The Top 10 Hard-to-Find Artists I – The Old Masters



Fridays are the Best! Every other Friday, Artprice offers you a themed auction ranking. This week the ranking reveals the 10 rarest and best-performing old artists at auction this year. When availability frustrates demand, new records soar above estimates, especially for the prestige of a historic artist.

By concentrating on the artists seldom found at auction, the ranking proves to be unusual, outside current trends. It looks at art history and celebrates its masters, particularly European masters (7 places in the ranking). The Italians active between the 14th and 16th centuries are especially well-represented (Lorenzo Veneziano, Agnolo Bronzino, Vittore Carpaccio, Jacopo Di Cione) alongside Belgium, Germany, and France and three Asian masters (the Chinese Yang Shen and Kong Shangren, as well as a sale for the Japanese Hasegawa Tohaku). In listing renowned names, sales and little-known artists, this Top ‘Hard-to-Find Artists’ proves that in the domain of ancient art, quality is still the strength regardless of the artist behind the work.

The Top 10 Hard-to-Find Artists I – The Old Masters
Rank Artist Hammer Price Artwork Sale
1 Agnolo di C.Allori BRONZINO $8,000,000 Portrait of a young man with a book 2015-01-28 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
2 YANG Shen $3,312,575 Calligraphy in Running Script 2015-05-17 China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd. PÉKIN
3 Ludger Tom II RING $2,600,000 Still Life with Wild Roses, Peonies and Other Flowers in a White Earthenware Vase 2015-04-22 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
4 Vittore CARPACCIO $2,400,000 The Lamentation, with the Madonna and Saints Joseph of Arimathea and John the Evangelist 2015-01-29 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
5 Jean Antoine Th. GIROUST $1,200,000 Mademoiselle d’Orléans Taking a Harp Lesson 2015-01-28 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
6 LORENZO VENEZIANO $1,100,000 Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Sigismund of Burgundy (c.1368) 2015-01-29 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
7 Jacopo CIONE DI $800,000 Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints Anthony Abbot, Mary Magdalene, Catherine of Alexandria, and a Bishop Saint, with Eight Angels 2015-01-29 Sotheby’s NEW YORK NY
8 SHI & HE Lu & Haixia $800,000 Girl by a clear Stream 2015-03-18 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
9 KONG Shangren $658,400 Calligraphy in clerical script (1707) 2015-05-18 China Guardian Auctions Co., Ltd. PÉKIN
10 Tohaku HASEGAWA (Attrib.) $500,000 Willows and Uji River 2015-04-22 Christie’s NEW YORK NY
copyright © 2015

The four Italian masters who set records in January 2015

Agnolo di C. Allori Bronzino (Florence, 16th century) – record: USD 9,125,000
This Italian mannerist painter (1503-1572) owes his nickname ‘Bronzino’ to the colour of his hair or to that of his skin. Adopted son and apprentice of Pontormo (around 1515-1519), he painted his first portraits when he was called to the court of the Duchy of Urbino by the Della Rovere family in 1530. Bronzino entered into the service of Médicis in 1539 for the decorations for the marriage of Cosme I of Tuscany and Éléonore of Toledo, for which he embellished the entire Palazzo Vecchio chapel. The magnificent portrait of a young man up for auction at the start of the year at Christie’s sold for USD 9.125m, within its estimate. What propelled it to such popularity? Perhaps because the same subject of Bronzino is the pride of the New York Metropolitan Museum collections. Also perhaps because the depiction of a man writing is an implicit self-portrait of this great painter, who was also a poet.

Vittore Carpaccio (Venise, 15th-16th century) – record: USD 2,853,000
Emule of Gentile Bellini and of Lazzaro Bastiani, influenced by Flemish painting, Vittore Carpaccio has held an eminent place in history and the originality of the Venitian school. We owe him some strong cycles, including the life of St Jean and that of the Saint Giorgio des Schiavoni school. This renowned, prolific artist had not reached the million dollar mark at auction until the sale of a small oil on panel (43 x 38 cm) at the end of January at Sotheby’s. It depicts a Lamentation scene with cool light reflecting the influence of Flemish art. It was sold for more than USD 800,000 than its upper estimate.

Lorenzo Veneziano (Venice, 14th century) – record: USD 1,325,000
Painter active in the second part of the Italian 14th century, Lorenzo Veneziano was probably the student of Paolo Veneziano, first name known for the Venitian painter, very influenced by the Byzantine art of the period. Lorenzo was adept at Gothic art while granting increased importance to naturalist details. His million-dollar record was captured by two panels dating back to 1368. The freshness of the colours of Saint Catherine of Alexandria and Saint Sigismund of Bourgogne enabled Sotheby’s to sell them for USD 1.325 million including fees, USD 500,000 more than the upper estimate.

Jacopo Di Cione (Florence, 14th century) – record: USD 965,000
Jacopo Di Cione was charged with completing the Triptych of Saint Matthieu of Offices in 1368 with his brother Andrea Orcagna, considered the strongest personality in Florence in the 14th century. The Jacopo style is marked by great affectation, a hieratic figures and a pronounced taste for Gothic architecture. Such a beautiful and characteristic altarpiece had never before been offered at auction before vacation at Sotheby’s on 29 January 2015. The work was sold for the maximum estimate, ending up at USD 965,000 including fees.


Among the year’s other surprises, we note the small vase of flowers from German artist Ludger Tom II Ring (1522–1584), which soared to triple its high estimate on 22 April at Sotheby’s, for a record price of USD 3.130m including fees. We also note the huge neo-classical portrait of Mademoiselle d’Orléans getting a harp lesson by Jean-Antoine Giroust (1753-1817) which doubled its upper estimate to reach USD 1.445m including fees, and finally the USD 509,000 for the master of the legend of Sainte-Ursule. This last, active in Bruges at the end of the 15th century, depicted episodes from the life of saint Ursule for an altarpiece kept at the Groeninge Museum (Bruges) but we know very little about him. Although little-known, the master achieved a record of USD 509,000 in January, for a work that sold for the equivalent of USD 121,000 10 years ago. Thus an ‘anonymous’ master can skyrocket (+320% here) in this segment of the market defined by a quality as rare as it is prized, where the effects of trends have little influence.