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Old Masters

An 'Old Master' is a European painter of skill who worked before circa 1800. In theory, an Old Master should be an artist who was fully trained and worked independently. In practice, though, paintings considered to be produced by pupils of, or from studios and workshops of, Old Masters, will be included in the scope of the term.

Old Master 14th and 15th century Early Renaissance artists include Sandro Botticelli; the High Renaissance artists circa 1450-1550 include Leonardo da Vinci; Northern Renaissance (German and Austrian) artists would include Hans Holbein (1497-1543); Mannerist artists include El Greco (1541-1614); the Baroque painters, circa 1550-1650, include Pieter Bruegel, Caravaggio, Annibale Caracci, Poussin, Bernini and, of course, Bartolome Murillo.

The Dutch Golden Age of Old Master painting, circa 1570-1700, includes Frans Hals, David Teniers, Hobbema and Frans Snyders, considered the undisputed master of Baroque still life from the Antwerp School. The Rococco period includes Antoine Watteau (1684-1721) and Canaletto (1697-1768).

In the group of important British Old Masters are Thomas Gainsborough, John Constable and JMW Turner and finally the Romantic Masters comprise Sir Joshua Reynolds, Francisco Goya, William Blake and Eugene Delacroix. These last few Romantic painters are generally considered date-wise to be too late to be included in the Canon of Old Master artists.

However, a final twist defining the term comes from a popular encyclopaedia of 1840 which states that 'As a painter of animals, Edwin Landseer far surpasses any of the Old Masters'!

Our salerooms' long association with Sotheby's is maintained through strong links with experts in their various specialised areas, none more so than the Old Master Department and with the assistance of their Old Master Specialists we have recently been able to identify and consign to sale a number of major Old Master Paintings.

One such painting was an iconic image of St Sebastian discovered in a house in South Devon which sold for £350,000 and in December 2012 we consigned a 16th Century portrait of a bearded man which sold for £313,000 in the same evening sale as Raphael's drawing of a young apostle that fetched an extraordinary world record of £29.7 million.


Daniel GoddardDaniel Goddard
Department Head

Martin ScadgellMartin Scadgell