LONDON (REUTERS).- Christie's
expects a major work called "Ordination" by French master Nicolas Poussin to fetch 15-20 million pounds ($23-31 million) when it goes under the hammer in London on December 7.
The auctioneer will be hoping to repeat the spectacular prices for old master paintings fetched at the equivalent sale last year, when a Raphael drawing made a record $47.9 million and a Rembrandt painting sold for around $33 million.
Richard Knight, co-head of old masters and 19th century art at Christie's, called the painting "remarkable."
Ordination, painted in the 1630s, was one of the Seven Sacraments depicted by the artist for Cassiano dal Pozzo, a celebrated collector in Rome.
Of the set of seven, "Penance" was destroyed in a fire nearly 200 years ago and "Baptism" went to the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.
The other five -- "Ordination," "Confirmation," "Eucharist," "Extreme Unction" and "Marriage" -- are in the possession of the Belvoir Estate, the estate of the Dukes of Rutland, and have been on loan to the National Gallery in London.
"The proceeds released from the sale of the painting will enable us to realize our core aims of securing the restoration and long-term preservation of Belvoir Castle and Estate," said a statement from the estate.
According to Christie's, the pope tried to intervene to prevent the series being sold out of Italy in the late 18th century.
But art dealer James Byres managed to arrange the sale of the pictures to Charles Manners, 4th Duke of Rutland, by having copies painted and substituted so that the originals could be smuggled out.
In 2007, the current, 11th Duke of Rutland was planning to sell all five of the family's Sacraments, estimated at that time to be worth a combined 100 million pounds, but withdrew them at the last moment, citing "family reasons."
Poussin painted another version of the Sacraments for a Parisian patron after being summoned to serve as court painter to King Louis XIII. That set is in the collection of the Dukes of Sutherland, and on loan to the National Gallery of Scotland.