An untitled still life by Clara Peeters.
Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's

Auction of the Week: A Clara Peeters Still Life Hits the Block at Sotheby’s

Unseen at auction for almost a century, the work achieved almost $900,000 during the recent Old Masters sale

A $13.9 million painting recently reattributed to Rembrandt may have been the most expensive lot of the Sotheby’s Old Masters evening sale in London on December 6, but an untitled still life by Clara Peeters was certainly one of the most dazzling. Estimated to sell for between $636,300-$890,800, the detailed bouquet of flowers was painted by the Flemish artist on copper, lending it an undeniable luster. Adding to its allure was the fact that it was the first time the rediscovered work had appeared at auction in nearly a century.

Dated to roughly 1615, the still life sold for $888,900 (including buyer’s fees), at the top end of its presale estimate. It’s a sign of sustained interest and growth in the market for female artists.

Still life of roses, carnations, tulips, narcissi, irises, love-in-a-mist, larkspur, and other flowers, in a wicker basket, with a butterfly and a cricket by Clara Peeters. Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's

“This trend is ever exciting, particularly as more and more discoveries are made in this category with the reinvigorated focus on researching artists that were hitherto written out of art history,” says Elisabeth Lobkowicz, Sotheby’s Old Master paintings specialist and the head of the evening sale in London. “Every time a new work comes to light, such as with this rediscovered Peeters, it is in itself helpful in allowing us to find out more about them.”

Peeters had a flourishing career in the first quarter of the 17th-century, despite the limitations that the Flemish guild system placed on women when it came to professional training and access to resources. Best known for her banquet scenes of food, metal cups, and other objects and botanicals, she was at the forefront of still life painting in Northern Europe. “By 1666, her paintings were recorded in the Royal Collection, Madrid, so we know she had an enormous amount of success really early on,” Lobkowicz explains.

“This trend is ever exciting, particularly as more and more discoveries are made in this category”

Elisabeth Lobkowicz

Nevertheless, little is known about the rest of the artist’s life and she was largely left out of the history books, as so many women artists have been over the course of centuries. Indeed, the still life sold at Sotheby’s, held in a private Belgian collection since 1928, has never appeared in any literature and was virtually unknown until it was consigned for sale.

Given the extraordinary quality of her output, the lack of details about Peeters’s life make her works “all the more tantalizing” when they come to market, Lobkowicz says. To date, just under 50 paintings have been attributed to the artist since the 20th century. Her auction record stands at $1.7 million for a banquet still life, Nature morte au pichet et l’assiette de fromages, sold at the Paris auction house Ferri in 1998.

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The untitled painting on copper was one of just two works by women included in Sotheby’s Old Masters evening sale. The other, a still life with apricots by French painter Louise Moillon, sold for $710,800, just under its presale estimate.

“Both works are really wonderful examples by the two artists, are wholly characteristic of their individual styles,” Lobkowicz says. “The market responds to rarity and scarcity, so by virtue of the fact that there were proportionally many fewer female Old Master painters, their works have become ever more desirable.”

Cover: An untitled still life by Clara Peeters.
Photo: Courtesy of Sotheby's


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