Sotheby’s and Christie’s each started December off with a painting by Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) hitting the auction block on consecutive nights. The Flemish painter is one of the most important 17th-century artists and his depictions of the court of Charles I always catch the eye. So, when Sotheby’s announced that a painting of Charles I’s daughter Mary, circa 1655, by Van Dyck and his studio was set to sale in London on December 5th, collectors and Van Dyck enthusiasts took note. However, shortly after this announcement, Christie’s raised the stakes when they revealed that their December 6th sale would include a nearly identical painting from the same year autographed by Van Dyck, himself. The sinking feeling of déjà vu must have shocked Sotheby’s specialists when Christie’s made their announcement.
For each of the auction houses, though, the Van Dyck paintings went over with expected success. Sotheby’s Van Dyck came with the caveat that the Old Master only painted portions of the painting (Mary’s head and hands, to be exact). The auction house estimated it would see between £600,000 and £800,000, reflecting the studio participation, and the painting was bought for £650,000 (£790,000 with fees). Christie’s estimated that their fully-authorized painting of Mary would go for £5 million and £8 million. The painting then sold on just one bid for the £5 million asking price ($5.9 million with fees).
Sotheby’s night then moved onto healthy sales making a strong start for the end of 2018. Estimated to make between £20.9 million and £29.5 million, the evening totaled £25.4 million, before fees, beginning the month £400,000 stronger than last year. The sale realized an overall sale through rate of 86%.
The largest sale of the night was, as expected, Rembrandt’s Study of the head and clasped hands of a young man as Christ in prayer (c. 1655). The small painting boasts two fingerprints in an original layer of paint thought to be the Rembrandt’s own. Bidding started around £5 million but quickly jumped when a bid for £8 million came over the phone. The winning bid of £8.2 million came from an agent in the room shortly after.
While Christie’s December 6th sale totaled a whopping £38.4 million (£42.2 million with fees) putting early December totals ahead of last year’s £21.7 million (with fees), an £18 million sale of group of works bolstered evening’s numbers. The group of works were owned by the late businessman Eric Albada Jelgersma and without this, the sale, which primarily consisted of Flemish and Dutch works, realized well below the £23.2 million and £35.3 million estimate.
Despite overall underwhelming numbers, particular lots performed strongly including a pair of portraits by Frans Hals, which set an artist record of £8.7 million (£10 million with fees, estimated at £8-£12 million). Merry Company (c. 1629) also set a record for artist Judith Leyster selling for £1.5 million (£1.8 million with fees, estimated at £1.5-£2.5 million). Despite strong points, Christie’s evening had a less than stellar sale through rate of 67%.