New York Old Master auctions preview: so much to see, so little time
Twelve sales in three days make the season a sprint rather than a stroll—but works by Batoni and Carracci are worth slowing down to see
By Paul Jeromack. Art Market, Issue 242, January 2012
Published online: 21 January 2013
Every year it gets worse. Each January, Sotheby’s and Christie’s
hold their annual Old Master blowout. And every year, they cram their competing sales into shrinking time periods, making it impossible for anyone to attend a paintings sale without missing a drawings sale and vice versa. Twelve sales (eight at Sotheby’s and four at Christie’s) are, with one exception, shoehorned into three days—30 and 31 January and 1 February. Avoiding the daytime crush is Sotheby’s evening sale of works from the estate of Giancarlo Baroni (29 January, including an early El Greco—The Entombment of Christ, mid-1570s, estimated at $1m to $1.5m). The scheduling is particularly frustrating this year because both houses feature unusually strong offerings. Here are some of the notable lots. New York
Christie’s big event is the Renaissance sale on 30 January, featuring paintings, drawings, prints and decorative arts. The star lot is a rare earlytondo by Fra Bartolommeo: The Madonna and Child, around 1495, in its original frame (est $10m-$15m). This is followed by not one, but two, Botticellis: the recently identified and very early Madonna and Child with a Pomegranate, painted in the early 1460s, when Botticelli was still in the studio of his teacher, Fra Fillippo Lippi (est $3m-$5m), and the “Rockefeller” Madonna and Child with the Young Saint John the Baptist, around 1493 (est $5m-$7m). More exciting is a later Italian painting—a rediscovered altarpiece of The Annunciation, around 1585, by Annibale Carracci, which until now was only known to the wider public from an old, undated black-and-white photograph.
Excluding the sketchy head studies and genre subjects of varying quality that appear at auction every so often and are attributed to various members of the Carracci family, paintings by Annibale are seldom encountered, and this well-preserved, relatively early work is of the highest quality, melding the influences of his cousin Ludovico, Titian and Correggio. It is the most important work by the artist to come to market since Boy Drinking, around 1582-83, which came from the Peter Jay Sharp collection and sold at Sotheby’s New York in 1994 for $2.2m, and which is now at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Christie’s estimates The Annunciation at $1.5m to $2.5m, which seems cheap.