A Keen-Eyed Shopper Paid $700 for a Chandelier in an Antique Store. It Turned Out to Be an Alberto Giacometti Worth Up to $3 Million

A rare chandelier by Alberto Giacometti could fetch up to $3 million at an upcoming Christie’s London sale—a big mark up from the £250 ($700) the owner paid for it back in the 1960s.

The buyer, British painter John Craxton, was pretty sure what he was getting when he spotted the work in a store window on London’s Marylebone Road. He recognized the lighting fixture as the one commissioned by his late friend Peter Watson, an art collector.

“Peter Watson came into his fortune when he was quite young, after his father died, so he had the freedom to explore what he was very passionate about, which was art and literature,” Michelle McMullan, a senior specialist in Impressionist and Modern art at Christie’s London, told Midnight Publishing Group News.

Watson, who was a cofounder and financial backer of the literary magazine Horizon, likely commissioned the chandelier for the publication’s office on London’s Bedford Square during one of his trips to mainland Europe, either in 1946 or ’47.

Alberto Giacometti, <em>Chandelier for Peter Watson</em>. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2023.

Alberto Giacometti, Chandelier for Peter Watson. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2023.

“Watson’s real passion at that time was Surrealism, and you can kind of see it in the sculpture, which combines what Giacometti is doing in the ’40s and the naturalistic elements of his decorative arts with the ball hanging from the bottom,” McMullan said. “That is a real Surrealist element, which is what makes it quite unique.”

The artist may have even been referencing one of his own early Surrealist works in the design, which recalls his 1931 piece Boule Suspendue.

Giacometti is less known for his more utilitarian design objects, but they were nonetheless a major part of his practice.

Alberto Giacometti, <em>Chandelier for Peter Watson</em>. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2023.

Alberto Giacometti, Chandelier for Peter Watson. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2023.

“Objects interest me hardly any less than sculpture, and there is a point at which the two touch,” the artist wrote in a 1948 letter to dealer Pierre Matisse.

“Alongside his more famous sculptural work, Giacometti did make decorative design pieces, the most famous of which were collaborations with the French interior designer Jean-Michel Frank,” McMullan said. “The chandeliers don’t come up at auction very often. They are usually unique editions.”

The top price one has ever fetched was £7.6 million ($10.4 million) in 2018—but that piece featured one of Giacometti’s signature stick figures, increasing its desirability.

The artist’s most-expensive work ever to sell at auction went for $141.3 million at Christie’s in May 2015, according to the Midnight Publishing Group Price Database. The record-setting piece, titled L’Homme au doigt (Pointing Man), is also the highest-priced sculpture ever to hit the block.

Alberto Giacometti, <em>Chandelier for Peter Watson</em>. Photo courtesy of Christie's Images Ltd. 2023.

Alberto Giacometti, Chandelier for Peter Watson. Photo courtesy of Christie’s Images Ltd. 2023.

Chandelier for Peter Watson is not expected to match those lofty heights, but Christie’s predicts it will hammer for £1.5 million to £2.5 million ($1.9 million to $3 million) at the “20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale” on February 28.

The piece only hung in the Horizon offices for about a year, at which point the publication folded and it was put into storage. Watson died just a few years later, in 1956. The chandelier likely passed to Horizon cofounder Cyril Connolly, but exactly how it wound up in an antique shop remains a mystery.

For roughly half a century, the buyer Craxton hung the piece in the music room in his home in London’s Hampstead neighborhood. Some years after his death in 2009, his estate finally decided to get the piece authenticated.

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A Historic Golden Railroad Spike Broke New Ground at Christie’s Today, Selling for Over $2 Million—Quadruple Its Pre-Sale Estimate

A steel railroad spike clad in gold and silver, used in the ceremonial completion of the transcontinental railroad, sold for $2.22 million at auction today, smashing its pre-sale estimate of $300,000–500,000.

At just over five inches long, the Arizona Spike was the headliner of Christie’s ”The Exceptional Sale,” featuring singular works of historic importance, as well as iconic objects of popular culture. Belonging to the Museum of the City of New York, the piece was sold to benefit the museum’s collection.

