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 Fisch was behind some of the museum’s biggest acquisitions. As a private citizen, the retired real estate developer is now behind 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 John the Baptista macabre 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 New York Sotheby’s auction in 1998, then a record for a Rubens work at auction.

The 1609 work is one of 10 paintings from the Fisch Davidson Collection, arriving at Sotheby’s courtesy of a 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 calls 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 proceedings in New York State. Lawyers for wealthy clients seeking a 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 ” forum shopping.” However, Fisch’s attempt to file in Suffolk County, where the couple’s $4 million vacation home in Southampton is located, was rejected by an appeals court, forcing him to fight the divorce case in Manhattan.

Prior to the January auction, paintings from the collection, valued at a total of $177 million, were on view at Sotheby’s New York, and will later be on display in its locations in Los Angeles, Hong Kong and London. Aside from the 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 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 serene face being tormented, the early Baroque work sold for $5.2 million at Sotheby’s in 2016.

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The Fisch Davidson Collection auction follows in the wake of other prominent divorce-motivated 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 not have the power 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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