London’s Old Master Sales Squeak by Expectations

London's Old Master Sales Brings for Auction Houses $80 Million Combined, and With This It Exceeds Expectations.

Dec 10, 2023By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
London's Old Master Sales
Sotheby’s specialists taking bids over the phone during the December 6 Old Master sale. Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.


London’s old master sales brought $42.9 million for Christie’s, and $36.6 million at Sotheby’s. This sale supports antique art in the nation’s capital. For their auctions including Old Master and 19th-century artworks, Sotheby’s created the general phrase Masters Week. On the other hand, Christie’s employed the moniker “Classic Week” in recent years to expand the popularity of its Old Master category.


London’s Old Master Sales Almost Equally Divided

London's Old Master Sales
Canaletto, Venice: The Mouth of the Grand Canal from the East and The Molo, with the Piazzetta andthe Doge’s Palace. Photo: courtesy of Christie’s.


For Sotheby’s there were also historical British images, decorative arts, antique sculpture and 19th-century British and European painting and works on paper. For Christie’s, events this year featured sales by one owner of the Christian Levett portfolio of modern and antique paintings. Also, a substantial portion of the unparalleled Samuel Josefowitz archive of Rembrandt works.


The week’s winnings went out almost evenly. Christie’s is leading marginally with additional pieces acquired by Friday. Sotheby’s first auction on December 6 was normal for to bring in between $20.6 million and $30.6 million. This is the average for a market where supply fluctuations can occur. Also, seven did not sell. In the last five years, this was their second-most sum for an Old Master sale held in London during the winter.


London's Old Master Sales
Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn, The Adoration of the Kings. Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.


An reliquary by Ambrosius Francken the Elder from the 16th century dominated the sale with a double valuation of $191,200. The Adoration of the Magi, a little, dark panel, was the standout lot. This piece is finally verified to be a Rembrandt painting, following decades of uncertainty. The painting eventually sold $13.8 million. This also makes it a record for a narrative painting by Rembrandt.

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An Unexpected End

Francesco Renaldi
Francesco Renaldi, Portrait of a Mughal lady. Via Sotheb’s.


When it comes to Christie’s, ultimately, the Josefowitz print was among the few Rembrandt works from his extraordinary collection that failed to find a buyer. With a $9.9 million sale price, the single-owner transaction was the week’s most successful sale overall compared to projections. The highest amount ever paid for a print by Rembrandt was $1.9 million, for St Jerome reading in an Italian landscape.


Christie’s first Old Master sale, which took place on December 7 and brought in $27.5 million against a low estimate of $22.8 million, was more optimistic. Guaranteed to be the highest priced item of the week featured two newly undiscovered Canaletto views of Venice. They sold for $12.2 million.


Christie’s in King Street, St James’s, via Wikimedia Commons


The sale ended with a rapturous ovation for outgoing global president and auctioneer Jussi Pylkkänen, who is leaving the company after 38 years. To mark the occasion, Christie’s persuaded his wife to dress up as a porter and present him with a cartoon of an auctioneer falling backwards in the rostrum, only his feet visible in the air.


















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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.