“This was a one-of-a-kind piece of historic importance and we knew it would be the subject of intense competition among collectors,” Peter Klarnet, Christie’s Vice President, Senior Specialist Americana, told Midnight Publishing Group News. “In the end, the value soared past our expectations.”

Event marking the completion of the transcontinental railroad, Promontory Point, Utah (May 10, 1869). Courtesy of Christie’s.

The spike was crafted to commemorate the completion of the world’s first transcontinental railroad in 1869, joining the eastern and western halves of the United States and connecting California with the industrial centers of the east. Spearheaded by an act of Congress before the Civil War and taking six years to complete, the railroad’s construction is considered one of nation’s greatest technological feats of the 19th-century, allowing commerce to thrive throughout the country, even in places far from sea routes.

“I think the spike captured the imagination of collectors, in part, because it is a potent symbol of national unity,“ Klarnet added. “That sense of unity means as much today as it did when the transcontinental railroad was finished less than four years after the Civil War.”

Andy Warhol, Lonesome Cowboys (1968). Courtesy of Christie's.

Andy Warhol, Lonesome Cowboys (1968). Courtesy of Christie’s.

Another star lot of the sale, one with pop-culture provenance, were original reels from Andy Warhol’s 1968 film Lonesome Cowboys. Its 1969 screening in Atlanta, Christie’s noted, precipitated the raid known as the “Stonewall of the South.” About 15 minutes into the western-movie spoof—featuring Warhol, Viva, Joe Dallesandro, Eric Emerson, Taylor Meade, and Tom Hompertz—the screening was cut short by Atlanta police officers purportedly enforcing local obscenity laws.

Housed in two metal flight cases, the set of original 35mm reels went for $25,000, landing squarely within its $25,000–$35,000 estimate.

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New Collectors and Museum Interest Help Drive New York’s Old Master Auctions to $150 Million—a High Not Seen in Years

The latest round of Old Master sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s marked the most robust in recent seasons, bolstered by top-notch private collection offerings (each house could boast a “white glove” sale), museum interest, and to an increasing extent, fresh interest from new buyers, both crossing over from other collecting categories or bubbling up from new pockets of regional interest around the world.

Christie’s pulled in $62.8 million on Wednesday with an offering of roughly 75 works with no-reserve prices, from the fully-sold collection of J.E. Safra ($18.5 million) and the main Old Masters sale ($44.2 million).

Yesterday, Sotheby’s took in a hefty total of $86.6 million for a main Old Master auction that realized $28.8 million, as well as a “white glove” or 100 percent sold offering of the prestigious Fisch Davidson collection that brought in $49.6 million for 10 lots alone, and was the highest-earning individual auction of the week. Yet another Sotheby’s single owner sale of Dutch paintings from the Theiline Schumann collection added $8 million to the total.

Both houses also held smaller related sales of Old Master drawings, which reflected lower price points and wider circles of interest. Underscoring the serious quality and connoisseur demand at even these smaller day sales, this morning, the Rijksmuseum scooped up an early 17th-century bronze figure of an “écorché” man by Willlem Danielsz. van Tetrode for $1.5 million, while the Cleveland Museum of Art bought the bronze group of Apollo Flaying Marsyas (1691–1700) by Giovanni Battista Foggini for $882,000. More on the marquee museum purchases later.

The total for the main sales at both houses was just under $150 million ($149.4 million). While of course not an exact apples-to-apples comparison, consider that the most recent round of major sales in London last month, pulled in a combined $56 million, and that marked one of the best seasons in years. As Midnight Publishing Group News noted at the time, experiments to reinvent the category—such as developing new art historical narratives, several of which have highlighted female artists, and extensive presale touring of work—seem to be paying off.

“There were more paintings on the market this week than there had been for many years and it was hugely encouraging how many important pictures sold,” said Milo Dickinson, who recently left Christie’s Old Masters department to take on the role of managing director at Dickinson in London. “There is clearly more depth to the Old Master market than is often appreciated,” he added.

“It is always hard to say who is buying what, but there were new faces at the auction and of course some of the old faces were buying for other new faces not seen,” said veteran New York-based dealer Robert Simon. “There is little question that new buyers are beginning to recognize the fundamental value in Old Masters, especially in contrast to contemporary art.”

