ART+, all about the art market
September 2022 1807 

From Spain back to Bohemia

With Antonín Zezula about the auction of the Master of the Litoměřice Altarpiece

It doesn’t happen every day that local collectors have the chance to bid for an important work of Czech medieval art. We asked Antonín Zezula from the Zezula auction house in Brno about the details of the Saturday auction of the late Gothic panel painting Massacre of the Innocents by the Master of the Litoměřice Altarpiece.


Master of the Litoměřice Altarpiece: Massacre of the Innocents / after 1505 / tempera on board / 57,2 x 34,6 cm / Zezula 6. 12. 2014 / 3 658 000 Kč Master of the Litoměřice AltarpieceMassacre of the Innocents / after 1505 / tempera on board / 57,2 x 34,6 cm / Zezula 6. 12. 2014 / 3 658 000 Kč


What price expectations did you have regarding the sale of the Massacre of the Innocents? We expected a price of up to two million and therefore the price exceeding 3.5 million korunas is a pleasant surprise, even though works with a similar history would certainly deserve a significantly higher price.

Were any collection-planning institutions interested in this piece in advance? Yes, and we were asked whether it would be possible to withdraw the painting from the auction. With respect to the instructions of the painting’s foreign owner, this was not possible. However, the National Gallery had the right of pre-emption (for the same price the highest bidder would have paid, which was CZK 3,100,000 + 18% commission).

How did the auction itself proceed? At the beginning, there were four parties interested in buying; this number then fell to two when the bidding exceeded CZK 1.5 million. Both were Czech bidders.

Was the Spanish owner aware of the significance of this work of art for the Czech environment? Certainly, and that’s why he approached our auction house. It is always best to offer works of this type in their country of origin.

Kazimir Malevich: Suprematist Teapot / 1923 / porcelain / 17 cm / 382 320 Kč Kazimir Malevich: Suprematist Teapot / 1923 / porcelain / 17 cm / 382 320 Kč


Do you believe that the interest of collectors in this piece was appropriate to its significance? Or does older art still stand a little outside the focus of interest in this country? It’s good that this work achieved such a price increase; at any rate, the starting price was set rather low. On the other hand, similar works would deserve an even higher level of interest from collectors and I think even from investors. I’m convinced that the prices paid for old, high-quality European art will continue to increase in the long term.

How did other auctioned items do? Did anything surprise you? With regard to our average, the sales rate at the auction wasn’t particularly high, at around 57 per cent. Still, the overall auction result was quite good. There was significant bidding for Russian art, Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematist Teapot sold for the starting price (CZK 324,000 + 18%), while the prices of other items’ increased by hundreds of per cent (item no. 204 – a cup by Kazimir Malevich painted by Nikolai Suetin – climbed from CZK 54,000 to CZK 190,000 at auction; item no. 205 – a bowl painted by Nikolai Suetin – sold for CZK 80,000; item no. 206 – a plate painted by Ilya Chashnik – went from the starting price of CZK 81,000 korunas up to CZK 200,000, etc.).

Both private collectors and a Czech collection-planning institution were bidding for the Russian art on offer. After a long pause, the price of Czech glass has begun to increase again, while Biedermaier cups (items 521 and 523) recorded a nice increase in their price as did some miscellaneous smaller items. For instance, a sculpture of St. Mary Magdalene carved in ivory with a Baroque pedestal, whose starting price was CZK 69,000, sold for CZK 140,000 at auction. Also, all of the French wines offered for sale went to bidders before Christmas.


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