The Getty pays 30 millions for Gentileschi’s Danae, but the nano Raphael stays in Europe

Stefano Pirovano

Despite the complex macro-issues affecting the international community at the moment, from the oil price to Donald Trump’s more and more embarrassing hairdo, last night in New York the majestic Danae painted by Orazio Gentileschi in 1621 was sold at Sotheby’s Old Masters evening sale for $30 millions, proving once again that true masterpieces never fail when they go under the hammer, not even in a session where half of the pieces went unsold, including the remarkable View of Henry VII chapel in Westminster Abbey that Canaletto painted in the early 1750s (estimated between 5 and 8 millions), and a quite rare Van Dyck’s religious painting (The tribute money, estimated between 2 and 3 millions).


Apparently underbid by an Asian collector, the sensual Danae was bought by the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angels, that already owns a very important canvas by Gentileschi, which represents Lot and his Daughters. Along with a third painting, currently in a private collection in New York (The Penitent Magdalene), the two outstanding pieces now in the property of the American Museum were part of a cycle commissioned to the artist by the Genoese patrician Giovanni Antonio Sauli.


The Old Masters week at Sotheby’s in New York had a convincing beginning last Wednesday, with the last of the four auctions dedicated to the A. Alfred Taubman collection, that went beyond 24 million dollars and reduced the firm’s expected loss of 12 millions due to the extremely high guarantee (515 millions) granted to the hires of the former Sotheby’s owner in order to win the multimillionaire consignment and prevent Christie’s from operating the symbolic sale. Ted Smith, the discussed Sotheby’s CEO of the new Loeb’s era, this time has to thank tradition, more than innovation.


The record for the Taubman Old Masters sale was unexpectedly set by a Valentin de Boulogne’s – like Gentileschi a follower of Caravaggio’s “tenebrist” style -, that went for 5 million dollars to an unknown private collector (3 million over the high estimate). But among the top lots of the sale was also one of the few paintings by Raffaello Sanzio in private hands, the small portrait of Valerio Belli, bought by an European private collector for 3.2 millions, that is to say a bit over the high estimate. Also Thomas Gainsborough’s The Blue Page did well (3.2 millions, a bit over the low estimate), and Bernardo Bellotto’s perfectly preserved view of The Grand Canal, Looking East from the Campo di San Vio: 3 millions, one million over the high estimate. At the end of the day a 88.5% rate of lots sold (by value) is not a bad result for a private collection of Old Matsers paintings, and drawings.


In fact, drawings represent the really good news or, it would be better to say, the clear sign of the quite good health of this generally stable area of the art market. The total amount collected by the auction that took place yesterday morning is not an impressive number ($4.864.000), but many were the lots that exceeded the high estimate. Such as the touching Bathers by Guercino, that broke the ground selling for $237.000 (estimate $35.000 – 45.000), or The Country School by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo sold almost for 1 million. The descent of the man in the valley of death by William Blake “only” went for  $ 222.000, a bit over the low estimate, but a study of head by Adolf Von Menzel fetched $40.000 (estimate $14.000 – 18.000) and another drawing by Guercino, a scene of witchcraft, went easily for $137.000 (estimate $45.000 – 65.000); and so did the stylish and rare Self portrait in a turban drawn with pastels by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun in the early 1800s. It was estimated between $50.000 and 70.000 and it sold for $187.500. This seems the place to be for the smart collector, doesn’t it?

January 30, 2016