Further, a calendar move by Christie’s seems to have created greater cohesion and momentum. As Dickinson noted, Christie’s moved their sales back to January after “a failed experiment moving to April.” Now, both auction houses are aligned again in the sale calendar across all major Old Master sales, he said, noting it “had a positive impact on the sales as there was visibly a much better turnout from private clients, museums, and the trade during the week, and there was a renewed buzz and excitement.”

Christie’s said the Safra offering “showed the power of the no-reserve strategy,” since all works found buyers. Ten were backed by third-party, or outside bids. The highest price of $2.7 million was paid for an album containing a frontispiece and 138 illustrations for books I to VI of the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine by Jean-Baptiste Oudry. It marked a new auction record for Oudry.

Jean-Baptistie Oudrey, Album containing a frontispiece and 138 illustrations for books I to VI of the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine Image courtesy Christie's.

Jean-Baptistie Oudrey, Album containing a frontispiece and 138 illustrations for books I to VI of the Fables of Jean de La Fontaine. Photo courtesy Christie’s.

It was followed by the $1 million result for J.M.W. Turner’s The Splügen Pass (albeit it missing the low $1.5 million estimate) and the price of $945,000 paid for Joos van Cleve’s Portrait of a gentleman holding gloves, half-length.

Dickinson said that Christie’s “took a significant risk by offering the Safra collection with no reserves and although there were some low prices, Christie’s did well to ensure there was competitive bidding on all the top lots.”

The top lot of the main sale was a double portrait by Goya, Portrait of Doña María Vicenta Barruso Valdés, seated on a sofa with a lap-dog; and Portrait of her mother Doña Leonora Antonia Valdés de Barruso, seated on a chair holding a fan, that sold for a mid-estimate $16.4 million (estimate: $15–20 million), more than doubling the existing $7.7 million auction record for the artist.

Two portraits by Francisco Goya, set a new artist auction record at Christie's Old Master auction on January 25, 2023 in New York.

Two portraits by Francisco Goya, set a new artist auction record at Christie’s Old Master auction on January 25, 2023 in New York. Photo courtesy Christie’s.

The second highest price of the sale, given for another Turner, was just a fraction of that, at $4.6 million for Pope’s Villa at Twickenham. The third-highest price of $2.9 million was realized for Pieter Brueghel II’s The Kermesse of Saint George.

Meanwhile, another work from the collection of late Microsoft co-founder and billionaire Paul Allen, Canaletto’s The Rialto Bridge, Venice, from the south with an embarkation, traditionally identified as the Prince of Saxony during his visit to Venice in 1740, sold for $2.7 million. It was intentionally kept back from the blockbuster Paul Allen collection sale held last November.

“Whoever bought it got an excellent painting for a fraction of the price that it would have made if it was the initial collection sale, which shows that context is very important,” said Dickinson.

In addition to the Goya and Oudry results, Christie’s set new records for Marinus van Reymerswale, Gerard de Lairesse, Thomas Daniell, Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari, and Jean Valette-Falgores, called Penot.

“The Old Masters market showed depth and strength today,” commented François de Poortere, Christie’s head of Old Master Paintings. “American bidders led the way, along with Europe and China, and strong activity from the trade.”

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Salome presented with the head of Saint John the Baptist Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Salome presented with the head of Saint John the Baptist. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

Sotheby’s started off the morning with a bang with the aforementioned Fisch Davidson Collection—widely considered one of the most important collections of Baroque art to ever appear on the market. The entire sale was guaranteed, reportedly at high prices by both the house and various outside guarantors or third-party backers.

One such outside guarantee was for the blockbuster top lot, Peter Paul Rubens’ Salome presented with the head of Saint John the Baptist, which sold for just under $27 million, a new auction record.

The next two highest lots scored identical prices of $4.89 million each, namely Christ crowned with thorns by Valentin de Boulogne, and Penitent Saint Mary Magdalene by Orazio Gentileschi. Both were estimated at $4 million to $6 million.

The Stockholm Nationalmuseum bought a painting of a young man asleep before an open book by an artist active in the circle of Rembrandt van Rijn, for $945,000.

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, Portrait of a young man with a quill and a sheet of paper, possibly a self-portrait of the artist Image courtest Sotheby's.

