NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - A 450-year-old Madonna and child painting sold for a record $16.9 million on Thursday at a Sotheby's sale of Old Master works that saw especially strong prices for religious-themed works.
"A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria" by Renaissance master Titian was the top-priced work during a week of Old Master sales at Sotheby's and rival Christie's, carrying a hefty $15 million to $20 million estimate.
The circa 1560 oil on canvas, one of only a handful of multi-figured compositions by Titian remaining in private hands, went to a European collector bidding on the telephone. The final price was $16,882,500 including commission.
Sotheby's officials said they were "delighted" with the results of the session, at which 75 percent of the lots on offer found buyers.
George Wachter, worldwide co-chairman of Old Master paintings, cited the record prices achieved by the Titian and another half dozen artists.
"Interest came from all over the world and all over the field, the trade, private collectors and institutions," he said. "Clearly, this is a very strong market, particularly for masterworks."
The Venetian school work was Titian's most important to hit the auction block in two decades, and had not been seen publicly in 30 years until recent exhibitions in Paris, London and Amsterdam.
It has only changed hands six times during its four and one-half century life, Sotheby's said.
The price easily surpassed the artist's auction record of $13.6 million and went far toward the total of $78.6 million, which exceeded the $74 million high estimate for the first session of Thursday's two-part sale. Sotheby's held several Old Master auctions during the week, including two important private collections.
On Wednesday Christie's two-session Old Masters sale totaled $36.6 million, just shy of the $38.6 million low estimate. A record was set for Luca Carlevarijs when "View of the Molo, Venice, looking West" sold for just over $4 million.
Other highlights at Sotheby's on Thursday included Joachim Anthonisz Wtewael's "Adam and Eve" oil on copper, which soared to $6.24 million, and Perino del Vaga's depiction of the Holy Family with the infant St. John the Baptist, which went for $2.1 million. Each had multiple bidders, sold for about six times the pre-sale estimates and set artist records.
Del Vaga's work was bought by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Claude-Joseph Vernet's "Grand View of the Sea Shore Enriched with Buildings, Shipping and Figures" fetched $7 million against a high estimate of only $2 million.
Giampeitrino's oil on paper of the Virgin and child by a window, "Madonna of the Cherries," sold for $2,7 million, more than triple the high estimate of $900,000, while Gerrit Dou's depiction of an elderly woman sitting by a window at her spinning wheel set a record when it sold for more than $5.4 million, more than double the estimate.
While the art market made a strong recovery last year as the financial industry regrouped after the 2008 crisis and global recession, the Old Master category did not improve from 2009.
Art Research Technologies, which uses quantitative methodologies to analyze the art market, found the sell-through rates inched up, but the sector's gross fell by three percent.
But Sotheby's in particular saw strong prices and high totals at this week's sales.