On 7 July 2016, Peter Paul Rubens’ Lot and His Daughters became the most expensive Old Master painting ever sold at Christie’s— its £44,882,500 / $58,167,720 establishing a new record following an intense, 14-minute battle between four bidders in London.
‘Lot and His Daughters was, I think, the most powerful painting that we have put on the block in my 29-year career here,’ says Paul Raison, Chairman of the Old Master Painting department at Christie’s. Measuring more than two metres across, the monumental work was painted circa 1613-14 and captures one of the bible’s most dramatic episodes with tremendous intensity, demonstrating the artist’s prodigious talents at the height of his powers.
When it came to Christie’s, Lot and His Daughters had been unseen in public for more than a century. ‘I will always remember seeing it for the first time, hanging out of its frame, slightly lopsided but totally overwhelming,’ adds Raison. ‘Rubens’ composition and technique blend perfectly, expressing this extraordinary subject in all of its psychological complexity.’
The provenance of the work is similarly remarkable, having been held in the private collections of wealthy Antwerp merchants, a Governor General of the Spanish Netherlands, Joseph I, Holy Roman Emperor, and the Dukes of Marlborough, who hung it in Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire. At Christie’s, the work was offered in its original Blenheim frame.
Video: Art critic Alastair Sooke and Christie’s specialist Clementine Sinclair discuss the painting
The sale cemented Christie’s position as leader in the masterpiece market at auction, and contributed to the £63,390,100 / $84,745,570 overall total for that evening’s Old Master and British Paintings sale, which achieved sell-through rates of 93 per cent by value.
Critics who saw Lot and His Daughters echoed Raison’s comments. Broadcaster Alastair Sooke described it as ‘extraordinary’, highlighting how Rubens’ varying hues and sense of light and dark build up to create a ‘powerfully-modelled, contoured surface, so that everywhere you look there is something to involve the eye. It gives the whole painting a sensuous quality.’
When the curator and art historian Sir Norman Rosenthal saw the work at Christie’s King Street, he was moved to remark, ‘I can’t believe how beautiful it is — it’s so wonderful.’