Artcurial Sets New Record for Leonardo Student Salaì

Artcurial Paris Old Masters sale on November 18


On Wednesday, Paris-based auction house Artcurial held its Old Masters and 19th Century Art sale led by auctioneer Matthieu Fournier, bringing in a total of €5.7 million ($6.8 million), 46 percent above the pre-sale estimate of €3.9 million, though it saw only a 65 percent sell-through rate, with some high-value old masters failed to spur interest among bidders.

Leading the sale results was a a record-setting 16th-century painting of the Penitent Magdalene by Leonardo student and confidante Gian Giacomo Caprotti, also known as Salaì. An American collector won the piece for a final price of €1.7 million ($2.1 million) with buyer’s fees, well above its estimate of €100,000-€150,000.

The rediscovered painting, depicting a nude Mary Magdalene, posed in a devotional gesture against a stark black background, is one of only several works in existence with attribution to the artist. Examined by scholar Cristina Geddo ahead of Artcurial’s sale, the painting is just the second work by Salai to enter the auction market. The sale price marks a 220 percent increase over the artist’s previous record of $656,000, made in January 2007 at Sotheby’s for the sale of his Head of Christ, dated 1511, a painting believed to have been made after da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi. That work also sold above its estimate of $350,000–$450,000. It now resides at the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana in Milan, where it was gifted by the 2007 buyer.

Though the Magdalene sale was a success, others offered at top prices failed to finds buyers, including German old master Melchoir Feselen’s Judith and Holofernes priced at €400,000-€600,000, along with Spanish painter Jusepe Ribera’s recently attributed (and slightly damaged) portrait of Saint Andrew from a Serbia collection, estimated at €80,000-120,000.

Elsewhere in the sale, Jean-François Millet’s seascape, Barque de pêche, sold for €505,5000 ($600,950) to a European collector against an estimate of $400,00–$600,000. Pourquoi naître esclave (Why born enslaved?), a portrait of a woman by French artist Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux and formerly owned by French prints and drawings collector Gabriel Cognacq before its sale in the 1950s was among the high sellers. It went for €306,600 ($364,854) with buyer’s fees to an Asian collector, a factor of 5 times its estimate of €60,000.

Another top seller coming to the market for the first time was Antwerp painter Marten van Cleve’s 16th century village scene, sold from a private Belgian collection for €143,00, against an estimate of €120,000-€180,000. Dutch painter Abraham Bisschop’s large-scale painting, Peacocks and other fowl in a garden with a stone urn, was one of the works on offer in the sale re-traded on the market several times. In 1995, the work made $140,000 at Sotheby’s New York, going for well past the estimate of $50,000, but sold at Artcurial for less than half that price at €57,200 ($67,735), within the estimate of €40,000-60,000.

Most other works that found buyers sold for prices near the low pre-sale estimate. An oil painting of a haloed Virgin Mary on copper attributed to a French or Italian School painter from the early 17th century sold for €36,400 with buyer’s fee against an estimate of €30,000. A Netherlands, early 16th century triptych depicting the three scenes: The Lamentation of Christ, Saint Peter and a donor, and Saint Catherine and a donor, went for €23,400, hammering below its low estimate of €20,000.

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