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Auction record for any female artist of the pre-modern era achieved at Sotheby's New York
Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun’s Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan from 1788 sells for $7.2 million, leading Sotheby’s Master Paintings Evening Sale. Courtesy Sotheby's.

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s annual Masters Week sales series kicked off today in New York, with 170 paintings and drawings sold across two auctions for an overall total of $67.8 million.

The day was began with Sir Peter Paul Rubens’s drawing of a Nude Study of Young Man with Raised Arms selling for $8.2 million – a new world auction record for any drawing by the iconic artist. That result helped propel the Old Master Drawings sale to a $15.1 million total, which itself marks the highest total for this category in Sotheby’s history. Last night’s Master Paintings Evening Sale celebrated the work of groundbreaking female artists of the 16th – 19th centuries and established multiple auction records, most notably for Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, whose Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan achieved an incredible $7.2 million – a new world auction record for any female artist of the pre-modern era.

Sotheby’s Masters Week series continues through Saturday, with online sales of Old Masters and 19th Century European Art open for bidding through 6 February. Below is a look at some of the highlights that drove the results of yesterday’s auctions:

Auction Total: $52.7 Million
The Female Triumphant

To highlight this year’s Masters Week sales series, Sotheby’s assembled a group of works by female artists of the pre-Modern era, celebrating the lives and important work of these groundbreaking women. Titled The Female Triumphant, the group features major paintings, drawings and sculpture created by leading female artists from the 16th through the 19th centuries.

Calvine Harvey, Specialist in Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department in New York, commented: “The number of Old Master female artists who succeeded and are known to us today remains incredibly few – in 2018, Sotheby’s sold only 14 works by female Old Masters, compared to 1,100 male artists. It’s important to remember that the obstacles women artists of the pre-Modern era faced were substantial, and those that broke down those barriers were truly triumphant. It was therefore such a thrill to see strong prices throughout our initial offering of works from The Female Triumphant – none more so than the monumental portrait by Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun that achieved a new auction record for any work by a female artist of the pre-Modern era. With additional records established for the work Fede Galizia, Angelika Kauffmann and Giulia Lama, the market clearly responded to the work of these groundbreaking women, including both new and established collectors.”

The initial offering of The Female Triumphant collection – which will continue throughout this week’s sales – featured the top lot of tonight’s auction: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun’s life-sized Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, which achieved an astounding $7.2 million – a new world auction record for any female artist of the pre-modern era. Painted in the summer of 1788 and exhibited at the Salon of 1789, when political unrest had begun to boil in France, the work stands today as a symbolic testament to the relationship between Pre-Revolutionary France and India.

Works from The Female Triumphant established additional auction records for Fede Galizia, Angelika Kauffmann and Giulia Lama. A pioneer of the still life genre, which she helped invent in the early 17th-century, Fede Galizia’s A glass compote with peaches, jasmine flowers, quinces, and a grasshopper achieved $2.4 million (estimate $2/3 million). Although she produced fewer than 20 refined, naturalistic still life compositions on panel, these works inspired followers in her lifetime and are now considered her most important paintings.

One of the wealthiest families in England, the young generation of Spencers likely depicted in Angelika Kauffmann’s Portrait of Three Children, sold for $915,000, surpassing its high estimate of $800,000. One of the most cultured and influential women of her generation, Angelika Kauffmann holds a place of particular importance in European art history as one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy.

Additional Auction Highlights
Christopher Apostle, Head of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department in New York, commented: “We are very pleased with the results of tonight’s sale, which demonstrated an enthusiastic, sophisticated and confident market for Master Paintings. Top prices buoyed by demand for fantastic Dutch Golden Age pictures of the highest quality, and global participation across private collectors, institutions and the trade. This evening’s results demonstrate the market’s enthusiasm for museum-caliber, fresh-to-market material that is estimated attractively.”

