Jacob de Backer’s Liberation of Saint Peter Sets an Online Record at Christie’s $3 M. Old Masters Auction

Jacob de Backer. The Liberation of Saint Peter. Courtesy Christie’s.

Last week, Christie’s staged the Old Masters session of its bi-annual classics week. The online sale, which ran from June 2-19 brought in a total of $3 million across 97 total lots, each of which found a buyer.

The leading work sold in the auction was Flemish Mannerist Jacob de Backer’s large-scale canvas The Liberation of Saint Peter which sold for $399,000, achieving more than four times its low estimate of $80,000. The work was last sold in June 1950 at Van Marle & Bignell auction in the The Hague where it was purchased by the seller. The sale marks the highest price ever sold for an Old Masters painting online.

The subject of the painting—depicting an angel appearing to Saint Peter in a dream and freed him following his imprisonment by King Herod, a scene relayed in the Acts of Apostles—was “especially popular with European painters in the Renaissance and Baroque eras, serving as a manifestation of the mercy of divine intervention” said John Hawley, Christie’s Old Master Paintings Specialist. “The painting saw deep bidding from established collectors across the globe” noted Hawley, who confirmed the work came to the market after having been in the same family for a period of seventy years. “Its record-setting price is testament to collectors’ insatiable appetite for fresh-to-market works of the highest quality and the strength and resilience of the Old Masters market during unpredictable economic circumstances” added Hawley.

The second highest selling lot was a small-scale 16th century Limoges enamel copper depicting a solider on horseback sold for $225,000, against an estimate of $30,000-50,000. The work was consigned from the collection of James and Marilyn Alsdorf.

A painting featuring the head of Christ attributed to a Netherlands artist from 16th century achieved a selling price of $162,500, more than five times its high estimate of $20,000. The work last came to market when the seller bought it at Paris auction house Tajan in 2007.

Tuscan, Late 15th / Early 16th Century. A White Marble Relief Of The Virgin And Child. Courtesy Christie’s.

Alongside several works that bested their high estimates was also a white marble relief of the Madonna and child attributed to an Italian maker from the late 15th to early 16th century. The work realized a price of $100,000 against is pre-sale expectation of $20,000-30,000 and came fresh to the market after having last come to auction in 1946 when it sold in New York at Park-Bernet Galleries from the collection of dealer Hugo Moser. The work was originally sold from the Imperial Russian collection in 1928 during a sale in Berlin, according to William Russel, Christie’s European sculpture specialist, who added that, “the provenance was very exciting and, perhaps for some bidders, not fully resolved.”

At the lower value section of the sale a portrait of Rembrandt attributed to the artist’s Leiden studio from the 15th century went for $81,250, doubling its low estimate of $40,000 and Italian painter Pierto Bellotti’s The Dowser went for $52,500 doubling its low expectation of $25,000.

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