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, Portrait of a young man with a quill and a sheet of paper, possibly a self-portrait of the artist. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

In the main sale, one of the fireworks was a newly rediscovered and restituted painting, Agnolo Bronzino’s Portrait of a young man with a quill and a sheet of paper. It sold to a buyer in the room following a five-minute bidding contest, for $10.7 million, doubling its $5 million high estimate, and setting a new auction record for the artist. Proceeds of the sale will benefit Selfhelp Community Services, which supports Holocaust survivors in North America, and The Lighthouse Guild, a Jewish healthcare organization.

The Cleveland Museum of Art also bought Anna Dorothea Therbusch’s Portrait of a scientist seated at a desk by candlelight for $441,000. It was also previously from the J.E. Safra collection. An insider said that given that Christie’s had the lion’s share of Safra material, this may have been part of a previous consignment to Sotheby’s. Safra had acquired it from Sotheby’s London in December 1996 for $64,500 (£38,900), according to the Midnight Publishing Group Price Database.

Anna Dorothea Therbusch, A scientist seated at a desk by candlelight. Image courtesy Sotheby's.

Anna Dorothea Therbusch, A scientist seated at a desk by candlelight. Photo courtesy Sotheby’s.

The Dutch offerings from the Theiline Scheumann collection, where eight of the 12 works on offer were sold, was led by Frans van Mieris the Elder’s A young woman sealing a letter by candlelight, which sold for $2.7 million.

Dickinson said the new influx of buyers may make for more robust sales, but also some uncertainty as to demand. “There are new buyers in the market, most of them from the United States and some from Asia, but their collecting habits are very wide-ranging and therefore less predictable than before.”

And Simon said that Old Masters are likely to continue to appeal to new and seasoned buyers alike: “With the established track record of the work of the Old Masters, many collectors find the confidence to put some of their assets into work they enjoy, with the assurance that if they wish to sell at some future time, they will likely reap some reward. One does not have to wait for an artist to be discovered and acclaimed if the artist’s work has been hanging on museum walls for centuries!”

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An Oil Sketch Found Covered With Bird Droppings in a Farm Shed Is Actually an Early Van Dyck, Now Heading to Auction for $3 Million

An oil sketch by Anthony van Dyck, executed early in the Flemish artist’s career and rediscovered in a farm shed some four centuries later, will star in Sotheby’s Master Week series, where it is estimated to pull in up to $3 million. 

A Sketch for Saint Jerome is one of only two known live model-based studies by Van Dyck, likely created between 1615 and 1618, when the young painter was working as an assistant in Peter Paul Rubens’s Antwerp studio. The work captures a slouching elderly man, his face in shadow and his lean musculature finely rendered—a depiction that served as a study for Van Dyck’s Saint Jerome (1618–20), currently held by the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen. 

The oil sketch was discovered in a barn in Kinderhook, New York, in 2002, and acquired at auction by local collector Albert B. Roberts. Though the back of the canvas was reportedly dotted with bird droppings, Roberts believed the artwork to be a Dutch Golden Age painting and bought it for $600. 

He had his find authenticated in 2019, when art historian Susan Barnes recognized it as a “surprisingly well-preserved” work by Van Dyck. “The oil sketch,” she wrote, “is an impressive and important find that helps us understand more about the artist’s method as a young man.”

The Van Dyck sketch, offered to Sotheby’s by the estate of Roberts, who died in 2021, joins a number of other freshly resurfaced European masterworks in the auction house’s Old Master series.

Agnolo di Cosimo, called Bronzino, Portrait of A Man, Facing Left, With A Quill and a Sheet of Paper (ca. 1527). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Portrait of a Man with a Quill and Sheet of Paper (ca. 1527), a rare piece by Agnolo Bronzino, will hit the block following a storied line of ownership and misattribution. Munich collector Ilse Hesselberger acquired the canvas in 1927, believing the portrait to be the work of another Florentine artist. During World War II, the painting was seized by the Nazis, reattributed, and installed in various governmental offices in Germany. 

