Biblical art dominates Old Masters sale

Wed Jun 2, 2010 7:00pm EDT
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By Walker Simon

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Biblical themes dominate Christie's mid-season Old Masters sale next week, including works by Peter Paul Rubens and "Pieta" by French 19th century painter William Adolphe Bouguereau.

Spanning seven centuries of European painting, the sale on Wednesday is expected to fetch between $11.2 million to $16.8 million, double the $6.5 million sold a year earlier.

"Nearly every collecting category had some reduction in volume during the recession but the effect was more tempered within our Old Masters sales worldwide," a spokeswoman said.

"Collectors in this category tend to be long-term private collectors and dealers with ample discretionary income."

The mid-season auction traditionally features items under $1 million. Christie's main Old Masters sales, which are in January, fetched $38.5 million in 2010, which was double the amount from the previous year.

The only seven-figure work in the sale is Bouguereau's 1876 "Pieta," which was once owned by actor Sylvester Stallone.

Stricken by grief, Bouguereau painted the work, which could fetch as much as $2.5 million, after the death of his 16-year-old son. It marked the artist's initial plunge into religious art, said James Hastie, Christie's head of 19th century art.

"The painting covers grief in various expressions," he explained, noting the eight angels. With separate gestures, they encircle a red-rimmed-eyed Madonna.   Continued...

<p>Photo of "Pieta," an 1876 painting by William Adolphe Bouguereau. REUTERS/Christie's/Handout</p>