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 the museum’s biggest acquisitions. As a private citizen, the retired real estate developer now owns one of the most valuable Old Master works to be auctioned.

When Sotheby’s opens its Masters Week on 26 January 2023, all eyes will be on Peter Paul Rubens. Salome was presented with the head of St. John the BaptistExperts 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 a record for a Rubens work at auction.

The 1609 work is one of 10 paintings in the Fish Davidson Collection that came to Sotheby’s due to the long-running 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 “one of the most important collections of Baroque art to appear on the market.”

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Away from the auction block, separation is notable for its potential long-term impact on the divorce process in New York State. Lawyers for wealthy people who have long been rushing to file for divorce, often in small counties where they feel judges will be more conservative and partial to rich men, are a practice of “forum shopping.” It is known as Fish’s attempt to file in Suffolk County, where the couple’s $4 million Southampton vacation home is located, however, was rejected by an appellate 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 ruby, highlights include Repentant Saint Mary Magdalene, A late Renaissance work by Orazio Gentileschi ($4 million to $6 million), and a recently discovered painting by Georges de la Tour, a leading artist of the French Caravaggio movement. St. James the Greater ($3.5 million to $5 million). Also of interest is Valentin de Boulogne Crown of Christ with thorns ($4 million to $6 million), depicting a gentle-faced Jesus being tormented, the early Baroque work sold for $5.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.

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The Fish Davidson Collection auction follows other prominent divorce-induced sales, such as the McCullough Collection, which fetched $922 million, the most valuable collection ever sold at auction, also by Sotheby’s. The January sale may lack the strength of works by Warhol, Rothko and Richter, all going on the market at the same time, but the circumstances surrounding the 2023 event are no less bitter.

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