As a member of the Met’s board of directors, Mark Fisch is behind some of the museum’s largest acquisitions. A regular citizen, the retired real estate developer is now auctioning one of the most valuable Old Master works ever sold.
When Sotheby’s opens Masters Week on January 26, 2023, all eyes will be on Peter Paul Rubens’ Salome presents the severed head of St. John the Baptist, a creepy early work rediscovered in 1998. Experts estimate it could fetch as much as $35 million, more than five times what it fetched at Sotheby’s in New York in 1998 and a record for a Rubens work.
The 1609 work is one of 10 paintings in Fisch Davidson’s collection, provided to Sotheby’s from the long divorce between Fisch and former New Jersey judge Rachel Davidson. The auction house features 17th and 18th century masterpieces by Orazio Gentileschi, Valentin de Boulogne and Bernardo Cavallino, labelling the collection “one of the most important collections of Baroque art on the market”.
Outside the auction block, separation is notable for its potential long-term impact on New York State’s divorce process. Lawyers for wealthy clients seeking divorce have long scrambled to be the first to file, often in smaller counties where they believe judges will be more conservative and favor the wealthy, a practice known as “forum shopping.” However, Fisch’s attempt to file in Suffolk County, where the couple’s $4 million Southampton vacation home is located, was rejected by an appeals court, forcing him to file for a divorce in Manhattan.
A total of $177 million has been shown at Sotheby’s in New York ahead of the January auction, and will follow at its locations in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and London.In addition to Rubens, highlights include Penitent Saint Mary Magdalene, Late Renaissance works by Orazio Gentileschi ($4-6 million), and a recently discovered portrait by Georges de la Tour, a leading artist of the French Caravaggio movement, St James the Great ($3.5 million to $5 million).Also of interest is Valentin de Boulogne’s Christ crowned with thorns ($4-6 million), depicting a serene-faced Jesus being tortured, an early Baroque work that sold for $5.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.
The sale of the Fisch Davidson Collection follows other notable divorce-motivated auctions, such as the $922 million net price of the McClure Collection, the most valuable collection ever sold at auction, and Sotheby’s auction. The January auction may lack the power of works by Warhol, Rothko and Richter listed at the same time, but the situation surrounding the 2023 event is just as grim.
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