A Rubens Masterpiece Could Fetch $35 Million at the Auction of Divorcing Couple Mark Fisch and Rachel Davidson’s $177 Million Baroque Art Collection

As a Met board member, Mark Fish was behind some of the museum’s largest acquisitions. As a private citizen, the retired real estate developer is now after the most valuable Old Master work up for auction.

When Sotheby’s Masters Week begins on January 26, 2023, all eyes will be on Peter Paul Rubens. Salome presented with the severed head of St. John the BaptistA formidable work rediscovered in early 1998. Experts estimate it could sell for up to $35 million, more than five times the price paid at a New York Sotheby’s auction in 1998, then the record for a Rubens work at auction.

One of the 10 paintings in the Fish Davidson Collection is a work from 1609, which came to Sotheby’s courtesy of a protracted divorce between Fish 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 is labeling the collection “the most important collection of Baroque art ever to appear on the market”.

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Away from the auction block, the separation is significant for its potential to have a long-term impact on divorce proceedings in New York State. Lawyers for wealthy clients seeking divorce have long raced to file first, often in smaller counties where they believe judges will be more conservative and partial to wealthier men, a practice known as “forum shopping.” Fish’s attempt to file in Suffolk County, where the couple owns a $4 million Southampton vacation home, however, was rejected by an appeals court, forcing him to fight the divorce case in Manhattan.

Ahead of the January auction, paintings from the collection, valued at a total of $177 million, are on display at Sotheby’s in New York and will later be on view at its locations in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and London. In addition to Rubens, highlights include Repentant Saint Mary Magdalene, a late Renaissance work by Orazio Gentileschi ($4 million to $6 million), and a recently discovered portrait by Georges de la Tour, a leading artist in the French Caravaggio movement. St. James the Greater ($3.5 million to $5 million). Valentin de Boulogne is also interested Christ crown of thorns ($4 million to $6 million), an early Baroque work depicting a placid-faced Jesus being tortured, sold for $5.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.

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The Fish Davidson Collection auction comes on the heels of other major divorce-induced 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 works by Warhol, Rothko and Richter all hitting the market at the same time, but the situation surrounding the 2023 event is no less grim.

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