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Wednesday, 06 July 2011 05:04

Stubbs Horse Sells for Record $36 Million as Demand for Old Masters Tested

George Stubbs (1724-1806), “Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey" sold for $36 million George Stubbs (1724-1806), “Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, with a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey" sold for $36 million

Record prices for George Stubbs and Thomas Gainsborough last night boosted an $80 million test of the auction market for Old Masters.

The Stubbs fetched 22.4 million pounds ($36 million) and the Gainsborough 6.5 million pounds, helping Christie’s International to its second-highest total for a mixed-owner auction of historic paintings in London.

Older pictures have traditionally been the auction houses’ highest-grossing category. Modern and contemporary works are now more lucrative: On June 28, Christie’s auction of postwar and living artists’ works made 78.8 million pounds, a record for the company in the U.K. capital.

“I’m surprised that yesterday’s taste is still selling at auction,” the London dealer Edmondo di Robilant said. “Though they might not be performing as well as they were 10 or 20 years ago, they’re still finding buyers, usually at prices that are too high for the trade.”

Stubbs’s 1765 canvas “Gimcrack on Newmarket Heath, With a Trainer, a Stable-Lad, and a Jockey” was bought by a single bid in the room from the New York gallerist Piers Davies Fine Art. Its sale had been ensured by a third party guarantor identified by dealers as the Irish race horse owner John Magnier.

Stubbs’s 6-foot (1.8-meter) canvas, showing a horse that won 27 of the 36 races he entered, was being sold by the Northamptonshire-based Woolavington Collection with an estimate of 20 million pounds to 30 million pounds.

Lord Cowdray, a member of the family that founded media group Pearson Plc (PSON), was another U.K. seller, entering five lots including the 7-foot-high Gainsborough canvas, “Portrait of Mrs. William Villebois.”

Full-Length

Dating from the 1770s, the full-length portrait of the granddaughter of the brewer Benjamin Truman was bought in the room by Harry Smith, managing director of the London-based art adviser Gurr Johns, beating a high estimate of 6 million pounds.

A full-length 1611 Marcus Gheeraerts II portrait of the Countess of Hertford was sold by Cowdray for 1.7 million pounds, again slightly more than the high estimate, to a phone bidder.

“It was a fantastic British picture sale, not a very good Old Master auction,” said London-based dealer Charles Beddington, who specializes in Italian view paintings.

The outstanding Italian lot was Michelangelo’s 1504 double- sided sheet of black-chalk studies of male nudes associated with his lost fresco of “The Battle of Cascina,” valued at 3 million pounds to 5 million pounds. It attracted a single phone bid of 3.2 million pounds, a result that reflected the drawing’s condition, said dealers.

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