Christie’s final Old Masters Sale of the season smashed auction records for the Florentine Renaissance painter Domenico Ghirlandaio (1448-1494) and Dutch Golden Age artist Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606-1684). Led by Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkknänen in London, it was the first time an Old Master sale at the auction house was livestreamed.
Although both paintings were utterly filthy and in desperate need of conservation work, they enticed lots of bidders. “It was notable that the top lots were very fresh to the market and that really excites our buyers,” explained Clementine Sinclair, the head of Christie’s Old Masters evening sale.
The top lot of the sale was Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s extraordinarily large still-life painting, depicting a table laden with fruit. “It’s wonderfully untouched and in its original state,” remarked Sinclair, who views the oil on panel painting as “really quite remarkable”.
De Heem’s artwork rose above its low estimate of £4 million, selling for a record £4.8 million (£5.6 million with fees) to the art advisor Wentworth Beaumont on behalf of a client. Henry Pettifer, the head of Christie’s Old Masters department, said it “was arguably the most significant northern still-life painting to come onto the market in a generation…this also represents the highest price (in GBP) achieved for any still-life painting in the Old Master category.”
A ‘Salvator Mundi’ painting by Ghirlandaio also became the highest selling work by the artist, having been recently rediscovered after residing in the same family’s collection for almost 70 years. The spectacularly grubby painting sold for £1.8 million (£2.2 million with fees), which is six times more than its estimate of £300,000 to £500,000.
“There’s a discoloured layer of varnish but also I think maybe a heavy smoker had owned the painting at one point,” presumed Sinclair. “But I think everyone is in agreement that it’s in really beautiful condition underneath.”
It wasn’t all plain sailing for Christie’s however, with three lots withdrawn from the sale at the last moment. Discussing the troubles faced by the auction house in the wake of the pandemic, Pettifer said in a post-sale press conference: “We’ve been operating in quite a challenging business getting environment over the last season, both in terms of the travel restrictions and the various lockdowns.”
Despite this, the recent 44-lot sale achieved a respectable £22.8 million (estimated £17.2 million to £26.2 million with fees). The auction matched last year’s sale rate too, selling 86% of lots.