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A bird in the hand…

Christie’s leads the way at New York’s Old Masters sales with a record $5.1m for Caspar Netscher’s Woman Feeding A Parrot

Caspar Netscher’s Woman Feeding A Parrot (est $2m-$3m)

The spring Old Masters sales in New York featured the usual mix of secondary, lower-priced pictures spiced with a handful of expensive, high-profile lots.

Christie's led with way on 4 June with Caspar Netscher's handsome Woman Feeding A Parrot (est $2m-$3m) recently restituted to the heirs of the Brussels collector Hugo Andriesse. He had deposited the painting with the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, in 1939, where it was appropriated by the invading German army and snatched up by Goering. After the war, it bounced around the German trade till its donation in 1952 to the Von der Heydt Museum, Wuppertal, which returned it to the Andriesse heirs earlier this year.

Signed and dated 1666, Netscher's picture is not particularly original. Its placement of the figure coyly flirting with the viewer behind an arch is derived from compositions by Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris. But it is an exceptionally beguiling work in surprisingly fine condition. Netscher painted with a slightly looser handling and finish than the polished fijnschilder surfaces of Dou and van Mieris, and his works are especially susceptible to overcleaning.

In the 18th century, Dutch “high-life” genre paintings were among the most expensive and sought-after pictures one could buy. Woman Feeding a Parrot was acquired by the Elector Palatine, Johan Wilhelm II, later entering the Alte Pinakothek, Munich by 1833. By the early 20th century, supposedly advanced tastes considered such delightful cabinet pictures “insufficiently Dutch” and decadent, and in 1936-37, the museum deaccessioned dozens of pictures including Woman Feeding a Parrot, Dou's great Quack Doctor now in the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, and another depiction of a Woman Feeding a Parrot on a Wooden Perch by Frans van Mieris, which was subsequently sold at Sotheby's London in 2008 to the collector Tom Kaplan for a record £3.6m ($5.4m). Many believed Kaplan would the likely buyer of Netscher's version, but it sold to a phone bidder for $5.1m, a record for the artist.

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