Bloomberg 6 July 2007Linda Sandler
July 6 (Bloomberg) -- New York art dealer Ira Spanierman's Raphael painting sold last night for 18.5 million pounds ($37.3 million) with commission, more than 100,000 times the price he paid for it.
The portrait of the Florentine ruler Lorenzo de' Medici set a record for the Italian painter at the Christie's International sale in London. Spanierman bought the work for $325 at a 1968 New York auction when scholars didn't believe it was by Raphael. Dealers said he tried and failed to sell it himself before consigning it to Christie's.
A contest between two telephone bidders took the price above the presale high estimate of 15 million pounds, showing how Christie's and rival Sotheby's are winning business from galleries for top works as new millionaires pitch bids from around the world.
``There aren't that many buyers for old masters at these prices,'' said New York dealer Richard Feigen after the sale. ``The hedge funds pay a lot more for contemporary pictures, but they aren't buying old masters.''
Christie's wouldn't identify the nationality of the anonymous buyer of the Raphael, or say if this was a first-time purchaser of earlier art. Russians were ``active'' at the auction, among the 69 percent of bidders from Europe, while 29 percent were American, a spokesman said.
The sale on King Street was part of a week of old-master auctions in the U.K. capital estimated by Christie's and Sotheby's at as much as 117 million pounds, or about twice as much as last year, as sellers aimed to capitalize on a jump in art prices.
``Dealers used to run the art business, and now I have to say, with a few exceptions, the auction houses run the business,'' Spanierman said in an interview before the sale. ``They have the widest audience.''
Christie's sale, including pictures that had passed through the hands of kings and great European families, totaled 41.5 million pounds with commissions, compared with an estimate of 30 million pounds to 44 million pounds pre-commission. Forty percent of the lots failed to sell.
The price for the Raphael was equal to impressionist painter Claude Monet's ``Nympheas'' water-lily painting sold last month in London, and below postwar artist Francis Bacon's self portrait, which took 21.6 million pounds. In New York in May, an Andy Warhol car-crash picture sold for more than $70 million.
Hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen's collection includes Bacon and Warhol, according to his spokesman. Adam Sender focuses on living artists from Richard Prince to the Tobias Brothers.
Rarely auctioned Raphael had his previous record set in 1996, when a drawing of an apostle's head sold for 5.3 million pounds at Christie's, according to sale tracker Artnet AG.
The top old-master paintings have appreciated 6.4 percent this year and stand below their 1998 peak, according to the index- maker Art Market Research. Prices for the most expensive contemporary paintings rose 50 percent this year and are above their 1990 peak before the art market crashed.
Works by Raffaello Sanzio, known as Raphael, are mostly in museums, so there are few opportunities to buy them. Lorenzo de' Medici was the ruler of Florence in the early 16th century.
Christie's sale included pictures from the collection of Jacques Goudstikker, estimated at 3.2 million pounds to 5 million pounds pre-commission. They missed their low estimate and took in 3.1 million pounds with commissions.
Dutch dealer Goudstikker lost his property following the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands. The Dutch government returned 200 old masters to an heir in February 2006.
Buyers pay a 20 percent commission on the first 250,000 pounds and 12 percent on the rest of the hammer price. Estimates are pre-commission and records are calculated after adding fees.
Christie's valued its sales this week at as much as 52 million pounds before commissions. Last year's total was 32.1 million pounds with commissions.
Sotheby's old-master sales, including Turner watercolors from the Belgian collector Guy Ullens that missed their low estimate, had a high valuation of 65 million pounds pre-commission. Last year's sales totaled 30.7 million pounds including commissions.
Christie's wraps up the auction week today with a sale of lower-priced old masters.