Art Market: Sale dismisses doubts over Reni

A PAINTING attributed to the studio of Guido Reni (1575-1642), the Bolognese master, sold for pounds 110,000 - 11 times its estimate - at Phillips yesterday.

It seems that the anonymous telephone bidder has bought the real thing; all it needs is a good clean. The attribution to Reni himself was confirmed after the sale by Stephen Pepper, the noted Reni scholar.

Although there was strong pre- sale interest in Lucretia, one dealer expressed surprise at the high price. 'There's one we missed,' he said, asking why Reni experts were not approached before the sale.

Charles Young, of Phillips, said: 'We don't always go to specialist experts and art historians. There are so many grey areas, one can get conflicting advice which throws confusion over a work. We prefer to let purchasers make up their own minds in certain instances. They often contact historians themselves. If we say a picture's 'right' and it's found not to be, that can harm the picture's saleability enormously. It never recovers from that.'

The Reni was among several pictures that exceeded expectations. But almost half the auction's offerings did not sell. Buying continues to be selective. Dealers felt that Phillips had a good choice of middle-range pictures, but that without 'great' works - something comparable to the Rembrandt at Sotheby's today - it could not be seen as a test of the market.

Buyers were also selective at Christie's Old Master drawings auction yesterday, taking away 65 per cent of the auction's offerings. However, the overall results improved when it sold a star picture, an atypical Guardi landscape, View of the Borgo di Valsugana, after the auction. In the salesroom, it failed to make the estimated pounds 120,000 to pounds 180,000. It was bought for an undisclosed figure by an anonymous private collector.

As one dealer put it, 'backers and bankers are being cautious'. However, 87 per cent of a group of 112 drawings from the superlative collection assembled by the late Ian Woodner, the noted American collector, was sold.

This was the second part of the Woodner sale. The top price this time was pounds 26,400, paid for a black chalk ceiling design of a lute- player by Niccolo dell'Abbate (1506-71).

(Photograph omitted)

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