A highly anticipated auction of works by old masters at Christie’s in London has shattered records, with a rare chalk drawing by Raphael selling for $48 million and a painting by Rembrandt last seen publicly 40 years ago, selling for $33.2 million.
The sale was closely watched because the bidding was considered to be a barometer of the art market’s strength in the weakened economy. With paintings fetching record prices, the recession in art auctions appears to be all but over much to the delight of collectors.
In all, the Christie’s auction grossed about $111.4 million, surpassing its $102 million high estimate.
The Raphael drawing, “Head of a Muse” sold to an anonymous buyer for double its high estimate, a sign that collectors are willing to pour money into rare paintings, which appear to be holding their value while other assets, such as real estate, decline.
Raphael’s black-chalk drawing was done in advance of his work on the artist’s fresco, “Parnassus,” the mythological panorama of the god Apollo holding court on Mount Parnassus.
It is one of four frescoes Raphael created around 1511 to adorn the Vatican library, Stanza della Segnatura. “Head of a Muse” is the artist’s last example from the Vatican library commission still in private hands.
The pre-sale star, “Portrait of a Man, Half-Length, With Arms Akimbo,” by Rembrandt came in behind the Raphael, but easily topped its $28 million estimate. The artist had declared bankruptcy two years before painting the portrait.
The Rembrandt has a storied provenance. Besides being sold by current owner, Barbara Piasecka Johnson, an heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharamceutical fortune, it was previously owned by George Folliott, a Regency-era collector who exhibited the work at the British Institution in London in 1847.
Sotheby’s bought the painting in 1930 for $18,500, and sold it for more than $100,000 in today’s dollars to George Huntington Hartford II, a supermarket heir who later donated the work to Columbia University.
In other action, Il Domenichino’s “Saint John the Evangelist,” a pious depiction of the saint, sold for $15.1 million, $4 million over its pre-sale estimate of $11 million.
Rival Sotheby’s will auction Old Master and British paintings, led by Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ “Portrait of a Young Woman, Half-Length, Holding a Chain.” Dating to around 1603, the work is priced to sell for at least $6.5 million.