Old Masters Today #5

Idiosyncratic market highlights, irreverent collecting ideas, and important Old Masters news. 

It’s a new world since January 2021 when I debuted this column. We’re at least a handful of frat house names into COVID-19 variants and apparently the metaverse and NFTs are here to stay with museums such as the Uffizi to the Belvedere to the British Museum banking on this wave. 

Meanwhile, the Old Masters market is on a wild upswing, pandemic or not, from NYC debut of the Dürer (?!?!) drawing that found in an estate sale for $30 in Massachusetts (which only confirms my opinion that instead of writing our respective projects we should really be trawling estate sales) to Sotheby’s Masters Week sales netting $109.3 million, largely driven by the latest Botticelli ($45.4 million) which was framed as the market heir apparent to the ever problematic Salvator Mundi

So scroll down for things you probably knew, some things you didn’t know, and a lot of things that will not live rent free in your mind. 


Guercino, Mars brandishing a sword, 17th century. Photo: Christie’s New York.

You can expect to see a Guercino at every Old Masters drawing sale at this point, but this rather commanding ink drawing of Mars was just acquired by MFA Houston. I will say, in March 2022, Mars conjures up very different connotations given what’s going on in Ukraine. The study is related to a lost painting (engraving after it here) and went for almost triple its estimate:  $275,000 (estimate $ 70,000 – $ 100,000).

Pieter van Mol, Diogenes with his lantern looking for an honest man, 17th century, Photo: Sotheby’s.

Philosophy grandzaddy strikes again in Pieter van Mol’s Diogenes looking for an Honest Man from the collection of the Swiss banking heir, Jacqui E. Safra. The canvas set a new artist record at $5.8 m (estimate of $2-3 m)! 

Hendrik Pothoven, Portrait of a young page, probably Guan Anthony Sideron, servant of Willem V, Prince of Orange, Photo: Sotheby’s.

So call me cynical, but museums have been actively working to diversify their collections in the wave of institutional reckonings in the last couple years. Part and parcel of this movement has caused the market demand (and speculation) to skyrocket for works by Black artists, as well as representations of BIPOC. Perhaps this is why this drawing by Hendrik Pothoven, suggested to represent Guan Anthony Sideron, servant of Willem V, Prince of Orange, was acquired by the Rijksmuseum for nearly fifty times its lower estimate, going for $151,200 from an estimate of $3,000 – 4,000.

Anne Vallayer-Coster, Still life of flowers in a vase on a table beside a bust of Flora, with fruit and other objects with a curtain beyond, 1775, Photo: Sotheby’s.

All these years in grad school means I’m contractually obligated to highlight eighteenth-century artists and this stunning Vallayer-Coster helped propel a new artist record for this still very much understudied and underappreciated artist! Sold for $1.8 m from an estimate of $1.5 – $2.5 m, the flower piece was originally commissioned by the Abbé Joseph Marie Terray (1715-1778), and exhibited in the Salon of 1775. (Speaking of women artists, there was also a new artist record set for Sophie Frémiet Rude, who trained in the Studio of Jacques-Louis David!)

Erhard Schön, Jesters performing around a woman, 1542. Photo: Sotheby’s.

This droll Erhard Schön drawing from the collection of the late Walter L. Strauss sold for 5.4 x times its upper estimate, going for $163,800 from an estimate of $20,000 – 30,000, setting a new artist record for the Nuremberg printmaker. No jest, pun intended. 

Jean-Siméon Chardin, The Basket of Wild Strawberries, Salon of 1761. Photo: Artcurial.

And finally, this rare Chardin will be sold by Artcurial later this March with an estimate of €12m – €15m, although I expect that it might very well exceed the estimate! 


Adriaen Coorte, Still life of fraises-de-bois in a Wan-Li bowl upon a stone ledge, 1704. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Hear me out: $2.4 million is a hefty sum but compared to the Chardin above, this Adriaen Coorte is practically a bargain. Or since the painting was sold to a European public collection, one could just buy some Wanli ware, throw some Oishii berries on it, and feel riche until the berries start molding. In the age of digital, who doesn’t want to see some good old analogue iteration of memento mori? Estimate: $1,500,000 – 2,000,000, Lot sold: $2,440,000.

American Carved Erotica Engraved Powder Horn, early 19th century. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Some early powder horns offer rare insight in the role of personalized cartography during wars. But how could I just pass up the chance to spotlight this utterly bonkers artifact? Revolutionary Soldiers, they’re just like us. Estimate: $1,500 – 2,500, Lot sold: $2,016.

