Big Names and Staggering Estimates at Christie’s May 13, 2014 Evening Sale of Post War and Contemporary Art in NY
Christie’s May 13, 2104 Evening Sale of Post War and Contemporary Art in New York is astonishing for the number of eight-figure estimated works – and for following the preceding night’s If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday sale at Christie’s. There are plenty of the predictable and bankable art world darlings – Warhol, Richter, Basquiat, Koons, Bacon and Rothko – but there are also seven works by Joseph Cornell, which is just shy of 10% of the 72 lots in the sale.
This will be a lengthier post than usual because there is so much good material – iconic pieces by Robert Gober, Christopher Wool, Gerhard Richter, Robert Ryman, Anselm Kiefer and others – enough to create the nucleus of an important collection. There are a few works by Brice Marden including the rich and sublime 5 (Note to My Self), based on his Cold Mountain series, an early and delightfully disorienting Sigmar Polke and a winning Cy Twombly (all shown below).
The Marden and Twombly are a couple of works from the personal collection of the late Frances “Frannie” Dittmer – there are additional works by Agnes Martin, Rudolph Stingel, Christopher Wool, and Martin Puryear – a philanthropist and noted art collector who died in an airplane accident this past February in Mexico. For many years she was married to Thomas Dittmer, who founded the financial firm Refco. Frannie built up the company’s art collection during three decades. The Dittmers divorced in 1999. The company was sold by Thomas and ultimately went into bankruptcy after its then-chief executive, Phillip Bennett, was indicted on fraud charges. The corporate collection was sold at auction in 2006.
A good deal of material is fresh to the market – though there are a few lots that were recently at auction, including Clyfford Still PH-1033 that sold for $19,682,500 ($17.5 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium) just two-and-one-half years ago – the present estimate is $15-20 million, which means the seller could lose money or just break even. However, since it carries a third party guarantee, it will sell. Gerhard Richter’s Abstraktes Bild (712) was sold at Sotheby’s only one-and-one-half years ago for $17,442,500 ($15.5 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium) and now carries a hefty $22-28 million estimate – clearly Richter’s market is hotter than Still’s. This work also carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell.
The sale opens with 14 works owned by Lindy and Edwin Bergman, Chicago-based collectors of Surrealism, Tribal art, and Post War painting, drawing and sculpture – including those seven by Cornell. According to the catalogue:
Friends and fellow collectors describe the Bergman residence as one filled with art that fostered conversation, contemplation and a sense of beauty; the couple simply collected the art they loved. “In spite of the extraordinary number and quality of the art objects (on every wall, table, shelf and even floor),” notes [historian Dawn] Ades, “the apartment was still very much a home, not a museum.” It was an attitude toward collecting that remains familiar in Chicago: “One thing that’s marked serious Chicago collectors over the years is that they go after things they’re interested in rather than the latest fad,” notes Lynne Warren, curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art. “They don’t always stick with trends in art. They tend to have one-of-a-kind collections because they follow their inclinations.” (J. Hueber, “The In Crowd,” Chicago Reader, 31 October 1996).
Here are three of the seven Cornells:This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. From the catalogue:
Cornell’s works from the 1930s possess an inexplicable amount of wonder and whimsy. It was during these years that, due to Cornell’s lack of formal artistic training, and his innate desire to catalogue and collect objects of unyielding interest to him, he was able to experiment with a variety of containers and methods of display, which would ultimately inform his mature works.
Glistening within her azure and marbled confines, Untitled [Snow Maiden] at first appears as a modestly unassuming construct culled from a vintage 1889 advertisement trade card and calendar for Taylor & Williams shoe store. However, this young child, lost in the snow, garners an exceptionally strong capability of pulling the viewer into gentle contemplation.
From the catalogue:
On the evening of February 26, 1945, Joseph Cornell made his way back to his home at 3708 Utopia Parkway. It had been a wet afternoon, and the pavement was still glistening with the lingering drizzles of rain. Finding himself in his cluttered studio basement, Cornellin his characteristic and almost-incomprehensible scrawlpenciled down the days journey. Decided to go to Keiths, he began, referring to the Flushing, New York movie theater. Remembering the vacant, dark confines of the theater, Cornell grew skeptical about what he saw. Pure Hollywood hokum, the artist jotted down of Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not, starring Humphrey Bogart and the nascent Lauren Bacall, who he described as disappointing in her Hollywood debut (J. Cornell, quoted in D. Tashjian, Joseph Cornell: Gifts of Desire, Miami Beach, 1992, p. 121). And yet, through a stroke of instant desire, Cornell withdrew his initial assessment of the young actress in favor a growing fascination with her close-ups.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve. From the lot notes:
Executed in 1943, Medici Slot Machine from the celebrated eponymous series, is considered by many to be his greatest works, adapting three different Renaissance portraits as their sources, in this case Pinturicchios Portrait of a Boy from the Gemldegalerie in Dresden. Although Cornell was known to have almost never traveled beyond the bounds of New York, he was an inveterate traveler of the mind.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve. From the catalogue:
Alexander Calder’s remarkable sculpture, Poisson volant (Flying Fish), amply demonstrates the breadth and diversity of the artist’s prolific career. The sleek black outline of the fish combined with the complex construction of animated elements that comprise the fish’s tail demonstrate the artist’s unique compositional ability, unsurpassed technical execution and sheer sense of joie de vivre in one memorable work. Although much of Calder’s work was defiantly non-referential, the fish motif was one that occurred throughout his life; from Steel Fish, one of the artist’s early standing mobiles he created in 1934, to the themed headboard he made for Peggy Guggenheim in 1945, and continuing with his large scale mobiles and stabiles, such as the present work and Yellow Whale created during the late 1950s, the symbolic nature of the fish seemed to encompass much of what Calder wanted to achieve in his unique brand of sculpture.
As note above, this work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. From the catalogue:
The present work, along with Richter’s other abstract paintings of the late 1980s and early 1990s, is the culmination of a five-decade-long investigation into the possibilities of painting. Having first covered a photorealist image with swirls of grey pigment in his early work, Table, 1962, Richter began in the 1980s to use a squeegee to spread thick, colorful streaks of paint over his canvases. Traditionally, abstract painting has pared back painting to its fundamental constituents, but for Richter it is from the buildup of countless layers of paint that his work derives its force. The rhythmic application and disruption of pigments with the squeegee is at once creative and destructive, a clash between conscious control and free, intuitive painting.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. From the lot notes:
Mediated by cinema, television and other forms of mass advertising, Wool’s generation involved the viewer in a kaleidoscopic sequence of appropriations. Reaching deeper into the art historical past, Wool appropriated catchphrases from the vernacular, re-imagined them as painted images, and, by doing so, called meaning into question. His stacked vocabulary disrupts understanding and works metaphorically both as an iconic symbol and cunning cipher. Despite myriad cultural references to mythic-sized word play to the history of the medium, Wool remains emphatically an artist in the traditional sense: “I always considered myself involved with painting. I can’t imagine someone seeing one of those and not realizing it’s a painting. I think, the way I used text was not didactic. I was not speaking about art, I was just making paintings. The text was more subject than anything else” (C. Wool, “Conversation with Christopher Wool,” with Martin Prinzhorn, Museum in Progress, 1997, http://www.mip.at/attachments/222).
From the catalogue:
Created in 1984,The Silent Sink is an important, early example of Robert Gober’s most significant body of work, the sinks that he fabricated in New York between 1984 and 1986.
Robert Gober’s fascination with the domestic trappings of the family home began to emerge in the 1970s while he was building and selling miniature dollhouses. In 1983, he made his first sculpture of a sink, titled The Small Sink, which was a rather rough, unrefined version of the sinks he would begin in earnest in 1984. For the most part, Gober’s sinks are based on his childhood memories. He vividly recalled the porcelain washbasin from his grandparents’ home and a nearly identical version that his father had installed in his basement workshop.
For Gober, The Silent Sink seems to also symbolize the dialectical opposition of purification and bodily pollution, two key issues for a homosexual male artist raised in the strict doctrine of the Catholic Church who later witnessed the ravaging effect of HIV and AIDS in New York of the 1980s and 90s. If the sink stands as a modern repository for the elimination of dirt and waste, a modern convention of daily personal hygiene that renders a dirty body clean, then what does Gober’s tapless, pipeless, [waterless] “silent” sink signify? It seems to issue forth from some nightmarish dream, in which the dirty body can never be cleansed, and may point to the inability of the body’s immune system to eradicate diseases like the AIDS virus from the body.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. This work is intriguing within Bacon’s oeuvre because the subject doesn’t seem tormented – certainly not like the screaming popes. From the catalogue:
Painted in 1984, Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards is a celebration of what was probably the most important and significant relationship of Francis Bacon’s life. The subject of this painting is John Edwards, a bar manager from the East End of London, who Bacon had met a decade earlier and who went on to become one of the artist’s closet and most trusted companions. Across its three panels, Bacon records with his characteristic verve and painterly flourishes the lithe figure of Edwards dressed in a simple outfit of a white shirt and grey pants. Locating his subject in an ethereal arena-like space, Bacon focuses attention on Edwards’ soft features, infusing each brushstroke not with angst and fear, as he had done in his earlier portraits, but with a considered sense of warmth and serenity that was to become the hallmark of his later work.
