What recession?

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Jeez, that Raphael drawing I posted about a couple weeks ago sold for over £29 million! That’s a whopping £13 million above the highest official estimate! And the Rembrandt offered at the same sale went for £20.2 million. Paul Raison of Christie’s notes the obvious: the recession certainly hasn’t affected interest in, and the prices of, old masters at auction. I guess they’re a safe investment.

I saw both, as well as many other interesting works on display, at Christie’s last Friday, and I must say the Raphael was amazing. As I noted earlier, it’s not a particularly innovative drawing in his oeuvre, but it is awe-inspiring to realise up close how confidently the forms were laid down, following only perfunctorily the pounce marks transferred to the paper from an earlier sketch. The Muse walks through the room.

The Rembrandt I found hard to like. It’s a fine painting, of course, but I didn’t feel compelled to attempt at probing deeper behind the sitter’s somewhat vacantly scornful look. His upper body is attractively suggested, in the caramel and cream impasto so characteristic of his late work, but lacks his usual grasp of form, seeming a little dashed off. Still, one doesn’t often see an authentic late Rembrandt — and in great condition to boot — at auction, so the buyer’s enthusiasm is understandable.

Third of the main attractions, the Domenichino St. John the Evangelist, which sold for £9.2 million, was an impressive picture, bold of form and bright of colour, but as slick as anything by that master. Not my cup of tea. There were a bunch of other great pieces though: an awesome Head of Christ by Gerard David, a couple of sketches by Constable — one, in pencil, almost oriental in character — a great theatrical Head of an Old Man by Giandomenico Tiepolo, a broodingly beautiful late seascape by Courbet, and much more. I hope they have found good homes.

Oh, and today, even more old masters go on sale, including the most bizarre freaking painting I’ve seen in a while.

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