Old Masters sales soar despite global woes

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Sotheby’s hopes that the fervent mood at an auction this week in London of important Old Master paintings will travel overseas when several rare art works will be auctioned next month.

Auctioneer Claudia Steinfels brings down the gavel during a Sotheby's auction of 123 pieces of Swiss art, in Zurich December 7, 2009. REUTERS/Arnd Wiegmann

The fragile state of the world economy didn’t influence the few deep-pocketed art collectors who vied for rare 17th century masterpieces in the British capital on Wednesday.

Sotheby’s sale of Old Master & British Paintings in London saw a new auction record set for Anthony van Dyck when his last self portrait soared above expectations and sold for$13,521,704.

The portrait, hotly pursued by nine bidders, was the top-selling lot in a sale which raised $24,510,499, within pre-sale expectations.

Sotheby’s December series of Old Master & British Paintings sales in London bought in $30,954,450.

In New York, Sotheby’s will display several pieces for its Old Master week.

“The thing about the Old Masters market ... this market has been changing for five years. You are not able to sell everything on the market. But the high-quality, top-flight quality (pieces) will,” George Wachter, co-chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department, said in an interview.

“No one would have guessed that van Dyck would sell triple the world record. For the best of the best its nine people bidding away,”

Among the highlights in New York sale January 28 will be Hendrick Goltzius’ “Jupiter and Antiope.” The large scale nude painted in 1612 depicts the moment before Antiope, the daughter of Nycteus and Thebes, was seduced by Jupiter in the form of a satyr.

“It’s got this incredible charged subject that many people will love and many museums will be excited to see,” Wachter said.

The painting is expected to fetch between $8 million to $12 million.

Goltzius, considered a key Dutch mannerist, began painting in 1600 after many years as a celebrated engraver in Netherlands. He died 17 years later after completing 50 paintings.

“Goltzius is a very important artist,” said Wachter. “He is not one of the Ninja Turtles, not everyone in the world has heard of him. But he is the finest sketch artist of his time.”

Wachter believes Goltzius could have influenced Sir Peter Paul Reubens, a prolific 17th century Flemish Baroque painter who died in 1640,

“He (Goltzius) was older and a senior painter back in his day when Reubens came to Haarlem. Who’s to say that Reubens didn’t visit Goltzius’ studio and see the picture sitting there. We know that they met in 1612. So, it’s not impossible.”

The current auction record for Goltzius is $1,542,500, which was achieved for “The Fall of Man” sold by Christie’s in May 1996. That painting is now at the National Gallery in Washington.

Wachter said such rare pieces are recession-proof and are “must-haves” for certain collectors.

“It’s like gold, the Burmese ruby,” he added.

Reporting by Bernard Orr, Editing by Patricia Reaney