Old Master paintings have reached some of the art market’s most notable highs in recent years, most notably Leonardo da Vinci’s Christie’s 2018 sale. Salvator Mundi (ca. 1500) for $ 450 million, the highest price ever for a work of art at auction. Since then, auction houses have strived to make the classic category as great a rainmaker as modern and contemporary art, which eclipsed the old masters decades ago. Often this means combining the two categories in organized sales, as was the case with the Leonardo.
âIn a way, Old Masters artists are just as much brands as Warhol or Koons,â said Karl Hermanns, global managing director of Christie’s Old Masters. “On the contrary, Leonardo is the greatest artist brand of all.”
Unlike contemporary art, the collection of the great masters lacks widespread speculation and very few major works remain in private hands. Unlike the headline prices of contemporary works, far fewer Old Masters sell in the millions, and buyers of the best lots on the market remain a privileged few. Hedge fund manager J. Tomilson Hill is a leading collector of works from this period, which he juxtaposes with his equally important collections of modern and contemporary art in exhibitions at his Hill Art Foundation in New York. Responsible for some of the more expensive trades in the category, Hill bought Caravaggio’s last year Judith Beheading Holofernes (circa 1607) in private, just before it was put up for sale in a French auction, where it carried a high estimate of $ 170 million. In 2015, he lost $ 44.7 million on Portrait of a young man in a red cap, a painting by the 16th century Italian Renaissance artist, Jacopo Pontormo.
In July, Sotheby’s successful multi-category auction saw a self-portrait of Rembrandt, painted when he was 26, fetching $ 18.8 million, a new benchmark for the Dutch master. The buyer remains unknown.
Names to know:
Debra & LÃ©on Noir
Prince Hans-Adam II von und zu Liechtenstein
Janine & J. Tomilson Hill
Jo Carole & Ronald S. Lauder
New York and Wainscott, New York; Washington DC; Palm Beach, Florida; Paris; Vienna
St. Moritz, Switzerland
Rose-Marie & Eijk van Otterloo
Lynda & Stewart Resnick
New York, SÃ£o Paulo and Geneva
Carlos Slim HelÃº
Correction: The printed version of this article misrepresented J. Tomilson Hill’s business affiliation. He is no longer the president of the Blackstone group.
A version of this article appears in the Fall 2020 issue of ARTnews, under the title âNew brand image for the old mastersâ.