Christie’s has an ownership interest in this lot. From the catalogue:
In the first days of May 1963, the long, burgeoning but also often unseen struggle for civil rights in the United States suddenly exploded into full public view. All at once, it seemed, stark and disturbing images of young American black men, women and children being assaulted by fire-hoses and police attack dogs on the streets of Birmingham, Alabama, began appearing across the world’s media engines when a peaceful organized mass protest against Southern segregation laws turned violent and ugly.
The result of these events, and of the shocking images they generated, was that almost overnight one of the great lies about America–the so-called “land of the free”–was made plain for all to see. Suddenly, the discomforting truth that, at the heart of the world’s richest, most powerful and technologically advanced society–the self-proclaimed “leader of the free world”–lay an entire race of its own citizens who were themselves not free, but legally and violently oppressed by its rulers, was graphically and embarrassingly exposed.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve. Talk about fetishizing … from the lot notes:
Jeff Koons’s Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train stretches nine and a half feet, a silvery seam of industrial nostalgia: it takes the form of a vintage locomotive and its carriages. This is a subject that taps into the pioneer history of the United States of America. It channels the glamor of a bygone era, an elegy to the ages of steam and steel. Its appearance mimics that of the lavish centerpieces that would have adorned the formal table of a Duke, a Frick or a Carnegie. And yet this is not Tiffany or Fabergé silver: instead, it is stainless steel. The train is made of the same practical material that underpinned the expansion of the USA, once linked by vital arteries of steel along which trains like this would trundle. Invoking old world glamor and filled with bourbon, a piece of found cultural ephemera transformed into indestructible, immaculate steel, Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train taps into many chapters of American history, from the pioneers to Prohibition to Pop.
Jim Beam – J.B. Turner Train was made in 1986 and formed part of Koons’s second one-man exhibition, Luxury and Degradation, held at the International with Monument Gallery in New York. As the show’s title implies, Koons’s train is at once a celebration and a caveat, pointing to the exploitation that lay behind the successes of the speculators of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries alike, be it through land sales, booze or advertising, while commemorating the heroic spirit of these frontiersmen and trailblazers.
This is big, luscious and intoxicating. From the lot notes:
Painted in 1952, this towering, vibrant and deeply moving painting derives from the first years of Mark Rothko’s maturity–the period when, after many years of struggle and exploration, the artist had suddenly arrived at the “new vision” and “new structural language” that was to define his painterly practice for the rest of his life. A vast, extraordinarily painterly, turbulent and even, in places, tempestuous work, determined by its fascinating, busily worked surface of multiple layers of warm, radiant color, this painting is a vivid and gripping example of the full revelatory power of Rothko’s “new vision.” First developed between 1949 and 1950, this “vision” was the realization of what fellow New York School artist, Robert Motherwell, once famously called Rothko’s “genius” in creating an entirely new “language of feeling” solely from the painting of only a few, separate, and at the time, shockingly empty, rectangular fields of color.
I’m not a Barnett Newman “zip painting” fan, for the most part, but this is a significant work from a defining period:
Black Fire I is a sublime Abstract Expressionist masterpiece that perfectly captures Barnett Newman’s radically reductive and uncompromising aesthetic. It represents a significant group of works painted in black pigment on exposed canvas that Newman created between 1958-1966, of which only three remain in private collections. The other paintings are currently housed in major international museum collections; they are: White Fire II (1960, Kunstmuseum Basel); Noon-Light (1961, Harvard Art Museums, Cambridge, MA); Shining Forth (To George) (1961, Centre Pompidou, Paris); The Station (1963, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York); and Newman’s monumental, fourteen-part series The Stations of the Cross (1958-66, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C). The Zen-like simplicity of Black Fire I embodies the spirituality, grandeur and solemnity that define all of Newman’s greatest works. The stark black palette, luminous raw canvas and austere structure emerged with The Stations of the Cross, which slowly came to fruition over nine years. Painted in 1961, Black Fire I was created during a period of refrain from this project while Newman came to terms with the sudden death of his much-loved younger brother, George. Coaxed out of depression by a close friend who encouraged him to keep working, Newman negotiated his emotions through the language of abstraction. In doing so, he chose to continue the theme of dynamic tension between light and dark that was first established in the Stations.
As noted above, this work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell.
This painting was purchased by the present owner in 1982, one year after it’s creation, and has not been publicly shown since:
Executed on canvas and on a scale akin to the wall expanses he had previously utilized on the street of downtown New York City, Untitled is a masterpiece from Basquiat’s most inspired period, created at the precise moment in Basquiat’s career when he was channeling the raw energy of his street art into the medium of fine art. Untitled captures all of the unharnessed talent and graffiti imagery that first garnered Basquiat attention during his SAMO days, in a richly wrought work worthy of the artist’s place as one of the most iconic artists of the twentieth century. Acting as an almost subconscious nod to how far he had come from his graffiti days on the gritty streets of New York City, Basquiat tagged a scrawl of gold spray paint along the side of his warrior’s face, which, along with the repetition of his crown motif, acts as symbols of sorts reflecting his feelings of personal triumph. With the victorious figure emerging from a warm and glowing background, Untitled would seem to capture the particular sentiments of Basquiat at this time of his life.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell.
This is the first of two Ryman paintings in the sale:
Both rigorous and radical, Robert Rymans entirely unique body of work is, above all, a celebration of the act of painting and of paint itself. Executed in 1980, the year of Ryman’s first internationally touring solo show, Mission exemplifies the integrity of the Tennessee-born artist’s ambition. A rare example of Ryman charging the underlying surface with an emotive color, Mission resonates with aesthetic and conceptual intensity. Interweaving, overlapping strokes of white paint play upon a deep, rusty red ground, creating a vibrant, shimmering white form in a marriage of grace and gravitas. Each slender, writhing white brushstroke is integral to the whole mass yet is not quite consumed by it; rather, the individuality of their shape, weight, direction and movement are emphasized by the smoothness and richness of the dark background as well as the strict linear confines of the square canvas upon which they dance. Created shortly after Ryman began to first integrate the system of hanging into the compositional whole, Mission embraces its spatial surroundings via its painted metal supports. Used for both formal and practical effect, they serve to highlight the works strong, almost sculptural presence.
Ryman’s work emphasizes that painting can be a performance in itself, and that its essential material components, its medium and its structural support, also deserve to take center stage.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve:
Rather than revealing by creating tonal areas that would ensure legibility, Polke uses his [raster] dots to encrypt the image. Unsparing in his parodying of Roy Lichtenstein’s more unified design of clear and crisp images, Polke’s use of Lichtenstein’s formal device is hauntingly murky. In contrast to Lichtenstein – who uses thick contour lines and high contrast in value, color and saturation to foreground shapes as in advertisements and comics – Polke compresses his image and substitutes for contour lines strongly demarcated shifts in value. Polke’s dots blur the image through his meshing of irregular dots, conjoined or absent, an artistic practice that emphasizes the artificial construction of the image. Polke’s erudite, but skeptical approach, opens art toward the mechanical processes of the every-day, but in a way that erases effect, evacuates sentimentality and tentatively acknowledges memory.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve:
A celebration of the quiet beauty of color and form, 5 (Note to My Self) is composed of a series of the artist’s enigmatic “glyphs,” meandering linear forms that he places on a monochromatic background of dark maroon-red pigment. Simple and enigmatic, these motifs are comprised of a series of dark lines that the artist allows to roam across the surface of the canvas, their final form designated by a series of angular twists and turns. Here, Marden places them in a loose grid pattern comprised of three rows of three, with each jostling for attention alongside their neighbor. Some have likened this formation to Chinese calligraphy, a graphic form which had interested Marden ever since a visit to China three years before this work was painted. These calligraphic forms are regarded by some scholars to be the high point of the artist’s oeuvre, with the present work being recognized as an exemplary example.
Christie’s has guaranteed this lot, which means they own it if it fails to make the reserve. This work is also from the collection of Frances Dittmer:
Robert Ryman’s vigorous and evocative work belongs to a series of intimately-scaled, canvases that he painted between 1958 and 1962. A crucial, fertile period, this era was marked by an exceptional freedom of handling and a certain painterly exuberance, in which Ryman developed the rigorous tenets of a mature style that would consume him for the next five decades. In this early era, Ryman produced a series of small, brilliant works of white pigment upon bare, unstretched canvas, in which the surrounding edges were left untouched and often reveal the selvedge edge of plain linen. True to this era, this particular painting displays a soft wash of white that has been thinned down so as to appear nearly translucent in some areas, rendered with a confident, expressive touch that feels at once strong and subtle. The edges of this interior cloud-like form are scumbled in a bold manner that directly contrasts the bareness of the raw canvas. Within this intimate work, Ryman’s highly restricted process is laid bare, in the application of white paint upon a square canvas, so that the artist’s poignant gesture and expressive mark-making become the subject of the painting itself.
During this formative period, Ryman sometimes innovated with color, but found himself continually “painting out” the different hues with white, and eventually decided upon white as the only effective way to allow the inherent physical qualities of the paint-texture, density, light and reflectivity-to speak for themselves.
From the catalogue:
A massive, desolate winter landscape, lacerated by diagonal paths that lead the eye to a high horizon line over which hovers a handwritten inscription written into the pale sky, Anselm Kiefer’s epic painting lays bare an undeniably compelling beauty rising amid the ravages of historical time. Both a universal and specific story, the words, “Beschwaert sind die östlischen Himmel mit Seidengewerbe” (“The eastern skies are laden with silken twine”) are Paul Celan’s, whose 1944 poem “Septemberkrone,” inspired Kiefer to create this searing evocation of historical memory. Kiefer’s imagery, like Celan’s, is both allegorical and literal, beckoning the viewer to join in a conscious act of collective memory, while also exploring individual unconscious associations. This grand-scale work is also about nature and landscape as metaphor. Drawing upon allegorical imagery, Celan’s poem literally traces the course of the woodpecker as it weaves silken threads through trees and pumpkin fields. Literal, too, are Kiefer’s materials. Thickened white, grey and flesh-colored oil paint is overlaid with broken branches on lead blackened with ash and paint. Skeins of bundled hair course through the impasto. Like Celan, Kiefer’s imagery is not only specific, but also replete with allusion. While Celan’s woodpecker is associated in mythology with the god of war, Kiefer’s barren snow-covered field is its reversal, an evocation of war’s effects. The branches are broken, shaped into mirror images of Celan’s verse. The ‘silken twine’ has lost its suppleness; scorched and stiff, it stands for “autumn’s runic weave,” a phrase from the poem that augurs autumnal death, resonating with the stream of broken branches, so many runes – mysterious written incantations – strewn over the forsaken terrain.
The author of “Septemberkrone,” Paul Celan, was the only surviving member of a Romanian Jewish family that was deported and subsequently exterminated in a Nazi concentration camp. The traumas suffered by his family – his father died of typhus and his mother was shot and Celan himself suffered in a labor camp for eighteen months (and, indeed would take his own life years later) – produced some of the most haunting Germanic poetry ever written. “It seems that war continued to live next to and in Celan to an unbearable degree” (B. A. Kaplan, Unwanted Beauty: Aesthetic Pleasure in Holocaust Representation, Urbana and Chicago, 2007, p. 19).
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art has made a savvy acquisition, Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina’s Head of Christ from about 1505. The painting had appeared at Christie’s January 29, 2014 sale of Old Masters listed as by the Italian painter Jacopo De’Barbari, with an attribution confirmed by Dr. Bernard Aikema, according to the auction catalogue. It carried an estimate of $400,000-600,000, but “bidding” stopped at $300,000 and it failed to sell.
According to the Met’s Web site:
The attribution of the Metropolitan’s picture to Yáñez was first proposed by Checa Cremades (1992), who noted that a painting in a private collection in Madrid showing Christ flanked by Saints Peter and John shows the same use of gold dots in the halo and an identical decoration of medallions with Christ’s monogram (IHS) and rinceaux; the beards in both pictures also have the same form. That work is a touchstone of Yáñez’s work at its finest. Since the inscriptions identifying the two apostles are written in Spanish, it was presumably either painted for a Spanish patron resident in Italy or, more likely, in Valencia.
Of the iconography, the Met notes:
Bust-length depictions of Christ—both in painting and sculpture—were relatively common in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy and Spain. They relate to reputedly miraculous paintings derived from the image of Christ’s face that was said to have been imprinted on a cloth when a follower, Veronica, wiped his face on the way to Calvary, or a famous image, the Mandylion of Edessa, which was brought to France following the sack of Constantinople in 1204.
And of the artist himself, the museum says:
Fernando Yáñez de la Almedina was a key figure in laying the groundwork for Renaissance painting in Spain. The first certain notice of him is in September 1506, when, together with his contemporary, Fernando Llanos (active 1506–16) he was advanced payment for work on an altarpiece (retablo) dedicated to Saints Cosmas and Damian for the cathedral of Valencia. The two artists collaborated on other projects, including the same cathedral’s main altarpiece (retablo mayor), in 1507–10. In 1515 Yáñez traveled briefly to Barcelona, returned to Valencia by 1516, and in 1518–21 was working in his native Almedina in southeastern Spain. Between 1525 and 1531 he worked in Cuenca, before returning to Almedina, where he is documented from 1532 until 1537. Yáñez clearly spent time in Italy prior to his highly successful career in Spain and he rather than Llanos is usually identified with the “Ferrando Spagnuolo” who in April and August of 1505 collected money for work with Leonardo da Vinci on a mural depicting the battle of Anghiari in the Palazzo della Signoria in Florence.
“If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” – Evening Sale May 12, 2014 at Christie’s New York of Contemporary Art
The night before its traditional sale of Post War and Contemporary Art, Christie’s is holding a separate sale of contemporary art from the past 30 years – the niche that Phillips has been mining with varying degrees of success. At 36 lots, the sale – If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday… - is half the size of the one that follows the next evening. According to a Christie’s press release: “Carefully assembled by International Specialist, Loïc Gouzer, the sale … encapsulates the gritty and underbelly-esq side of Contemporary Art. Tough, controversial, and beautiful, this sale will bring together established names along with a new generation of artists. Built around a mood and an atmosphere, Loïc Gouzer sought to convey the darker side of what art can be.” The sale’s title comes from the Richard Prince painting below, though I’m not sure, save for a couple of dystopic works, what makes this selection dark. Splitting this off from the following evening sale prevents the latter from being an exhausting marathon cum hostage crisis. However, for attendees, it means two successive trips to midtown, which is dark in its own way. In addition to the works illustrated here, artists represented include Joe Bradley, Cady Nolan, John Baldessari, Wade Guyton, Mike Kelley, and many others.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will be sold. From the catalogue:
Painted in 1990, If I Die is one of Richard Prince’s celebrated series of monochromatic joke paintings; the deadpan, visual expressions of humor that have been the mainstay of the American artist’s career. Picking out the two lines of the joke in a deep blue, anonymous sans serif font, and setting it within a vast field of flatly painted cardinal red, Prince has created a work that resounds on abstract, conceptual and prosaic levels … Following in the footsteps of Marcel Duchamp, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol and Jasper Johns, Prince’s use or appropriation of jokes present us with snippets of contemporary subcultures that hint at complex, specific social understandings. With characteristic iconoclasm, Prince has taken the esteemed legacy of some of the most serious schools of painting and subverted it, resulting in a picture that is disarmingly resonant despite the simplicity and understated elegance of its execution.
I’m still not sure where I fall on Jeff Koons, but his his examination of total equilibrium via basketballs is brilliant:
Metaphysically conceived and scientifically engineered, this work is part of an important early series created under the heading Equilibrium for Koons’ first solo gallery exhibition in 1985, examples of which now reside in the Tate Modern, London, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Astrup Fearnley Collection, Oslo and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. These pristine tanks, featuring varying combinations of one, two and three basketballs in different-sized containers, were developed in consultation with the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard P. Feynman, who guided Koons in his attempt to achieve perfect equilibrium.
It is remarkable how Prince’s Nurse Paintings shot price-wise into the stratosphere, considering when they were first shown they received mixed responses, not all selling at the asking prices of $50,000 to $60,000 – this work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell:
First debuted to the public in 2003, the Nurse series extends Richard Prince’s signature strategy of appropriation developed in the 1970s as part of the Pictures Generation, challenging notions of authorship, authenticity and the vectors that combine to create identity. In Nurse of Greenmeadow, the artist creates the work through a process of scanning and copying of an original book cover, authored by Jane Gorby. This, however, is not the cover of the book by the same title. Instead Prince complicates the visual associations by using the cover art of another contemporary title, not readily identified-here an innocent nurse is transposed into an eerily confident brutish blonde. Prince uses an inkjet printer to mechanically transpose this image, swiftly stripping the original of its background until it features just the single, isolated woman. Scaled up to heroic, life-size proportions, Prince affixes his new image to the canvas, soon after beginning his process of painterly manipulation. A consummate collector of genre fiction, Prince himself has amassed a large collection of nurse-romance novels over time. These books, published in the 1950s and 1960s as small, portable, softback novels often involved a female heroine embroiled in an impossible love dilemma. In Nurse of Greenmeadow the original cover spells out the steamy plot: “A beautiful nurse finds danger and thrilling romance in a mysterious mansion,” (J. Gorby, Nurse of Greenmeadow, 1965). The titles of Prince’s other works including Man-Crazy Nurse, Park Avenue Nurse, Nympho Nurse and Tender Nurse all suggest similar stories, and reveal additional facets to the entrenched female stereotype. They also describe the extent to which women in a caring and healing capacity have become sexualized and fetishized objects in parts of the popular imaginary.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell. From the catalogue:
“Old dirty bags, grease, bones, hair…it’s about us, it’s about me. It isn’t negative. We should look at these images and see how positive they are, how strong, how powerful. Our hair is positive, it’s powerful, look what it can do. There’s nothing negative about our images, it all depends on who is seeing it and we’ve been depending on someone else’s sight….We need to look again and decide.” – David Hammons Like a starburst erupting from the traditional position of the easel picture, Untitled, 1978, releases a fusillade of “spear heads” from its central crown, wittily, yet mordantly, surging outward into the space of the viewer with all the energy and force of a threatened adversary. That the “spears” are poised in a liminal space, yet restrained by their support, in no way diminishes the impact of their directional force. Related to a series of works from the 1970s, such as Flight Fantasy, 1978, employing wire and hair, Untitled, 1978, also incorporates vinyl shards and bamboo to address the African American body, identity, and its relation to the Western art canon. Challenging white modernist notions of the separation of art from its social and political contexts, Hammons appropriates artifacts associated both with pop culture and African traditions, manipulating – in the manner of Marcel Duchamp’s readymades and the Italian Arte Povera artists – his materials in an effort to break down the traditional opposition between art and life.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will be sold:
Straddling the line between self-depiction and self-debasement, Martin Kippenberger’s Untitled from 1988 is a paunchy and pugnacious antithesis of the revered genre of self-portraiture. Remembered for his conceptual and expressive transformation of the 1980s and 1990s art scene, Kippenberger waged a one-man attack against the art world’s status quo in an earnest effort to destabilize the post-War German paradigm. At the heart of his prodigious output lies the artist’s own ebullient and exuberant character, most powerfully and famously articulated in his self-portraits. For Kippenberger, the self-portrait was no exercise in hubris; instead it offered an inglorious pathetic tool, launching an assault on the artistic institution.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell:
A seminal sculpture from Jeff Koons’ pivotal Equilibrium series, Aqualung is an intricate bronze cast of a scuba device. Created using various molds to ensure perfect execution, the work is a tantalizingly detailed simulacrum in which every crevice, crease and curve proclaims Koons’ trademark pursuit of technical precision. Executed in 1985, the work was exhibited at the artist’s landmark solo gallery debut during the same year, alongside its Equilibrium counterparts. Transcending his earlier practice through an increased focus on immaculate artistic engineering, Koons’ Equilibriumseries has come to be recognized as a critical turning point in his stellar career. In its dramatic visualization of the thin divide between floating and drowning, soaring and plummeting, swimming and sinking, it constitutes one of the artist’s most powerful conceptual projects. Aqualung occupies a central position within this groundbreaking series, and has been widely exhibited in important retrospectives, notably at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo, Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples and Liebieghaus Skulpturensammlung, Frankfurt. Exquisitely hyperreal yet disarmingly alien, it is a compelling symbol of life, discovery and exploration.
From the catalogue:
Standing at two and a half meters tall, with its steel body arched towards the sky, Thomas Schütte’s Untitled (Großer Geist No. 6) is a monumental vision of the human form. Strange and alluring in its startling physiognomy, Schütte’s outsized sculptural being is frozen in a powerful yet unknowable stance: poised on the brink of collapse, petrified in fearful surrender or perhaps captured in a moment of ecstatic praise. The work belongs to the renowned series ofGroße Geister (Big Spirits) that occupied Schütte’s output between 1995 and 2004. The sixth of seventeen different characters, each with its own definitive posture, the present sculpture has an aluminium twin held in the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, along with two other works from the series.
This work carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell:
“Roadhouse is one of a series of canvases in which a bleak mental landscape-abandoned buildings, telegraph wires, lowering skies- is sandwiched between abstract panels which function as surrogate sky and ground. The arrangement was inspired by the words of a 19th Century settler in Canada’s western prairies, quoted in a book on ice-hockey: Man is a grasshopper here, a mere insect making way between the enormous discs of Heaven and Earth.” – Gareth Jones
Giacometti, Monet, Picasso and Matisse lead Sotheby’s May 2014 Impressionist and Modern New York sale
The Evening Sale of Impressionist and Modern art at Sotheby’s on May 7, 2014 is top heavy with works by Picasso, thirteen all total including four of the top ten lots by estimate. The lead work, however, is a 1924 Nice-period Matisse showing the artist’s studio assistant Henriette Darricarrère painting. A companion work is in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The painting has a third party guarantee, so it will sell – the estimate is $20-30 million. The Matisse and the Picasso beach scene (lot 24, below) are the subject of a video.
According to the catalogue:
Matisse completed the canvas at his studio at Place Charles-Félix in Nice, where Henriette posed for him under a variety of pretexts, including playing the piano or violin, reading, playing checkers and painting at an easel. In most of these compositions Matisse positions his model against the large French window, either partially-shuttered, curtained or completely unobstructed, in order to explore the properties of light and its interplay with the objects and occupants of the studio. Light in this picture has a clear physical presence and affects everything that crosses its path. In her essay on Matisse’s use of windows, Shirley Neilsen Blum has noted that “although he sought to represent an overall illumination in his work, it was not that of the momentary effects of sunlight so loved by the Impressionists. Whether as an undefined slice of colour or as an iridescence seeming to radiate from the canvas itself, Matisse represented light through the intensity of his palette and through splinters of exposed white canvas. The reoccuring primed surface enhanced both the sense of illumination arising from within the painting and the two dimensionality of the subject” (S. Neilsen Blum, Henri Matisse, Rooms with a View, London, 2010, p. 14).
First up among the Picassos is a thickly painted portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his mistress in the early 1930s, coiling with energy. According to the catalogue notes:
Picasso began work on the picture on June 4, 1932 and completed it in March 1934, revisiting and retooling to its richly-painted surface over the course of two years. Thickly impastoed, it is also one of the most daring renderings of his lover, depicted with a swirling assembly of vibrantly colored panes reminiscent of stained glass. It bears mentioning that he completed these works at the height of the Surrealist movement, when his palette was at its most vibrant and when Freudian psycho-sexual symbolism played a defining role in the imagery of the avant-garde. But the present composition, with the deconstructed bust positioned confrontationally at the forefront of the picture plane, is a decidedly forthright example of the artist’s individualism, even incorporating elements of his groundbreaking Cubist compositions of the 1910s. Indeed, more than any other model, Marie-Thérèse inspired Picasso’s creative genius, and her very image conjured a creative synthesis of the most radical aspects of Picasso’s production.
As with the Matisse, this work carries a third party guarantee so it will sell. From the catalogue:
The dramatic seaside rescue of Marie-Thérèse is the subject of Le Sauvetage, Picasso’s vibrant canvas from November 1932. The scene depicts the acrobatics of beach activity while the languid body of a bather is hoisted from the water. All of the figures bear the unmistakable phenotype of Picasso’s lover Marie-Thérèse as she had come to be defined in his other legendary compositions from earlier in the year. But for this work, created at the height of the artist’s obsession with the young woman, Marie-Thérèse is omnipresent - occupying land, sea and air and playing both victim and savior in Picasso’s narrative.
This work is also the subject of a video. According to the catalogue:
La Place [is] Giacometti’s first multi-figural sculpture … In the years after the war Giacometti became fascinated by spatial relationships and the concept of movement within a single work. He began to create sculptures that employed multiple figures on a common base, all existing as independent entities during a moment in time. Without question, La Place is the most provocative of Giacometti’s sculptural interpretations of this concept and was the font of inspiration that he would draw upon for the rest of his life.
La Place was conceived in an urban context. The platform on which the figures are positioned relates to a city square, and the juxtaposition of figures suggests the way in which isolated city dwellers pass without stopping or interacting. The male figures appear to stride forward, while the female figure stands still. “A bit like ants, each one seems to move of its own accord, alone, in a direction ignored by the rest” is how Giacometti described the urban phenomenon portrayed in his sculpture.
Walking men and motionless women became the main characters in his drama of humanity, and his identity as an artist became inextricably linked with these images. The scale of his figures in La Place, unlike those in his sculptures from the 1950s or 1960s, is said to be a result of his experience transporting his belongings in a matchbox following the war and his fascination with perspective as shaped by cinematic experiences.
The last of the top five lots by estimate is a very late Monet, The Japanese Bridge, which depicts a scene from his lily pond at Giverny. According to the lot notes:
Monet constructed his Japanese bridge in the summer of 1893 on a newly-acquired plot of land where he was creating a pond irrigated by the Epte river. Daniel Wildenstein noted that just a few days before purchasing the land, Monet had viewed a collection of prints by Utamaro and Hiroshige at Durand-Ruel’s gallery and this Asian aesthetic was clearly on his mind. He first painted the bridge in 1895, but it was not until 1899 that he turned to the pond and bridge in a series of eighteen views, twelve examples of which were exhibited at Durand-Ruel in 1900. Nearly two decades later, Monet returned to this subject again. Between 1918 and 1924 he completed twenty-five views of the bridge, now radically abstracted amidst layers of paint.
The Sotheby’s sale, like the Christie’s sale, includes a Giacometti Femmes de Venise sculpture, though this one is V in the series, and slightly shorter than the Christie’s work, which is IV in the series, and at $6-8 million, a good deal less expensive than the Christie’s version, estimated at $10-18 million.
