Three highlights from London's Old Master auctions

Rothschild's El Greco, a candlelit scene by Joseph Wright of Derby and an out of season crucifixion scene lead pre-Christmas sales

An Academy by Lamplight (1769) by Joseph Wright of Derby Sotheby's

An Academy by Lamplight (1769) by Joseph Wright of Derby Sotheby's

Sotheby’s London, Old Masters evening sale, 6 December

Joseph Wright of Derby, the 18th-century British painter, is an old favourite of the more traditional American collectors, and An Academy by Lamplight (1769) could well go across the pond if it meets its £2.5m-£3.5m estimate. The work, the first of two versions of the subject painted by Wright (the second was painted a year or two later), shows the artist’s allegiance to the Enlightenment movement. While Sotheby’s Andrew Fletcher admits “for an ordinary portrait by Wright you’re not going to get as much interest as 15 years ago”, this dramatically candlelit painting is, he thinks, “very special”, adding: “The same painting in daylight would be worth a quarter of the price.”

Crucifixion by Lorenzo Veneziano Bonhams

Bonhams London, Old Master paintings sale, 6 December

This 14th century crucifixion by the Venetian painter Lorenzo Veneziano (1356-1379) has spent the past century in what Andrew MacKenzie, director of Bonhams Old Master paintings, describes as an “Italophile English family…concealed from the eyes of the world’s art historians.” In the animation of the figures, the gold ground panel illustrates how in the mid-14th century Veneziano broke away from the static mode of the Byzantine icon towards a looser, more emotionally vivid Gothic style.

Displayed in this crucifixion, MacKenzie says, are “a number of the more modern elements that Lorenzo had come to adopt by the 1360s” such as the “more physical presence” of the figures, a “growing interest in elaborate decoration” and a more sympathetic interaction between the mourning figures in contrast to “the earlier, almost violent manner in which Lorenzo had tended to arrange them”. The panel is estimated at £400,000-£600,000.

Saint Francis and Leo (around 1600) by El Greco Christie's

Christie’s london, Old Masters evening sale, 7 December

El Greco’s Saint Francis and Brother Leo in Meditation (est £5m-£7m) is one of 51 works from the collection of the late Stanford Rothschild consigned for sale to Christie’s. “The paint surface is gorgeous,” says Harry Smith of art advisers Gurr Johns.“It’s not a unique subject, but he is such a contemporary painter, it might easily sell to Asia.” The painting is a far superior work to the rather flimsy Christ Taking Leave of His Mother, another El Greco that failed to sell in Christie’s July sale with an estimate of £4m to £6m. That work, like Leonardo’s Salvator Mundi, was previously bought from Yves Bouvier by the Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev.