As a Met board member, Mark Fisch is behind some of the museum’s biggest acquisitions. As a private citizen, the retired real estate developer is now behind one of the top Old Master works ever to come to auction.
When Sotheby’s opens its Masters Week on January 26, 2023, all eyes will be on Peter Paul Rubens. Salome Presented with the Severed Head of Saint John the BaptistThe first macabre work was discovered again in 1998. Experts estimate that it can sell up to $ 35 million, more than five times the price paid for it at the New York Sotheby’s auction in 1998, then a record for Rubens’ work at auction.
The 1609 work is one of 10 paintings from the Fisch Davidson Collection, arriving at Sotheby’s courtesy of the protracted 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 described the collection as “one of the most important collections of Baroque art ever to appear on the market.”
Far from the auction block, separation is known for its potential to have a long-term impact on divorce proceedings in New York State. Attorneys for affluent clients seeking divorce have long been the first to file, often in smaller counties where they feel judges will be more conservative and partial 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, however, was rejected by the appeals court, thereby forcing him to fight the divorce case in Manhattan.
Before the January auction, the paintings from the collection, valued at $177 million in total, have been on display at Sotheby’s New York, and will soon be seen at locations in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and London. Aside from Rubens, highlights include Repent Saint Mary Magdalene, a late Renaissance work by Orazio Gentileschi ($4 million to $6 million), and a newly discovered portrait by the leading artist of the French Caravaggio movement, Georges de la Tour, Saint James the Greater ($3.5 million to $5 million). Also of interest is Valentin de Boulogne’s Christ Crowned with Thorns ($4 million to $6 million), depicting a calmly tormented Jesus, the early Baroque work sold for $5.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.
The Fisch Davidson Collection auction follows on the heels of famous divorce-motivated sales, such as the Macklowe Collection that fetched $922 million, the most valuable collection ever sold at auction, also by 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 situation surrounding the 2023 show is no less bitter.
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