The art auction world kicks into high gear with the sales in New York of Impressionist and Modern works the week of May 6 followed by Post War and Contemporary works the week of the May 13. For their May 6 sale, Christie’s has scored works from the estate of Huguette Clark (the reclusive heiress who dies in May 2011 at the age of 104 with an estate worth hundreds of millions and no direct heirs). Among them are a Monet (lot 8) and a Renoir (lot 10), below. These works have not been on the market for more than a half century and should do well. There are also works from the collections of Viktor and Marianne Langen, including a Braque (lot 14), a boldly colored 1909 Kandinsky (lot 17), and a 1942 Picasso portrait of Dora Maar (lot 29 ), below; and the estate of Edgar Bronfman, including a large, late 1965 Picasso (lot 21), below. Here are 10 works from the sale.
The Modigliani (above) is listed as coming from a private American collection:
Immensely authoritative in its hieratic elegance and strict economy of palette, this sophisticated painting of a russet-haired young man–dated to 1919, just months before Modigliani fell victim to the ravages of tuberculosis and alcoholism–displays the consummate realization of the signature portrait style that the painter had developed during the previous three years, which represents his most powerful legacy to the history of art … The sitter is slender young man, past adolescence but still on the brink of adulthood, his clothing understated but elegant, his hair carefully parted and coiffed, his gaze inscrutable, his posture upright and confident. His head and hands, painted in warm orange tones, stand out in vivid contrast against the muted gray-green that otherwise dominates the painting, his handsome visage emerging from the cool stillness of the background like the sun burning through a lifting morning fog. “To do any work, I must have a living person. I must be able to see him opposite me,” Modigliani proclaimed (quoted in Modigliani and His Models, exh. cat., Royal Academy of Arts, London, 2006, p. 31).
The Monet, as reportedly earlier this year, was sold to the Clarks in 1930 and hasn’t been seen publicly since:
Monet and his family moved to Giverny in April 1883. Situated at the confluence of the Seine and the Epte about forty miles northwest of Paris, Giverny was at that time a quiet, picturesque farming community of just 279 residents. Upon his arrival there, Monet rented a large, pink stucco house on two acres of land. When the property came up for sale in 1890, Monet purchased it at the asking price of 22,000 francs, “certain of never finding a better situation or more beautiful countryside,” as he wrote to Durand-Ruel (quoted in P. Tucker, Monet: Life and Art, New Haven, 1995, p. 175).
Monet was sixty-six years old when he painted this Nymphéas in 1907. He was arguably France’s most acclaimed artist. Together with Renoir and Degas, he was the last surviving member of the legendary Impressionist group, whose work–once disparaged and denounced for the challenge it posed to Salon norms–the French public had by then come to understand and venerate; the following generation of painters acknowledged their status as founding fathers of the modern movement. All of the Impressionists were represented by this time in the Musée du Luxembourg, France’s national museum for living artists; Renoir had been awarded the Légion d’Honneur, the highest honor in the nation, and Monet is said to have been offered the accolade but to have refused it.
From the catalogue:
“A sort of break came in my work about 1883,” Renoir told Ambroise Vollard late in his life. “I had wrung Impressionism dry, and I finally came to the conclusion that I knew neither how to paint nor draw” (quoted in J. House, Renoir in the Barnes Foundation, New Haven, 2012, p. 113). This realization sparked a three-year period of intense questioning and experimentation, during which Renoir wholly re-ordered his goals as a painter. Dissatisfied with the seeming spontaneity and imprecision of Impressionism, with its loose brushwork and patchy light, he reintroduced traditional notions of draftsmanship into his art, adopting the crisp edges, uniform illumination, and dry, controlled brushstroke of Ingres. Seeking to give the human form a more monumental presence, he focused increasingly on contour, which he used to silhouette his figures sharply against the background. John House has written, “In technique, composition, and subject matter Renoir was deliberately moving away from any suggestion of the fleeting or the contingent, away from the Impressionist preoccupation with the captured instant, towards a more timeless vision of woman” (Renoir, exh. cat., Hayward Gallery, London, 1985, p. 242).
From the catalogue:
n Le Modèle and other works of this period, Braque displayed an evolving preference for orchestrating a virtual pictorial symphony, a canvas that is a world in itself, brimming with multiple themes, in which figure and still-life elements dovetail and intertwine within their setting like the polyphonic lines in the music of the high Baroque.
Pursuing his dedication to the formal and contextual aspects of the still-life genre, Braque tapped into a tradition that was profoundly French. He was certainly the most devoted and conscientious of heirs among the great modern painters to the legacy of Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin, the father of the French nature morte, who was also a contemporary of the musicians whom Braque most admired. While painting Le Modèle, Braque was surely acknowledging the gentle and humble human presence in Chardin’s figure paintings.
Christie’s has recorded an informative if slightly fulsome video about the Kandinsky. Excerpts from the catalogue:
By the late summer and fall of 1909, around the time Kandinsky painted Strandszene, the initial shock wave of Fauvism had passed through the art world, its reverberations having fanned the fires of expressionism in Germany and continuing to embolden new youthful movements in Russia.
The transformation in Kandinsky’s own art during the years 1908-1910 was radical and unprecedented, and had come largely from within, stemming from the imperatives of his own “internal necessity.” There were no guideposts to mark the path as Kandinsky edged his way toward abstraction. By 1909 he could sense where his destination might lie, but it was not until two years later, when the text of On the Spiritual in Art was given its final revisions and first published in December 1911 (dated January 1912 on the title page), that he could look back on his recent work and assess the means that had taken him this far. “Today I can see many things more freely, with a broader horizon,” he wrote in the foreword to the second edition, published in April 1912.
From the lot notes:
13 May 1965, the day Picasso painted Mangeuse de pastèque et homme écrivant, was only a few weeks shy of the mid-point of an already bountifully productive decade. Two years previously he had commenced his series of atelier paintings, which usually featured the artist and his model, both together, or less frequently she nude and alone, and occasionally only the artist by himself. On the face of it, one might suspect that this working arrangement, as intensely intimate as it would seem, may not promise much in the way of variety. But in fact the artist and model series within a few years spawned numerous corollary groups, most frequently in the manner of los mosqueteros, a term which, as John Richardson has pointed out, includes not only Picasso’s celebrated Alexandre Dumas-style cavaliermousquetaires, but also a wider assortment of their camp followers–servants, musicians, girlfriends, prostitutes, procurers and other hangers-on.
From the catalogue:
Elegantly adorned in a silk dress of regal purple and a tricorne hat to match, embellished with a fan-tailed feather, the woman portrayed here is Dora Maar, Picasso’s mistress and the muse who most significantly inspired his art during the years 1936 through 1944. Picasso painted this imposing portrait of Dora on 5 August 1942. Among his wartime pictures, “Those of Picasso’s works done between 1939 and 1942 are probably the most powerful,” Brigitte Baer has declared, “obviously with some failures, but the most beautiful” (Picasso and The War Years, exh. cat., Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 1998, p. 85). Their remarkable qualities originate, of course, in the very hand of the artist, but also in large part from the presence of Dora herself as his subject.
From the lots notes:
The Femmes de Venise … constitute a central peak in Giacometti’s career as a sculptor. They stem from the unprecedented attenuated and visionary works of 1947-1948, on the basis of which Giacometti initially achieved international renown in his first post-war solo exhibition at the Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York, in 1948, includingGrande figure (fig. 1) and the first version of L’homme qui marche. At the same time, the Venetian women anticipate the monumental final project of Giacometti’s lifetime, the figures he conceived for Chase Manhattan Plaza in New York during 1959-1960, including L’homme qui marche I and II and Grandes femmes debout I-IV (fig. 2). These were the largest figures he would ever model, which he intended to cast in an even more greatly enlarged scale for the Plaza site, at huge heights of around 25 feet or more. The Chase Manhattan project remained sadly unrealized at Giacometti’s death; it is impossible to walk through this downtown space today, tall modern buildings on every side, without imagining the impact such awesomely towering giants, maintaining their silent vigil, might have had on passersby.
Chrysler Museum receives bequest of European Old Master paintings, sculpture, tapestries, and decorative arts
The Chrysler Museum of Art in Norfolk, VA, last covered by this blog in a December 2013 posting, has received the Irene Leache Memorial Foundation’s entire collection of European Old Master paintings, sculpture, tapestries, and decorative arts, according to a museum press release:
On long-term loan to the Museum since within a year of its 1933 opening, the Irene Leache Memorial collection comprises 27 works of art dating from the 14th through 19th centuries. Many of the works were among the earliest art on gallery view in the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences, the genesis of the Chrysler Museum.
Accompanying the gifts of art is another substantial bequest—an endowed curatorship. The Foundation has created the Irene Leache Curator of European Art, a position currently held by Jeff Harrison, who is also the Museum’s chief curator. The named curatorship is designed both to memorialize and perpetuate the symbiotic 80-year history between the Irene Leache Memorial and the Museum, giving both a more active and ongoing influence in the future of the arts in Hampton Roads.
The Memorial also will transfer a trove of books and historical materials to the Jean Outland Chrysler Library for cataloging, conservation, and community access. The archival documents, photographs, and memorabilia provide solid research background into the early collections and history of the Museum.
Here are a couple of other works in the bequest.
