The art world is seeing a sudden resurgence in collecting with auctions generating stunning sale prices as investors move off the side lines and into the action. The real estate crash and the shaky stock market have no doubt been major contributors to the trend, narrowing investment options that provide a hedge against inflation.
The proof will be in the pudding this week when Christie’s holds a record sale of works by old masters in London. The sale will include significant works by Rembrandt, Raphael and Il Domenichino. So far all signs point to an end of the recession in the world of collecting.
Collectors were buoyed, for example, by the recent sale of a signed four-page letter written by George Washington to his nephew in 1787. It sold for $3.2 million, while two works by Edgar Allen Poe set new sales records in auctions held by Christie’s last week.
The Washington letter had a sales estimate between $1.5 million and $2.5 million , and smashed the previous 2002 record of $834,500 for a Washington document, Christie’s said.
In addition, a n1827 first edition copy of Poe poems sold for $662,500, setting another record for a 19th century book of poetry. Two-pages of hand scrawled verses from 1849 netted $830,500 , breaking the 19th century literary manuscript record as well
Christie’s says its London auction, Dec. 8, has pre-sale estimates ranging from $75 million to $105 million, on the 43 works to be offered, the highest ever for such a sale. Richard Knight, international co-head of old masters at Christie’s, calls it a “landmark” auction.
“The (old masters) market has shown great stability over the last year and … collectors continue to seize opportunities to acquire works which rarely appear on the market,” he said.
A Rembrandt painting “Portrait of a man, half-length, with his arms akimbo,” painted in 1658 and unseen in public for nearly 40 years is expected to be the featured piece. It last sold in 1930, for around $100,000. That would be about $1.3 million today, adjusted for inflation.
Its pre-sale estimate ranges as high as $45 million and the sale could set a new record. “The Massacre of the Innocents” by Peter Paul Rubens auctioned at Sotheby’s in London in 2002 holds the current record for top price at $77 million.
Portrait of a man is a is a tour de force painted during one of Rembrandt’s most artistically inventive periods and at the same time as one of the most turbulent stages of his personal life, according to the auction house. In 1658 the artist was forced to sell his house and move to a smaller studio having been declared bankrupt two years earlier.
Also of significance, “Head of a Muse,” a drawing by Renaissance master Raphael used as a study for a figure in a Vatican fresco is expected to sell for $20 million to $26 million.
“Saint John the Evangelist” by Italian artist Domenico Zampieri, also known as Il Domenichino is expected to sell for as much as $18 million.