Auction sales of paintings by old masters are increasingly successful following some remarkable bids placed on several masterpieces. U.S museums are now notably quite active in these sales, which regarding their results, are as much spectacular as those held for Impressionist or modern works.
Not long ago, museums relied on major dealers to provide them with the pieces they wanted. Presently they are battling against them in salesrooms as that was the case during the last week of January 2000. The Metropolitan Museum of Art of New York acquired at Christie's a superb Pieta by Caracci for US $ 5,23 million against a pre-sale estimate of US $ 500,000 while the National Gallery of Washington bought at Sotheby's a painting entitled Adam and Eve driven out from Paradise by Domenichino for a record US $ 3,3 million.
The Getty museum meanwhile took possession of Tiepolo's Alexander and Campaspe in the studio of Apelle for US $ 2,2 million, a painting which formerly belonged to Jewish collector Frederico Gentili di Giuseppe who died in 1941 after his collection was seized by the Nazis in Paris. This work had been surrendered by the Louvre museum before his heirs had decided to sell it.
Old masters sell well now as buyers do not hesitate to pay huge sums for good works. Sotheby's realised a turnover of US $ 47,48 million for their sale of old masters at the end of January while Christie's totalled US $ 39,29 for theirs.
A Canaletto Venetian view, which fetched US $ 6,6 million at Christie's, went to Richard Green from London and specialists stressed that such bid for a 46.5 x 76.8 cm work appeared enormous as it bore no comparison with the impressive “Return of the Bucentaur Vessel”, now in the Thyssen Foundation in Madrid, which sold for 72 million FF (US $ 10,91 million) at Drouot in 1993.
Buyers only go for really good paintings but turn their backs on average pieces or those which have appeared too often at auction during the past decade.
Some works by Guardi thus did not sell while Pieter Paul Rubens' portrait of a man represented as the God Mars only fetched US $ 8,25 million at Sotheby's.
This was a somewhat disappointing result despite the fact that this work fetched a record price for the artist, the reason being that the art trade first offered it for sale at US $ 14 million before lowering that price to US $ 10 million and then to US $ 8 million.
This painting had been bought in 1988 by D.L Paul, head of a Fund Saving group, who was eventually sentenced for fraud. It had been privately acquired for US $ 12 million from the widow of Samuel H. Kress and had been sold a year later to a group of dealers under the auspices of Sotheby's before it went on to be exhibited at the Metropolitan Museum in 1999. In this case one can imagine that the sellers incurred a substantial loss.