Museum object label:
Francesco Botticini Italian, Florence (1446-1497) Adoration of the Magi in a Landscape, 15th century Tempera on panel, 31 1/2 x 31 1/2 in. Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, VA Gift of the Irene Leache Memorial Foundation 2014.3.2 Botticini’s sweeping, “world-view” landscape is enlivened by a host of holy figures. The Adoration of the Magi unfolds in the foreground, as the three kings pay homage to the infant Christ and proclaim his dominion over all earthly rulers. Behind them the angel Gabriel announces Christ’s birth to shepherds in the field. Encircling these biblical narratives, from left to right, we see Saint Jerome in the wilderness, Saint Christopher carrying the infant Christ, Saint Francis receiving the stigmata, and the journey of Tobias and the angel. Three more saints-Catherine, Roch, and Sebastian-kneel before the holy family at the lower left. And at the bottom, a somber meditative image of Christ as Man of Sorrows alludes to his future sacrifice for mankind. Scholars have puzzled over the meaning of this “holy landscape” with its disparate array of figures. Yet all have acknowledged the charm of the painting itself. With its jewel-like colors and minutely crafted detail, the painting fully reveals Botticini’s deft and delicate Late Gothic style.
Museum object label:
The intimate scale of this triptych-a three-part altarpiece topped with pointed Gothic arches-suggests that it was not a public, church commission, but a work meant for private worship. So, too, do the saints appearing on its shutters. Three of them-Eligius, Bartholomew, and Nicholas-served as patron saints of medieval craft guilds, those of blacksmiths, butchers, and sailors, respectively. The altarpiece may well have been ordered by a wealthy Italian merchant for an altar in his home. The figures’ placement and varying sizes are dictated by their hierarchical importance, an artistic device used throughout the Middle Ages. The Virgin and Child assume center stage, where they tower over the saints who attend them. At left are Saint Eligius, who holds as his attributes the tools of the blacksmith’s forge, and Saint Bartholomew, who displays the knife with which he was martyred. At right are Saint Anthony Abbot, with his book and staff, and Saint Nicholas of Bari, who holds the three golden balls he gave to enrich the dowries of an impoverished nobleman’s daughters. Crowning the shutters is a two-part Annunciation to the Virgin. The painter here is believed to be Naddo Ceccarelli, who was active in Siena, a city steeped in the decorative traditions of medieval art. The artist’s roots are clearly traced in the painting’s luminous colors, richly patterned garments, and delicate floral banding of the gold-leaf background.
Christie’s has just announced that on May 13, 2014, as part of the evening sale of Post War and Contemporary Art, they will be auctioning a large Jean-Michel Basquiat painting that has been in the same collection since 1982 – it carries a pre-sale estimate of $20-30 million. According to a press release, it comes from the Reiner Family Collection.
The release notes:
The year 1981 marked Jean-Michel Basquiat’s transcendence from the leading figure on the underground art scene, SAMO, to the established world of international art stardom. Untitled, 1981 is an emblem to this success, created at this precise moment in Basquiat’s career when he was channeling the raw energy of his street art into the medium of fine art. Executed on canvas and on a scale akin to the wall expanses he had previously utilized on the street of downtown New York City, Basquiat’s menacing warrior basks in a vibrant orange and crimson backdrop built up from broad swathes of acrylic paint. Laid down on peach ground, the anatomical makeup of Basquiat’s warrior emerges from scrawls of black, white and brown oilstick. Illuminating the figure from within, this haloed aura along with punctuations of yellow and black paint as well as metallic spra-paint come together to form a mandorla of sorts, a typical motif found in the rendering of Christ in Majesty. Fierce and intimidating, Basquiat’s regal warrior with glowing red eyes and bared teeth embodies the artist’s own feelings of triumph after his sudden rise to international art world fame. Just as Basquiat, the “king of the streets” had conquered the art world, his warrior too has been crowned king victorious. Replete with the graffiti-inspired text and imagery that first garnered Basquiat attention during his SAMO days, Untitled reinforces Basquiat’s street heritage and revels in it with the framing of this work with crowns, a motif that, along with the copyright sign and comic book seal, signifies Basquiat’s own personal emblem and seal of approval. Untitled has been held in the same collection since it was first seen in the artist’s studio in the basement of Annina Nosei’s gallery in 1982.
According to the Prague Post, Businessman Richard Fuxa has bought a very valuable collection of 116 posters by Czech Art Nouveau artist Alfons Mucha (1860–1939) from legendary tennis player Ivan Lendl … Fuxa refused to release the price of the posters, but the daily Mladá fronta Dnes (MfD) writes today that Lendl sold his collection of Mucha’s posters for 3.5 million dollars.”
The collection was shown in Prague last year and attracted more than 185,000 people, “the second-highest attendance at Prague exhibitions and one of the highest in Czech history.”
The article continued:
“Fuxa, whose BigMedia firm organized the exhibition in Prague, bought the collection.”
“This was part of my contract with Ivan Lendl,” Fuxa told Czech Radio and said he would like to display Mucha’s posters again.
“We are considering further projects with this collection,” he said.
Fuxa is negotiating about the conditions of such a display, for instance, in China, Japan and the United States, and he also plans to open his own gallery for the collection in Prague.
MfD writes that art exhibitions in the Czech Republic usually make a loss; however, Fuxa and his fund are trying to bring art closer to ordinary people and he has scored a success.
BigMedia will open an exhibition of Czech poet and graphic artist Bohuslav Reynek (1892–1971) in Prague this week. Fuxa told MfD a spacecraft would land during the exhibition.
Fuxa has also bought some 80 graphic sheets by Reynek, he told the radio.
Rouen’s Musée des Beaux-Arts today purchased Adrien Sacquespee’s Mannerist Christ on the Cross at Christie’s sale of Old Master paintings in Paris, according to the Art Tribune. It’s a striking and dramatic work, believed to be one of the artist’s earliest 20 or so known works (some signed). In the 1640′s he was a pupil of François Garnier, but he returned to Normandy and made his career in Rouen. Most of his work is found in Norman churches and the museum.
This work joins six others in the Musée des Beaux-Arts, including the Martyrdom of St. Adrian (below), The Apparition of Christ to St. Peter (1667), Christ mourned by the Virgin and St. John (formerly known Descent from the Cross - c.1670-80), Chartreux buried under the snow (c.1670-75), Saint Bruno in prayer (1671), and Eternal Father (before 1692).
Although he’s considered “provincial” he does have a flair for the dramatic – just look at Saint Mathurin exorcising the Empress Theodora, Abbey Saint-Ouen in Rouen (below) – who doesn’t like a good exorcism?
Lady in a Fur Wrap, a painting long believed to be an early portrait by El Greco – the Spanish-based Greek artist Domenikos Theotokopoulos – painted in Toledo, Spain, has been declared a fake by Antonio Garcia in a 60-page report, according to Scotland’s Daily Record and other media outlets. Garcia was culture editor for Spain’s El Mundo newspaper for 20 years and spent two years investigating the painting.
The work is “part of the Glasgow Museums collection and is usually displayed at the city’s Pollok House,” but is currently “on loan to the Museo de Santa Cruz in the Spanish city of Toledo for an exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of the artist’s death.”
Garcia is very pointed in his criticism and “has accused Glasgow council chiefs of blocking scientific tests, which were requested a decade ago, to find out the truth.” According to the article, Garcia said: “Anyone – no matter how few of El Greco’s works they may have seen and without being in any way an art expert – can see that the colours used and the perfect facial features in the portrait of this enigmatic lady have nothing to do with the style of El Greco.”
By way of background:
The painting was bought by Sir William Stirling Maxwell for £1857 in 1853 and gifted to the city in 1966.
The painting was discovered in Paris 300 years after the death of El Greco …
Garcia said: “It was the first time this work had ever been seen.
“It had never been exhibited anywhere and had never been listed as part of any collection. It was a mysterious appearance that captured the people of Paris.
“At that time, there were probably five or six artists in Spain who could have painted it but none of them were famous.
“I am not in a position to say that whoever painted this work was involved in any deceit. He may well have acted in good faith.”
In a rebuttal:
A spokesman for Glasgow City Council culture body Glasgow Life said: “Within the art world, there are many debates between scholars and academics over the provenance of works and we welcome this contribution as part of that debate.”
Professor Fernando Marias, curator of the current exhibition in Toldeo said, “This could be a restoration and to a certain extent was possibly changed. More a restorer than a faker, but that’s speculation.” He added, “What I can say is that we are having this painting at the Toledo exhibition and we are accepting it as an El Greco.”
Garcia says event though the portrait is not by El Greco, it’s an excellent painting: “Whoever painted it, the Lady in a Fur Wrap is a great work of art and that’s the first thing that should matter, not who signed the picture or its economic value.”
UPDATED with sale results.
Bonham’s April 3, 2014 Antiquities sale in London has more than a handful of works that lack a pre-1970 provenance (I know … it’s this issue again). Among them, according to ARCA, are some found in the archives of looted works of “two art dealers, Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, [that were] confiscated by Italian and Greek police who have used them to identify objects looted and smuggled from at least 1972 until 2006.”
