Rubens masterpiece leads collection of Baroque paintings going under the hammer

A masterpiece by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, described as the “inimitable jewel” in a private collection of Baroque paintings being sold at auction, is expected to fetch up to 35 million dollars (£30.5 million).

The Flemish master’s Salome Presented With The Severed Head Of Saint John The Baptist will lead 10 works from the Fisch Davidson collection to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in January 2023.

The masterpiece, which depicts the drama and violence of the Baroque era, was thought to be lost prior to its rediscovery in 1998.

Sir Peter Paul Rubens
Sir Peter Paul Rubens’ Salome Presented With The Severed Head Of Saint John The Baptist (Sothebys/PA)

The painting explores the cautionary tale of Salome, popular in the early 17th century for its message to be wary of cunning and powerful women – a recurring theme in Rubens’ work.

It last appeared at auction 25 years ago when it sold for 5.5 million dollars (£4.8 million), breaking records at the time.

Key works by Bernardo Cavallino, Valentin de Boulogne, and the third of the famous Sauli paintings by Orazio Gentileschi also feature in the collection.

Boulogne’s Christ Crowned With Thorns and Gentileschi’s Penitent Saint Mary Magdalene are both expected to sell for up to six million dollars (£5.2 million), while Cavallino’s Saint Bartholomew is estimated to fetch 3.5 million dollars (£3 million).

Bernardo Cavallino's Saint Bartholomew
Bernardo Cavallino’s Saint Bartholomew (Sothebys/PA)

George Wachter, Sotheby’s chairman and co-worldwide head of old master paintings, said: “The Fisch Davidson collection began in earnest when the early rediscovered masterpiece by Guercino of Jacob Holding Joseph’s Bloodied Coat appeared in a Sotheby’s New York sale in January of 1995.

“It was from that early acquisition that a tone and taste level for the collection was established. For me personally, it became immediately apparent that only the boldest images of best quality by the greatest artists would be considered.

“Indeed, that is what the ultimate result was.”

Christopher Apostle, Sotheby’s head of old master paintings in New York, said: “One would be hard-pressed to uncover a more exemplary collection of Baroque masterpieces, and I count myself lucky to have been able to encounter works of this calibre up close.

Orazio Gentileschi Penitent Saint Mary Magdalene
Orazio Gentileschi’s Penitent Saint Mary Magdalene (Sothebys/PA)

“Each of these artists had a hand in shaping art of the 17th century; and each still has the power to strike awe today, from the extreme emotion of Guercino’s Jacob to the beguiling beauty of Procaccini’s smiling Judith.

“Rubens’ remarkable Salome Presented With The Severed Head Of Saint John The Baptist is the inimitable jewel in the carefully curated collection, in so many ways epitomising the very essence of the Baroque.”

The collection, which was unveiled on Tuesday, will be on public view in New York until October 27.

Highlights will travel to Los Angeles, Hong Kong and London before returning for pre-sale exhibition in New York in January.