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 member of the Met’s board, Mark Fisch was behind some of the museum’s greatest acquisitions. As a private citizen, the retired real estate developer is now behind one of the highest-value Old Master works ever to come to auction.

When Sotheby’s opens its Masters Week on January 26, 2023, all eyes will be on the Peter Paul Rubens program Salome is presented with the Solemn Head of St. John the Baptistmacabre early work rediscovered in 1998. Experts estimate it could sell for up to $35 million, more than five times the price paid for it at a Sotheby’s auction in New York in 1998, which was a record for a Rubens work in an auction.

The 1609 work is one of 10 paintings from the Fisch Davidson Collection, arriving at Sotheby’s courtesy of a lengthy 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 labels the collection “one of the most important collections of Baroque art ever to appear on the market. “

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Away from the auction block, the separation is notable for its potential to have a long-term impact on divorce cases in New York State. Lawyers for affluent clients seeking divorce have long raced to be 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 “shopping forum.” However, Fisch’s attempt to file in Suffolk County, where the couple’s $4 million Southampton vacation home is located, was rejected by an appellate court, thereby forcing him to fight the divorce case in Manhattan.

Ahead of the January auction, paintings from the collection, worth a total of $177 million, have been exhibited at Sotheby’s New York, and will later be on view at its locations in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and London. Apart from the Rubens, the highlights include Saint Mary Magdalene, a late Renaissance work by Orazio Gentileschi ($4 million to $6 million), and a recently discovered portrait by the leading artist of the French Caravaggio movement, Georges de la Tour, Saint James the Great ($3.5 million to $5 million). Valentin de Boulogne is also of interest Christ Crowned with Thorns ($4 million to $6 million), depicting a placid-faced Jesus being tormented, the early Baroque work sold for $5.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.

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The sale of the Fisch Davidson Collection follows in the wake of other prominent divorce-driven sales, such as the Macklowe Collection which netted $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 bitter.

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