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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.
Gold halos hover over the Virgin Mary and the deceased, reclined in her lap. His bright blue veins contrast with the white pallor of his lifeless limbs. His feet dangle above a blood-soaked cloth, alongside a crown of thorns.
A painting called "The Agony in the Garden" from the studio of El Greco, has an estimate of up to $300,000. It depicts Christ at the Mount of Olives, on the last night of his life, clad in a strawberry red robe. In the distance soldiers approach to arrest him.
Rubens' "An Allegory of Fortitude" is expected to sell for a similar price. Its hero is a fusion of Hercules, of classical mythology fame, and Samson, his biblical counterpart.
Victorian-era art in the sale includes a hallucinatory vision of fairies by John Anster Fitzgerald. His "Death of Fairy Queen" shows a weightless white-clad fairy floating above a grave on a delicate green leaf. The work is expected to sell for up to $200,000.
Another Victorian painting, "In the Golden Olden Time," by John Atkinson Grimshaw has a $500,000 estimate. It shows a woman walking down a leaf-strewn lane bathed in autumnal sunshine.
Reporting by Walker Simon; Editing by Patricia Reaney