As the world’s stock markets plunge Rubens’ "Massacre of the Innocents" drives the art market through the roof

[15/07/2002]

 

On Wednesday 10 July 2002, « The Massacre of the Innocents » by Peter Paul RUBENS became the most expensive old master painting ever sold at auction. It was only recently identified as a Rubens having previously been attributed to the lesser-known Jan van den Hoecke. Once the painting’s authorship was clarified a record price was clearly on the cards, particularly as Peter Paul RUBENS’ index has been in stunning form lately: +540% since 1997.

This oil-on-panel work was offered at auction with an estimated price of GBP4-6m. But the atmosphere in the New Bond Street auction rooms was electric and the hammer finally came down on a price of GBP45m. Peter Paul RUBENS can now claim the second-highest price ever paid at auction for an artwork.

The anonymous buyer also paid the highest price ever in the UK. For years, the US has had a virtual monopoly on records. For the last 12 years, the only place to sell an exceptional Van Gogh (Vincent VAN GOGH), Renoir (Pierre-Auguste RENOIR) or Cézanne (Paul CÉZANNE) has been New York. This outstanding auction confirms the trend towards holding prestigious sales in Europe. In the first auction season of 2002, nearly 46% of the world’s million-Euro plus sales took place in the UK, compared to 35% in 2001.

The rise in value also underlines investors’ growing enthusiasm for old masters, whose hammer prices have been spiralling upward for some years. That said, while occasional sales have grabbed the headlines with exceptional prices, at other Sotheby’s and Christie’s sales in London old masters with a good chance of a record have fallen flat on the auction floor. Among the biggest disappointments were four exceptional works which failed to find a buyer: a REMBRANDT VAN RIJN portrait (estimate GBP10-15m), a Giovanni Antonio CANAL view of Rome (estimate GBP2.5-3.5m), another by Bernardo BELLOTTO (estimate GBP1.5-2m) and a view of Nijmegen by Van Goyen (A. VAN GOYEN) (estimate GBP0.7-1m).

That Wednesday, though, the sound of Sotheby’s hammer in London reverberated through the whole art market.

TOP 10 Auction Records for Painting (copyright © Artprice)
Hammer Price
in Euros Hammer Price
in Local Currency Artist Title Date Place Auction House

72,364,880,

USD 75,000,000

Vincent VAN GOGH

Portrait du Docteur Gachet
(1890)

15-may-90

New-York

Christie’s

70,159,500

GBP 45,000,000

Peter Paul RUBENS

The Massacre of the Innocents
(1609-1611)

10-july-02

London

Sotheby’s

68,505,420

USD 71,000,000

Pierre-Auguste RENOIR

Au Moulin de la Galette
(1876)

17-may-90

New-York

Sotheby’s

58,014,480

USD 50,000,000

Pablo PICASSO

Femme aux bras croisés
(1901-1902)

08-nov-00

New-York

Christie’s

55,482,520

USD 65,000,000

Vincent VAN GOGH

Portrait de l’artiste sans barbe
(1889)

19-nov-98

New-York

Christie’s

52,064,770

USD 55,000,000

Paul CÉZANNE

Rideau, cruchon et compotier
(c1893-1894)

10-may-99

New-York

Sotheby’s

45,734,700

FR 300,000,000

Pablo PICASSO

Les noces de Pierrette
(1905)

30-nov-89

Paris

Binoche-Godeau

43,272,120

USD 45,000,000

Pablo PICASSO

Femme assise dans un jardin
(1932)

10-nov-99

New-York

Sotheby’s

39,425,710

USD 41,000,000

Pablo PICASSO

Nu au fauteuil noir
(1932)

09-nov-99

New-York

Christie’s