International Art Market: Rare Dutch painting breathes life into sales

AMERICAN collectors recovered their joie de vivre in January as the New York auction rooms held the first significant art sales of 1993.

Alfred Bader, of Milwaukee, an Austrian chemist who has made a fortune in the United States, was chortling after spending dollars 607,500 ( pounds 421,875) on a miraculously preserved Crucifixion by Jacob van Oostanen dated 1507 which Sotheby's had estimated at dollars 250,000- dollars 350,000 ( pounds 173,611- pounds 243,055).

Van Oostanen was the first significant artist to work in Amsterdam, a founding father of the Dutch school; the rarity and significance of the picture did not escape Dr Bader, who has been collecting and dealing in art for more than 20 years. He also bid up to dollars 1.7m ( pounds 1.18m) on a half-length portrait of the musician Jacob Obrecht that was dated 1494 and attributed by Sotheby's to the school of Bruges; intensive research had not yielded any definite name of an artist to whom the picture could be attributed.

Dr Bader missed the portrait, which ended up selling for dollars 2,422,500 ( pounds 1,682,292) to the Kimbell Museum of Fort Worth, Texas; Sotheby's had estimated the painting at dollars 400,000-dollars 600,000 ( pounds 277,777- pounds 416,666).

Italian dealers and collectors who dominated the Old Master picture sales in 1992 were conspicuous by their absence. New anti-Mafia legislation in Italy which requires banks to monitor the movement of large sums has discouraged the collectors who habitually used art to hide their money. But it has not, apparently, affected the lower echelons of the market. The sales of European works of art and furniture owed their success to an army of Italian dealers.

The visual curiosity of the sales was the Italian enthusiasm for Medieval and Renaissance-style furniture which a previous generation of Italians had faked up to catch American buyers. Museums acquired such furniture in bulk around 1900-1930 to go with their Italian Primitives, made fashionable by the scholar Bernard Berenson. Now the museums are sending the furniture back to the auction rooms and it is being lapped up by Italian dealers. Sotheby's got dollars 74,000 ( pounds 51,388) (estimate dollars 10,000- dollars 15,000 ( pounds 6,944- pounds 10,416)) for a Florentine, partially gilt, walnut refectory table, bits of which may have been old. The St Louis Art Museum sent it for sale.

Most of Christie's pieces came from the Nelson Atkins Museum in Kansas, including a Spanish baroque velvet-covered coffer-on- stand - significantly undated by the sale catalogue - at dollars 9,900 ( pounds 6,428) (estimate dollars 3,000-dollars 4,000 ( pounds 2,142- pounds 2,857)). Kansas was having a big clear-out. There were a lot of the museum's paintings at Sotheby's including a 17th-century picture of peasants feasting outside a tavern by David Vinckboons which made dollars 134,500 ( pounds 960,714) against an estimate of dollars 20,000- dollars 30,000 ( pounds 14,285- pounds 21,428). Maybe it was a little better than the sellers thought.

The Yale University Art Gallery also received a pleasant surprise when a pair of English bookcases dating from the late 17th century, which had come to them from a benefactor, sold for dollars 385,000 ( pounds 275,000).

The design, which places a series of shelves with glazed doors over a wider, squat shelf with sliding glass doors, was first used by Samuel Pepys, the diarist, when he was clerk to the Navy Board. The bookcases at Christie's were made for his successor, Charles Sergison, who had three bookshelves made on the Pepys model; Chistie's sold his other one in London in 1981 for pounds 50,600 (dollars 96,645).

Euphoria greeted Jean and Kenneth Chorley's collection of early English pottery. The top price was dollars 165,000 ( pounds 114,583) paid by an unnamed American collector for a Lambeth Delft saltcellar of c1680.

(Photograph omitted)

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