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Christie’s Renaissance and Old Master sales, which ran from January 29-31, 2013 in New York, set a number of important records this week. First, during a sale of works by German Renaissance artist Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528) on January 29, a woodcut titled The Rhinoceros sold for $866,500, setting a record for the artist at auction. The piece, which was completed in 1515, surpassed its presale estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. The auction, which presented 65 works from a private collection, brought $6 million in total.

The auction house’s Renaissance and Old Master sales brought in a total of $88.4 million, the highest total for the series of sales in New York since 2006. Contributing to the auctions’ huge success was a number of groundbreaking sales. Fra Bartolomeo’s (1472-1517) The Madonna and Child brought $12.96 million, the top price paid for the artist at auction. Sandro Botticelli’s (1445-1510) Madonna and Child with Young Saint John the Baptist sold for $10.4 million, also setting a record for the artist at auction. The Botticelli painting had previously been a part of the Rockefeller family’s collection for over 50 years.  

Nicholas Hall, Co-Chairman of Old Masters and 19th Century Art at Christie’s said, “We are so pleased by the results of this week’s Renaissance sale that we have decided to repeat a themed Renaissance sale in January 2014.” He added that the sales have affirmed, “The strength and enduring appeal of Old Master works of art.”

Published in News
Monday, 15 October 2012 17:52

After Seven Years, Egon Schiele Case is Closed

On October 11, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals decided that the current owner of Egon Schiele’s Seated Woman with Bent Left Leg (Torso) could keep the drawing he purchased in the early 1960s from a gallery in Manhattan. Featuring the artist’s signature muted color palette, the work has been at the center of a seven-year-long legal battle.

The dispute arose when heirs to Fritz Grunbaum, a Viennese cabaret singer who was murdered by Nazis in 1941, claimed that the work had been unlawfully confiscated from Grunbaum’s estate in 1938. Although David Bakalar currently owns the drawing, Grunbaum’s heirs, Milos Vavra and Leon Fischer, considered themselves to be the rightful proprietors. When Bakalar attempted to sell Seated Woman at Sotheby’s London in 2004, Vavra and Fischer stopped the sale. Bakalar, who had bought the Schiele drawing from Galerie St. Etienne for about $3,300, was attempting to sell the work for about $675,000.

Although Grunbaum was a noted collector of Schiele’s work, there was no direct evidence that he had owned Seated Woman or that Nazis had confiscated the drawing. However, evidence emerged that Grunbaum’s sister-in-law, Mathilde Lukacs, sold the drawing in Switzerland in 1956. The Swiss dealers who had purchased the drawing from Lukacs testified in the case and provided records of the sale. Based on this evidence, the U.S. District Court ruled that Grunbaum was most likely not the drawing’s owner and that Nazis had not stolen the piece, rather, it had stayed with the family until the sale in 1956.

The Court’s ruling was particularly significant because Bakalar had employed New York’s “laches defense,” a defense that is used by good-faith buyers to protect themselves against frivolous claims. While Schiele’s heirs claimed that if Lukacs had owned the drawing it was because she had stolen it from Grunbaum, Bakalar argued that the fact was irrelevant because no claims had been filed and that crucial evidence had disappeared over the decades.

Published in News