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Highlights of London's upcoming Old Master auctions at Sotheby's and Christie's

Some truly stunning pieces are to appear on the block this year

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The auction houses traditionally break for summer, together with the rest of the market, after the high-end old-master sales in London. This season is no exception, and with other events organised to coincide (grouped as Master Paintings Week, 1 to 8 July, and the Masterpiece fair, 30 June to 5 July), this art market season looks set to go with a bang. Paul Jeromack here analyses the highlights coming to evening auction that week.

Christie’s, 5 July

Christie’s dominates London Old Master week with its evening sale that features the spectacular George Stubbs, Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath with a Trainer, Jockey and Stable Lad, around 1765 (est £20m-£30m), the newly-discovered Michelangelo drawing of a male nude, 1504, (est £3m-£5m) and Adrien de Vries’s bronze Atlas, signed and dated 1626 (est £5m-£8m). Here are some of the less celebrated consignments that should not be overlooked:

School of Botticelli, Saint John the Baptist: a fragment, around 1485, est £200,000-£300,000

An attractive picture salvaged from a lost version of a tondo in the National Gallery, London. Current scholarship tends to be “expansive” in adding pictures to his oeuvre—leading to “workshop” Botticellis becoming “autograph” after sales. Look for this picture to do better than anticipated.

Marcus Gheeraerts II, Portrait of Frances Howard…, 1610, est £1m-£1.5m

Available English portraits of the 16th and early 17th century are not that common, and fewer still have the quality of this full-length portrait. The depiction of an attractive sitter is exactly the sort of early British picture to appeal to American and continental buyers—and exactly the sort to be denied an export licence.

Sir William Beechey, Portrait of George Douglas, 16th Earl of Morton, KT… 1790, est £500,000-£800,000

The Stubbs has attracted numerous high-quality British 18th-century portraits by Gainsborough, Romney, Reynolds and Wright of Derby to Christie’s, but in many ways, Sir William Beechey’s full-length portrait of George Douglas is the most notable. The artist is generally not placed amongst the front ranks, yet this is a masterpiece of exceptional swagger and elegance. Count on this to sell for much more than its estimate.

Louis-Léopold Boilly, A Trompe-l’oeil of an Ivory and Wood Crucifix Hanging on a Wall, 1812, est £250,000-£350,000

French pictures are not well-represented at either house this July. The best of them is this Louis-Léopold Boilly trompe-l’oeil. Works by this artist are not rare, yet this striking (and convincing) picture is of uncommonly high quality and is unique in his oeuvre. Expect the French museums to be bidding.

Sotheby’s, 6 July

Sotheby’s evening sale on July 6 is dominated by Francesco Guardi’s monumental Venice, A View of the Rialto Bridge Looking North, around 1768, (est £15m-£25m), but there are several other highlights this year:

Correggio, Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, around 1510, est £2m-£3m

The most important Italian picture of the sale is this beautiful, newly-discovered, early Correggio, which follows the new Perino del Vaga picture of the same subject sold by Sotheby’s to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in January. No Correggio picture of importance has appeared on the market since the mid 1960s. It bears a ridiculously low estimate of £2m-£3m. Will it awaken the slumbering Getty?

Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, Still Life of Tulips…, around 1620, est £300,000-£400,000

Another Sotheby’s discovery is this copper work. The first great Dutch master of the floral still-life, Bosschaert is, along with Jan van Huysum (the last great Dutch master of the floral still-life), the most esteemed and highly-prized master of this genre. While the estimate reflects its less-than-flawless, ever so slightly rubbed surface, its considerable appeal as the artist’s last available still-life with landscape background should result in a sum in the low seven figures.

Hans Schäufelein, Double-sided Altarpiece Panel…, around 1510, est £1.5m-£2m

Of all the European schools and periods, German paintings of the 15th and 16th century are perhaps the rarest yet (with exception of the prolific Lucas Cranachs, Elder and Younger) and the least collected. One hopes buyers will be roused from their stupor by this masterpiece of around 1510 by a notable and rare student of Dürer and Hans Holbein the Elder. The picture was brought to England in the 1830s by the great champion of the neo-Gothic, architect Augustus Pugin, and allowed to leave the UK after selling for a mere 10,000 guineas (£22,500) at Christie’s in 1970. It is now estimated at a still-cheap £1.5m-£2m. Who will be smart enough to buy it now?

Sir Peter Lely, Portrait of a Young Woman and Child, as Venus and Cupid…, around 1670, est £600,000-£800,000

Is there a sexier British old master picture than Lely’s full-length languid and luscious nude portrait, probably of everybody’s favourite royal mistress, Nell Gwyn, and a pert ancestor of Boucher’s 1752 painting, Marie-Louise O’Murphy? It was probably painted for the sitter’s lover and benefactor King Charles II. It comes to Sotheby’s only four years after its sensational sale at Christie’s in 2007, where it was bought by its consignor for a record £1.6m and is now estimated at a titillating £600,000-£800,000. Would it be too much to hope that it might re-enter the Royal Collections?

Originally appeared in The Art Newspaper as 'London’s old master sales: the ones that shouldn’t get away'

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