Until yesterday, it seemed that the Old Masters market was relatively recession-proof; only 18 per cent went unsold at last April's auction. But dealers felt that the present climate meant it was very important for the works being offered to be fresh on the market.
They said that they had seen the Boucher red and white chalk study of a reclining nude too recently. However, Sotheby's felt its estimate, pounds 160,000 to pounds 180,000, marked a 'considerable reduction' on the pounds 250,000 paid for it five years ago.
Dealers who are finding business quiet still have no need to stock up. One of them said: 'We knew all the works . . . If you're going to put things into a sale that have just been on the market, you're going to have a problem.'
However, there were several dealers among the buyers. One paid pounds 55,000 for The Deposition, a rare work by Ferrau Fenzoni (1562-1645), close to another study in the Uffizi. Its estimate was pounds 25,000- pounds 30,000. Gossip in the trade suggested that someone had offered it to various dealers in the past few months for pounds 20,000.
Sotheby's director of Old Master drawings described Fenzoni as 'second rank in the hierarchy of artists'. She added that as it became increasingly difficult to find great art on the open market, 'people are beginning to recognise and know about artists like him'.
Dutch and Italian drawings attracted most interest. Although some dealers felt that Fortitude, a red chalk study by Francesco Primaticcio, was too faded for their tastes, it exceeded its estimate, selling for pounds 34,100 to an anonymous buyer.Reuse content