No Bids for Holbein

Last week's Old Masters sales in London illustrated both the highs and lows of this sector of the market. The painting that had monopolised Sotheby's pre-sale publicity was Hans Holbein the Younger's Portrait of Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger, bought as an English School picture by the London dealer Christopher Gibbs for £2,800 in 1974. After three decades of research led by Sir Roy Strong, the former director of the Victoria & Albert Museum, this mid-16th-century portrait of a Tudor rake executed for leading a rebellion against Queen Mary was attributed to Holbein. Sotheby's estimated the painting at £2 million to £3 million but last Wednesday not a single hand was raised to bid for it. The picture's poor condition did not help its prospects, and a newspaper story suggesting that the curator of a Holbein exhibition at Tate Britain had not asked to borrow it because there were doubts that it was by the artist delivered the coup de grĂ¢ce. The Holbein was one of 24 pictures, more than a third of the total, that failed to find a buyer at Sotheby's, yet the sale was far from being a disaster. Of the 43 pictures that did go to new homes, two-thirds sold above their high estimate and nine new artists' records were established. For the full story - click the title Irish Art