by Patricia Reaney; editing by Paul Casciato)

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