Caravaggio, Jupiter, Neptune and Pluto, 1597, Photo: Wikimedia

Villa Aurora, featuring the only mural painted by Caravaggio and a fresco by Guercino , had no bids for its initial asking price of €471 million (with bidding starting at €353 m). Auction round two is rescheduled to April 2022 and, get this, there is a whole 20% discount on the asking price, so it is definitely a bargain 4 some of U. 

Continental Enamel Dog Form Snuff Box, 19th century. Photo: William Doyle Galleries.

Make new friends and terrorize your enemies by carrying this snuff box around. Estimate: $400 – $600, Sold for $2,016.

Two Pearlware Toby Jugs, c. 1820. Photo: Bonham’s.

Tiki mugs are problematic examples of cultural appropriation so instead of drinking tropical juices spritzed with rum out of vessels in the form of South Pacific deities and spirits, what if we decolonized Tiki drinks by using these Toby Jugs? Sold for $ 716.

Four French Silver Wine Tasters, Late 18th-19th century. Photo: William Doyle Galleries.

Also, you know how some somms carry around specific burgundy glasses? (and if you didn’t, you know now). What if we all just carried around little silver wine tasters? The Times is dragging millennials for not consuming enough wine but maybe if we had more activity specific accessories and turned it into a lifestyle, we’d be boozing more (and yes, I’m speaking for all millennials). Estimate: $600 – $800, sold for $756.

Dutch School, circa 1600-1650, Portrait of a child, full length, holding a kolf stick. Photo: Sotheby’s.

Finally, you get a three for one validation with this painting. Shows that you’ve got great taste in early modern art, that you love fur, and that you enjoy golf. Who doesn’t want to hang out with someone like that? I mean, the true trifecta of a successful dating profile for sure. Swipe hard right baby. Estimate: $ 40,000 – 60,000, Sold: $ 214,200.



Adam Frans van der Meulen, View of Besançon, 1669-1670.
Frans de Momper, Nightly Fire near the Grote Kerk in Breda, Galerie Lower de Wotrenge.
Rembrandt, The Standard Bearer, 1636. Photo: Wikimedia.

Finally, the Rijksmusem has proposed to acquire Rembrandt’s The Standard Bearer from the Rothschild family for €175 million with €150 million coming from the State (i.e. tax dollars), and the rest covered by Vereniging Rembrandt (€15 million) and the Rijksmuseum (€10 million).  If the purchase is finalized, the painting is slated to go on tour to all provinces before it is installed in the Gallery of Honour in the Rijksmuseum.

The purchase has been approved by the Tweede and the Eerst Kamer. However, it is worth pointing out that there is some controversy surrounding the purchase. The Dutch State must apparently transfer the €175 million to a trust located in the Cook Islands that is represented by a Swiss law firm. Understandably, this is raising questions as to whether the state is engaging in tax evasion and whether this use of tax dollars is prudent to begin with, particularly since Dutch cultural institutions have fired around 50 percent of self-employed freelancers during the pandemic…


Nicolas de Largillière, Portrait of a lady as Pomona (Marquise de Parabère), 1714. Photo: Sotheby’s.

mARkeT news: 

Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Banquet Still Life, c. 1640-43. Photo: Wikimedia.
Caravaggio, The Crowning with Thorns, ca. 1604. Photo: Wikimedia.
  • Banca Popolare di Vicenza which went bankrupt in 2017 is selling its art collection, including a Caravaggio, but according to Italian heritage laws, the paintings can’t leave the country.
  • Older news but the Hamilton Aphrodite sold for $24.6 million, nearly 9 x its estimate last December. 
  • The 17th-century Hôtel Lambert was purchased by Xavier Niel and will be used as the site for his future cultural/art foundation.
  • The National Gallery in London  sent a 3D printed copy of Jan Gossaerts’s Adoration of the Kings to an exhibition at Winchester Cathedral. The “copy” is part of an “immersive” exhibition that also includes three “yurt-like pods” displaying digital reproductions. I mean…if this is the future, I am concerned!


Hans Holbein the Younger, Simon George of Cornwall, ca. 1535–40. Frankfurt am Main, Städel Museum. Photo by Author.

pARTing shot:

Here’s a glimpse into the art book collection of the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg from the Bonham’s sale


J. Cabelle Ahn is a PhD Candidate in History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University where she specializes in eighteenth-century French graphic arts. She is currently based in Brooklyn, NY. 

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