The top price for art at auction worldwide in 2016 was achieved at Christie's, New York, where a French Impressionist painting Meule (Grainstack)by Claude Monet, sold for $84.4 million – also a world auction record for the artist.
Christie's also achieved the highest price worldwide in 2016 for an "Old Master" painting when, in July in London, Lot and his Daughters by 17th-century Flemish artist Rubens sold for £44.9 million. In the same sale, a Rubens painting titled Venus Supplicating Jupiter, consigned from Ireland by the Alfred Beit Foundation, made £1.3 million. Christie's, incidentally, celebrated its 250th anniversary; the company's first auction was held in Pall Mall, London in 1766.
The highest price at Sotheby's worldwide in 2016 was achieved in London in June when Femme Assise, a painting dated 1909 by Picasso, sold for £43.3 million. The highest price achieved at Sotheby's New York was $55.5 million for a painting, dating from 1902, entitled Pikene på broen (Girls on the Bridge) by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch. In its "Old Masters" sale in London, Sotheby's achieved a world record auction price for the artist Jean-Etienne Liotard whose A Dutch Girl at Breakfast made £4.4 million. Sotheby's said the painting had been bought from the artist 250 years ago by William Ponsonby, 2nd Earl of Bessborough and had "remained in the possession of Lord Bessborough's descendants" ever since. As is so often the case with the British aristocracy, there's an Irish connection. Ponsonby served as Chief Secretary for Ireland in the 1740s and his Irish seat was Bessborough House in Piltown Co Kilkenny, now better known as the Kildalton Agricultural College.
Just before Christmas, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam announced that it had been the successful bidder at Sotheby's and had secured an export licence from the British government to take A Dutch Girl at Breakfast to the Netherlands where it will go on permanent display from next month.
Sotheby's continued to be the only international auction house to hold an auction exclusively devoted to Irish art. At its annual Irish Sale in London in September, the top lots were Mending Nets, Aran, by Gerard Dillon, which sold to an American buyer for £191,000, and The Road by the Lake, by Paul Henry, which sold to a "UK private" buyer for £185,000.
Separately, in September, Sotheby's auctioned the private art collection of the late David Bowie and revealed that he had owned some Irish art including Sleep Sound by Jack B Yeats which made £233,000. At Christie's in November A Windy Day by Sir John Lavery sold for £941,000.
The most interesting Irish collectibles of the year went under the hammer at Bonhams in New York whose auction of the estate of the late Hollywood star Maureen O’Hara realised $445,000.