The “pre-1970″ refers to the date of an international UNESCO convention aimed at halting the looting of antiquities. As the New York Times reported: ‘In 2004 the Association of Art Museum Directors declared “member museums should not acquire” any undocumented works “that were removed after November 1970, regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation.”’ Numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries.” It’s a standard I believe should apply to private collectors as well as museums and other institutions.
UPDATE: ARCA reports one of the items they previously highlighted, lot 22 (below), has been withdrawn from the sale. According to ARCA, Dr. Christos Tsirogiannis had matched this object to those in the archives of looted work sold by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina.
The ARCA report continued:
Peter Watson, co-author with Cecilia Todeschini of The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities From Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums (Public Affairs, 2007), wrote in The Times (“Auction houses ‘handling stolen goods’“, April 2):Christos Tsirogiannis, of the Division of Archaeology at Cambridge University, and formerly a member of the Greek Task Force that oversaw the return of smuggled objects, said that the auction houses should have realised that they were handling illegal objects. “They themselves do not release all the information they have about how these objects reach the market,” he said. “These objects have no real provenance.”The objects are believed to be part of hauls gathered during the 1980s and 1990s by Giacomo Medici and Gianfranco Becchina, two notorious Italian dealers. Both men have been convicted of trafficking in illicit antiquities. Medici’s archive was seized in 1995 in Geneva, and Becchina’s was seized in Basle in 2002. Between them, the men supplied thousands of illegally excavated and smuggled antiquities, many of which were dug up by mechanical digger, and sold at Sotheby’s throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Some of them were priceless and many still had soil on them. They passed in their thousands through London salesrooms until the traffic was exposed, partly by The Times in 1997. Sotheby’s was forced to discontinue its sales in London.[...]Mr Tsirogiannis, who has just been awarded his PhD for a thesis on the illicit international antiquities trade, has access to two Polaroid archives of the hauls that were seized by the Italian carabinieri in Switzerland. He noticed that the two objects coming up for sale at Bonhams and Christie’s were identical to two shown in the photographs of the seized archives, in one case dirty and broken before restoration.
UPDATE: A reader has indicated that another lot has come under question, a Neo-Assyrian Black Basalt Stele.
UPDATE: The Art Newspaper reports the Neo-Assyrian Black Basalt Stele that the organization Heritage for Peace concluded is looted has been withdrawn from Bonham’s sale. According to the article: “A spokesman told us that the withdrawal was “for further study”, but he remained “hopeful that the stele will be offered at one of our future sales”. With an estimate of £600,000 to £800,000, the stele would have been by far the most valuable object in the 3 April auction.” In an earlier report, the paper said the British Museum, which owns the top half of the stele, had not plans to bid on the bottom portion. That article also noted: “The Switzerland-based owner of the stele tried to sell it at Christie’s New York in 2000, with an estimate of $600,000 to $800,000, but it failed to sell. It was only after this that Karen Radner, an Assyriologist at University College London, linked the piece with the fragment in the British Museum and identified the praying figure as Adad-nerari III. A curse written in cuneiform on the object condemns anyone who removes the stele from its original site.”
Potentially looted relief up for sale at Bonhams
• According to a recent article in Al-Akhbar (17 March 2014), a new lot at Bonhams Auction House, due to be sold on the 3rd April in London, may have been looted. The article publishes a video entitled “Stop the Theft and Sale of Antiquities in Syria”, by the Saadeh Cultural Foundation. The video is addressed to UNESCO, the Syrian Government and Bonhams. The video claims that Auction Lot 99, which is apparently from Tell Shiekh Hamad, in Haseke province, is looted, despite Bonhams claim is was excavated in the 1970s. The upper section of the stele was discovered in 1879 by Hormuzd Rassam, and is now in the British Museum. Rassam’s notes comment he was unable to fund [sic] the lower half. There is also no evidence that Layard, who also excavated the site, found it. The site was excavated by Kuhne in 1975, but his excavation records also do not mention it. Therefore, the foundation argues, it must be looted. [emphasis added].
Looting has certainly been reported at the site since at least September 2012.
To read the full article (in arabic) and see the video (arabic with English subtitles) in Al-Akhbar, click here.
Here are several more works with problematic/hazy/incomplete provenance (I’m always amazed/amused by the number of works that come out of private Swiss collections):
One of the star paintings at Christie’s Old Master sales in New York this past January was this Artemisia Gentileschi self-portrait done when the artist was about 25. It carried an aggressive $3-5 million estimate and went unsold. Now, the New York Times reports, the painting, “from estate of Myron Kunin, a Minneapolis philanthropist, collector and founder of the hair salon chain Regis Corp., who died in November at the age of 85″ has been acquired by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, CT, joining a work by her father, Orazio, Judith and Her Maidservant with the Head of Holofernes (below).
The Wadsworth had not bid on the painting because the estimate was too high, according to the article:
“We didn’t bid on it at auction because it was well beyond our means,” said Susan L. Talbott, director of the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford. But as frequently happens, when a painting doesn’t sell at auction, experts try to sell it privately at a lower price. Knowing the Wadsworth has one of the top collections of Baroque art in the country, Nicholas Hall, co-chairman of old master and 19th-century art at Christie’s, called that museum to see if it would be interested in buying the painting.
“We were bowled over by it,” Ms. Talbott said. “We have a great masterpiece by Artemisia’s father, Orazio Gentileschi, but none by her, so this was a real gap. And that it was a self-portrait also added to the importance of the story.”
While Ms. Talbott declined to say what the museum paid for the painting, she did hint that it was purchased for well under the estimate, bought with funds from a recent bequest from the Charles H. Schwartz Fund for European art.
“Self-Portrait as a Lute Player” will go on view as part of the reopening of the Wadsworth’s Morgan Memorial Building in 2015.
For some background on the painting, the Christie’s sale catalogue include the following:
Lost to notice until its discovery in a private European collection in 1998, this beautiful Self-Portrait as a Lute Player is by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the leading painters of the Baroque age and among the boldest and most powerfully expressive woman painters in history. Born in Rome, Artemisia studied with her father, the prominent artist Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), who introduced her to the dramatic realism of Caravaggio and the practice of painting from live models. In 1611, when she was 17, she was sexually assaulted by her father’s business associate and fellow artist Agostino Tassi, a crime against the family’s honor. When Tassi reneged on his promise to marry Artemisia, Orazio brought charges against him, and at the end of a protracted trial, Tassi was convicted and sentenced to a 5-year banishment from Rome. To minimize the scandal which the trial had engendered, Orazio arranged for Artemisia to marry the minor Florentine painter, Pierantonio Stiattesi, and at the end of 1612, the couple moved to Florence, where they would live until 1620.
The fate of hundreds of artifacts on loan from four Crimean museums currently on view at the Allard Pearson Museum in Amsterdam is up in the air following Russia’s recent annexation of the former Ukranian peninsula, according to Agence France-Presse. The works were created between the 2nd century BC and the late medieval era. “In the [loan] agreement it states that these items are part of the national state fund of Ukraine,” said Andrei Malgin, director of the Tavrida museum in Simferopol.
The article notes:
The [Tavrida] museum is one of five from Ukraine taking part in the exhibit, four of which are situated in the now-Russian peninsula of Crimea.
The absorption — which is not recognised by Western states — has left the museum with a “very complex legal issue,” said Yasha Lange, spokeswoman for Amsterdam University which owns the museum.
“Who owns the objects?” Lange asked. “The art objects will remain in the Netherlands until the exhibition ends, but given the political changes, we’re now checking to whom we should give them.”
The Allard Pierson has now turned to the Dutch foreign ministry for advice, Lange said, adding the museum was in “constant contact” with Kiev and Moscow on the issue.
He highlighted that the museum “considers it extremely important to exercise care in this situation”.
The exhibits include a scabbard and a ceremonial Scythian helmet made from gold, as well as a lacquered box, originally from China, which in Roman times found its way to Crimea via the Silk Road.
According to the museum’s Web site: “Never before has Ukraine made so many prize archaeological exhibits available on loan: stunning artefacts made of gold, including a scabbard and a ceremonial helmet, and countless precious gems. These objects and other archaeological discoveries reveal the rich history of the peninsula colonised by the Greeks since the seventh century BC.”
The AFP article continues:
The ambiguity over the artefacts’ future worries Crimea’s museums, Malgin told AFP.
“I don’t see why political events should threaten these items,” he said in his office in central Simferopol.
“Probably there are people in Kiev who would be interested in these items not making it back to the Crimea,” but the museums will put maximum effort into getting them back, he said, adding that the Russian culture ministry had already been informed about the potential conflict.
Malgin said the Scythian brass and ceramic items on loan were the symbol of his museum.
“They are beautiful items that would be a great loss.”
Crimea was at the crossroads of ancient trade routes and the shores of the Black Sea peninsula have long been excavated by archeologists, yielding fantastic treasures.
“Never before has Ukraine made so many prize archaeological exhibits available on loan,” a press release for the exhibit said.
“The exhibition casts new light on the Scythians, Goths and Huns, for centuries dismissed as little more than ‘barbarians’.”
The exhibition ends in August.
