As a Met board member, Mark Fish was behind the museum’s largest acquisitions. As a private citizen, the retired real estate developer now owns one of the highest-valued 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 St. John the BaptistA terrific original rediscovered in 1998. Experts estimate it could sell for up to $35 million, more than five times the price paid at a 1998 New York Sotheby’s auction, then a record for a Rubens work at auction.
The 1609 work is one of 10 paintings in the Fish Davidson Collection, courtesy of Sotheby’s due to a divorce between Fish and former New Jersey judge Rachel Davidson. Featuring masterpieces from the 17th and 18th centuries by Orazio Gentileschi, Valentin de Boulogne and Bernardo Cavallino, the auction house labels it “the most important collection of Baroque art ever to appear on the market”.
Aside from the auction part, separation is notable for its potential to have a long-term impact on the divorce process in New York State. Lawyers for wealthy clients seeking a divorce have long competed to file first, often because they feel judges in smaller states will favor more conservative and wealthier men, a practice known as “forum shopping.” However, an appeals court rejected Fish’s attempt to file in Suffolk County, home to the couple’s $4 million Southampton resort, leaving him to fight the divorce case in Manhattan.
Ahead of the January auction, paintings from the collection, valued in total at $177 million, were exhibited at Sotheby’s New York and will later be shown at its locations in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and London. Aside from Rubens, the specialties include Repentant Saint Mary Magdalene, A late Renaissance work by Orazio Gentileschi ($4 to $6 million) and a recently discovered portrait by Georges de la Tour, a leading painter of the French Caravaggio movement. St. James the Great ($3.5 million to $5 million). Also important is that of Valentin de Boulogne Christ is crowned with thorns ($4 million to $6 million), the early Baroque work, depicting a placid-faced Jesus being tortured, sold for $5.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.
The Fish Davidson Collection auction follows other prominent divorce-motivated sales, such as the Macklow Collection, which fetched $922 million, the most valuable collection ever sold at auction 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 circumstances surrounding the 2023 event are no less grim.
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