Last year, the work was restituted to Hesselberger’s heirs, who consigned it to Sotheby’s. There, it was restored and its radiant surfaces recognized as emerging from the assured hand of a young Bronzino (and likely even his self-portrait), echoing his other early oils such as Portrait of the Woman in Red (ca. 1533) at the Städel Museum.

The painting leads the Master Paintings auction with a high estimate of $5 million, proceeds of which will benefit the Selfhelp Community Services and the Lighthouse Guild.

Also included in the same sale is an expressive portrait newly attributed to Titian. Titled Ecce Homo—not to be confused with the artist’s massive 1543 composition of the same name that hangs in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum—the unfinished oil is painted with the proto-Impressionist flair that marked Titian’s late period, depicting Christ, crowned with thorns, being presented to Pontius Pilate. It is expected to fetch between $1.5 to $2 million.

Giandomenico Tiepolo, Head of a bearded man in a blue and yellow collared robe (ca. 1757). Photo courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Rounding out the sale is a group of Old Master paintings that will enter the market for the first time. Three previously unknown works by Giandomenico Tiepolo, executed around 1757, and forming a set of imagined portraits of Greek philosophers Demosthenes, Socrates, and Aristotle, carry estimates between $80,000 to $2 million each. 

Yet another newly attributed painting, Sebastiano del Piombo’s Portrait of a Woman Holding a Crown of Laurels (ca. 1540s), is making its debut as well. While three other versions of this same portrait exist—most notably, one that was sold at Christie’s London in 2015 from the collection of Lord and Lady Kennet—this particular panel, the largest and with a provenance that goes back to the Russian Dolgorukov dynasty, has been deemed the original. Its estimate starts at $1.5 million.

Sotheby’s Master Week series in New York runs from January 18–30. A public exhibition opens January 21.

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Rare, Remarkable Chinese Porcelains From a Prominent Collecting Couple Go Up for Auction in New York

Bonhams New York is offering a host of delicate treasures in its “Cohen & Cohen: 50 Years of Chinese Export Porcelain live auction on January 24.

On view January 18–23, the 155 lots feature an array of mostly 18th-century Chinese porcelains, including famille rose vase garnitures, rare ‘European subject dishes and figures, and large Kangxi-period famille verte and blue and white dishes, a popular style for porcelain cabinets of the time.

Vying for highest sale price is a figure of a European lady from the Qianlong period, ca. 1740, estimated to fetch between $80,000–$100,000. The famille rose standing lady appears to have been modeled after a print by Dutch artist Casper Luyken, ca. 1703. The pattern illustrates figures in 17th-century Jewish costume, allegedly worn by women in Frankfurt’s Jewish community.

“One lovely aspect of the European lady figure is that the Chinese potter,” Michael C. Hughes, Vice President & Head of Department for Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art at Bonhams, told Midnight Publishing Group News, “is after having copied the sculptural form and style of dress from the original Western print, he did not know the decoration to be found on the lady’s clothing. So he had simply added an entirely Chinese decoration, as you see in the cloud scrolls on the apron and the dragon roundels to the blue cape.”

A garniture of five famille rose ‘parrot-on-a-swing’ vases, Qianlong period, ca. 1740. Courtesy of Bonhams New York.

Among the highest estimates is a pair of large famille rose ‘torch bearer’ candle sconces for the European market, ca. 1740, estimated at $80,000–$120,000. The brightly colored, ornamental pieces have an enameled center with a standing figure holding a flaming torch overhead and an unlit torch lowered at the right side. It’s all within a cheerfully hued frame displaying latticework, scrolling leaf forms, and other baroque motifs, as well as open-winged parrots for extra splash, all enameled and featuring gilt highlights. 

Pair of famille rose ‘torch-bearer’ rococo candle sconces for the European market,
early Qianlong period, ca. 1740. Courtesy of Bonhams New York.

Bonhams has enjoyed a long relationship with Michael and Ewa Cohen. The Cohens count clients all over the world, from the Hong Kong Maritime Museum in Hong Kong to the British Museum in London and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, among many others, noted Hughes. “Michael and Ewa’s philosophy was to buy as collectors rather than dealers—only buying pieces that excited them,” he said. “They had standards to what they collected and sought out exceptional quality, rarity, and historic interest…We’re honored to be a part of their story.”

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