Outside of The Female Triumphant, the evening sale featured a group of Dutch masterworks emerging from a distinguished private collection. The selection was led by Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael’s work on copper A Banquet of the Gods, which sold for $5.9 million (estimate $5/7 million). Its elegant forms, classical subject, and refined technique of this oil on copper exemplify the Dutch Mannerist movement, which included the most important artists in the Netherlands from 1580 to 1620. The collection also featured Jan van de Cappelle’s A shipping scene on a calm sea, with a number of vessels and figures, and a jetty on the left, which fetched $4.8 million (estimate $4/6 million) – the second-highest price ever achieved for the artist at auction. The luminous scene is a particularly evocative and successful example of the calm, expansive seascapes that distinguished Jan van de Cappelle as one of the leading marine painters of the Dutch Golden Age.

Further Dutch masterworks in the sale included Pieter Claesz’s Still life of lemons and olives, pewter plates, a roemer and a façon-de-Venise wine glass on a ledge, which soared past its pre-sale high estimate of $900,000, realizing $2.5 million and establishing a new auction record for the artist. The works that Pieter Claesz. painted between 1628 and 1630, of which this is an outstanding example, came to define the classical Haarlem ontbijtje (breakfast piece).

The evening’s offering of Italian works was led by Orazio Gentileschi’s dynamic and dramatic Fall of the Rebel Angels, which realized $3.3 million (estimate $2.5/3.5 million). Painted on a large piece of alabaster circa 1601/2, the work displays the artist’s shift from his mannerist beginnings to a more naturalistic style, due in part to his burgeoning friendship with Caravaggio.

Auction Total: $15.1 Million

Gregory Rubinstein, Head of Sotheby’s Old Master Drawings Department, commented: “We are thrilled with the results of today’s sale, which marks the highest total for an Old Master Drawings auction at Sotheby’s worldwide. Anchored by the significant record-breaking Rubens study, we saw market demand for additional blue-chip, fresh-to-market works from all corners of the globe, led by bidding among private collectors from America, China, Russia and Europe. The market for Old Master Drawings is strong, and today’s results reflect just that.”

Yesterday morning’s auction was highlighted by a magnificent collection of drawings assembled by King William II of the Netherlands and his wife Anna Pavlovna, who together amassed one of the finest collections formed anywhere in Europe in the 19th century. Twelve drawings together totaled $11 million – three times their collective high estimate of $3.7 million. While many of the works they owned now reside in major museums, both in the Netherlands and around the world, these drawings are among those that passed down privately through the family.

The collection was led by Sir Peter Paul Rubens’s Nude Study of Young Man with Raised Arms – one of the most important drawings by the iconic artist to appear on the open market in over 50 years – which sold for $8.2 million after intense competition between two bidders. That price more than doubled the work’s high estimate of $3.5 million, and established a new world auction record for a drawing by the artist. Drawn by the artist shortly after his return to Antwerp from Italy in late 1608 and in preparation for his monumental altarpiece, The Raising of the Cross, the drawing provides the viewer with a fascinating insight into Rubens’s working methods, as well as the energy and vigor employed by the artist in his best drawings.

Further highlights from the collection include a red chalk Portrait of a youth, attributed to Agostino Caracci, which sold for $1.5 million – more than 40 times its pre-sale estimate of $35/45,000 – and an Italian 16th-century drawing of The Fight For The Standard (The Battle Of Anghiari), After Leonardo, which achieved $795,000 – more than 20 times it estimate of $25/35,000.

Outside of the King William II and Anna Pavlovna collection, museum-quality works by Raphael and Cornelis Troost also fetched top prices. A substantial, newly-discovered drawing of a Standing Figure in Armor by Raphael brought $795,000. Dated to the artist’s early career in Florence (circa 1506-7), the drawing shows all the unpredictable originality that characterizes Raphael’s works of this period. Corenlis Troost’s highly entertaining and visually engaging Drinkenburg achieved $639,000 – smashing the artist’s previous world auction record, which was established by this same drawing when it was last sold at auction in 1999.

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