Magazine article The Spectator

Money, Money Money

Magazine article The Spectator

Money, Money Money

Article excerpt

Salerooms

No one can deny that the London summer season ended with a bang. The sale of a 'lost' monumental panel painting by the great Flemish master Sir Peter Paul Rubens at Sotheby's on 10 July for almost L50 million (with premium) - its estimate was a mere L4 million to L6 million - was one of those rare moments of thrilling saleroom theatre. The house was packed -- every ticketed seat was taken and the gallery stood cheek by jowl, crushed against the walls and spilling down the staircase. And unlike those crowded but dreary Impressionist sales where bidders vie in bloodless battles of telephonic ping-pong, the players or their representatives were all here in person - well, almost all of them. As the gavel came down at 45 million, the room burst into applause.

Rubens's `Massacre of the Innocents' had become the most expensive Old Master painting ever sold, the most expensive work of art sold in London and the third most expensive sold anywhere. Its sale also demonstrated once again that when competing against a committed and very rich private collector, no museum in the world has a hope of securing an art-market trophy that everyone seemed to want. As if to emphasise the point, London dealer Sam Fogg said after the sale that his anonymous client was willing - and expecting - to pay far, far more for the picture. (That client is the Canadian Lord Thomson of Fleet, a former proprietor of the Times and a collector of mediaeval manuscripts and ivories; it is his son, David, who has a penchant for Rubens.)

The Getty Museum, meanwhile, the richest arts institution in the world, was obliged to drop out of the contest at L42 million -- museum directors are, after all, obliged to pre-set bidding ceilings with their trustees. As for the National Gallery of London, which made the most strenuous efforts to do what it could to raise funds before the sale, it was literally out of the picture. How could it not be when the new director finds himself with an acquisitions budget from central government of nil and support from the Lottery Fund of up to L10 million?

It may be convenient to talk about an art market, but of course it is not a 'market' in any meaningful sense at all. As this occasion witnessed, offering not just one Rubens but two and a Rembrandt, each work of art is different and each sale brings together a different set of personalities and circumstances. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.