As a Met board member, Mark Fisch was behind the museum’s largest acquisition. As a private citizen, the retired real estate developer is now behind one of the most valuable Masterpiece works ever to be auctioned.
When Sotheby’s opens its Masters Week on January 26, 2023, all eyes will be on Peter Paul Rubens. Salome is presented with the Severed Head of Saint John the Baptistan early macabre work rediscovered in 1998. Experts estimate that it could sell for up to 35 million dollars, more than five times the price paid for it at a New York Sotheby’s auction in 1998, then the record for a Rubens work at auction.
The 1609 work is one of 10 paintings from the Fisch Davidson Collection, which came to Sotheby’s courtesy of the long-running divorce between Fisch and Rachel Davidson, a former New Jersey judge. Featuring 17th- and 18th-century masterpieces by Orazio Gentileschi, Valentin de Boulogne, and Bernardo Cavallino, the auction house calls the collection “one of the most important collections of Baroque art ever to appear on the market.”
In addition to the auction scene, the separation is known for its potential long-term impact on divorce cases in New York State. Attorneys for wealthy clients seeking divorce have long rushed to be the first to file, often in smaller counties where they feel judges will be more conservative and less favorable to wealthy men, a practice known as “forum shopping.” Fisch’s attempt to file in Suffolk County, where the couple’s $4 million Southampton vacation home is located, was rejected by an appeals court, however, forcing him to fight the divorce case in Manhattan.
Ahead of the January auction, paintings from the collection, which are valued at $177 million in total, have been exhibited at Sotheby’s New York, and will later be seen at its locations in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and London. Besides Rubens, important things include Saint Mary Magdalene who repented, a late Renaissance work by Orazio Gentileschi ($4 million to $6 million), and a recently discovered painting by the leading artist of the French Caravaggio movement, Georges de la Tour, Saint James the Great ($3.5 million to $5 million). Also interesting is that of Valentin de Boulogne Christ Was Crowned With Thorns ($4 million to $6 million), depicting a calm-faced Jesus being tortured, the early Baroque work sold for $5.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.
The auction of the Fisch Davidson Collection follows on the heels of other famous divorce-fueled sales, such as the Macklowe Collection which fetched $922 million, the most valuable collection ever sold at auction, also at Sotheby’s. The January sale may lack the power of works by Warhol, Rothko, and Richter all hitting the market at the same time, but the circumstances surrounding the 2023 event are no less painful.
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