A UK panel has concluded a John Constable painting in the collection of the Tate Museum in London was stolen by the Nazis in 1944 and should be returned to the heirs of the owner from whom it was taken. In a new report, the Spoliation Advisory Panel determined that the claim by heirs of the Hatvany family “was sufficiently strong to warrant a return of the painting by the Tate in accordance with the provisions of the Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009.
“The Panel concluded that it is likely that the Painting was in the ownership of a Hungarian art collector in 1944 at the time when the Germans invaded Hungary and that it was taken in the course of antisemitic persecution of the collector and his family by the German occupying forces.”
According to the Tate’s Web site, the painting, which is not currently on view, was given to the museum by Mrs. P.M. Rainsford in 1986.
The task of the Panel is to consider claims from anyone, or from their heirs, who lost possession of a cultural object during the Nazi era (1933-1945) where such an object is now in the possession of a UK national collection, or in the possession of another UK museum or gallery established for the public benefit; and to advise the claimant, the institution, and, where it considers it appropriate, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on what action should be taken in relation to the claim (see the Panel’s Constitution and Terms of Reference in the Appendix). If the Panel recommends the transfer of an object from a collection belonging to one of the bodies named in Section 1 of The Holocaust (Return of Cultural Objects) Act 2009 to the claimant and the Secretary of State approves the Panel’s recommendation, the Museum is empowered to return the objects in question to the claimant. Section 1 of the Act applies to the Board of Trustees of the Tate.
UPDATED with sale results.
A newly rediscovered Census at Bethlehem by Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Joos de Momper II is the prize lot of Piasa’s upcoming sale of Old Master Drawings and Paintings in Paris on March 31, 2014. As with so many of Pieter the Younger’s work, this picture is based on the 1566 original by his father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, which is in the Musées Royaux Des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, Belgium. The scene is taken from the Bible:
And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered … So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city. Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. — Luke 2:1-5
Slightly more than a dozen versions of this painting exist – another was discovered in Africa last year and had been part of the same private English collection since the descendants bought it from Brueghel’s studio in 1611. That picture, which compositionally is much more faithful to Elder’s original, was discovered by the London-based Old Master painting dealer Johnny van Haeften and was featured at Frieze Masters in October 2013 with an asking price of £6 million, according to the Financial Times (illustrated below). The work did sell. The work at Piasa is estimated at €500,000-600,000.
The Piasa version is more closely focused on the gathering in front of the inn and the Holy Family. The ancillary figures along the right hand side and all the immediately adjacent additional buildings and nearly all of the additional figures are absent. There is only a cityscape in the background. According to the catalogue entry, Brueghel scholar Dr. Klaus Ertz has confirmed the attribution and in a certificate of authenticity dated December 4, 2013 says that Brueghel is responsible for the “animated scene” in the foreground, while Joos de Momper II is responsible for the background. Moreover, he dates the work to 1610-1620, which makes it a later version.
But is this painting really a religious work? Other artists portraying the dangerous trip by Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem for the census show the nativity itself, focusing on the adoration of the Christ child or the wondrous visit of the Magi. One could almost overlook that aspect of the painting. Indeed, it is not of the Holy Land, but of a village in Flanders, filled with the life and scenes that Brueghel knew so well. Children play on a frozen stream. A butcher prepared to slaughter a hog, furnishing the meat that the census-taker will offer to those who subscribe. And in the single scene that most commands the viewer’s attention, a crowd gathers at the census-taker’s house, pressing to declare themselves, to pay their taxes, to claim their share of the feast which is offered to those who have traveled far to fulfill a social duty. That house bears an official seal near its door: the double-headed eagle in black on an golden field, the insignia of the Hapsburg Empire. In Brueghel’s day Flemish attitudes towards the Hapsburgs were frankly hostile—they were associated with relentless war-making and heavy taxation. So is Brueghel’s message political, and not religious? Or could it not be both at the same time?
Horton’s article continues:
But there in the center of the painting is Mary, and a short distance ahead of her, Joseph. The villagers are, all of them, busy about their affairs. None seems to stop to notice the arrival of the Holy Family; their focus is elsewhere. Auden writes “passionately waiting/For the miraculous birth,” but I think he misdescribes the painting on this point. Brueghel is driven by irony. In fact they are consumed by their quotidian lives, they anticipate nothing. A miracle is being played before them, and they don’t stop to notice it. But this is the special genius of Brueghel—he casts a sharp eye on the life of a village. He misses nothing. And in everything he sees the misery and harshness of human existence, but also the potential for something better. His images are remarkably precise, they are unforgiving, they seem quickly executed. But there is always something of the spirit of the moment and of the person captured in them.
Can we really say that about the carefully staged graciousness of the Renaissance masters of Italy? Brueghel disregards the rules of form that the church would have him obey: the religious images should be central, and all attention should be dedicated to them. The divine status of the Virgin Mary should be signaled. But for Brueghel, the Holy Family is marked by its normalcy; they are a part of the village scene. The activities of the village swirl about them, not sensitive to the miracle about to unfold. This is Brueghel’s inner message–that we rush through our lives, attached to our needful things, accomplishing the roadmarkers of our careers, unconscious of the miracles of life that unfold about us. “The Census at Bethlehem” is a masterwork because of this message, quite apart from the technical skill and vision of its physical execution.
At the recently concluded TEFAF (The European Fine Art Fair) in Maastricht, the Netherlands, Paris-based Galerie Canesso sold Rinaldo’s Farewell to Armida by Giovanni Lanfranco to the Kunsthaus Zurich, according to the Art Tribune. The work has been on the market for a couple of years and was seen at Didier Aaron in New York in May 2012.
According to Canesso:
The painting illustrates an episode from canto XVI (stanzas 60-63) of [Torquato] Tasso’s Gerusalemme Liberata. The artist’s focus is on the defining moment of pathos as Rinaldo takes his final leave of Armida, with the hero caught between guilt for abandoning the unconscious Armida and the pressing need to follow his destiny, placed in the hands of Fortune, who is depicted holding the tiller. Lanfranco has imagined the scene described in stanza 62: “What should he do? Leave on the naked sand / This woful lady, half alive, half dead? / Kindness forbade, pity did that withstand; / But hard constraint, alas! Did thence him lead. / Away he went, the west wind blew from land / ‘Mongst the rich tresses of their pilot’s head’” (Fair-fax translation, 1600). The narrative spreads across the foreground like a frieze, while the background is filled entirely by a landscape that also faithfully reflects the description by Tasso. Armida’s palace, “proudly built [...] on top of yonder mountain’s height” (XV, st. 44), is further described in the next canto as “builded rich and round” (XVI, st. 1). Mellini has identified the ancient édifice that inspired this depiction as the Theatrum Marcelli reproduced in Bartolomeo Marliani’s Urbis Romae Topographia.
The artist depicts the two messengers Carlo and Ubaldo, whom the Christians have sent to Rinaldo to recall him to martial duty. Having arrived by sea, they ready themselves to set sail again, accompanied by the champion “of Christ’s true faith” (xv, st. 44) and thus return victorious in their mission. Several pentimenti in this figure group are visible to the naked eye, which are confirmed by X-radiography. The placement of the two warriors originally had two alternatives: another head can be perceived behind and above the head of the messenger with a shield, and the silhouette of another figure is clearly visible between Rinaldo and the seated warrior – perhaps that of Rinaldo himself – which the artist subsequently moved to the left – or perhaps the right – and then shifted forward. A few revised details, such as the thumb of Rinaldo’s right hand or the left knee of the seated messenger, display occasional tentative moments during the execution of the painting. Lanfranco constructs the narrative with painstaking detail, and the immense landscape, empty and desolate, bristling with menacing peaks, lends even greater poignancy to the abandoned Armida, seemingly shipwrecked in the foreground. Only the warm tones of the drapery sing out here, run through with shot silk effects and animated by the marine breeze. X-radiography shows that the figure of Armida was painted without any revision, since not one pentimento betrays the slightest hesitation of the painter’s hand.
The canvas was painted with a light touch and its surface occasionally reveals the brown preparation, especially in the area around the rocks. Elsewhere, numerous passages of the artist’s own overpainting are visible, allowing us to assess the relatively thin paint layer. Examples of this include the light strip of earth in the foreground that covers a little of Armida’s yellow drapery, Rinaldo’s hand over the shield, and the mast and sail painted over the intense blue of the sea and sky.
The Gulf state of Qatar is providing $135 million in funding for Sudan’s archaeological heritage, according to a report from Agence France-Presse. According to the article:
The money will support 29 projects including the rehabilitation of ancient relics, construction of museums and study of the Meroitic language, said Salahaddin Mohammed Ahmed, the project coordinator.
He said the funds will support archaeological work by several Western nations as well as Sudan over five years.
“This is the biggest amount of money for Sudanese antiquities in their entire history,” Abdurrahman Ali, head of the country’s museums, told reporters, adding that the project will lay the foundation for “archaeological tourism”.
Sudan’s remote and relatively undiscovered pyramids, north of Khartoum, contrast with their grander and better-known cousins in Egypt, which occupied northern Sudan for about 500 years until roughly 1,000 BC.
Two Sudanese sites are on UNESCO’s World Heritage list.
These are Gebel Barkal and surrounding tombs, temples and other relics from the Napatan and Meroitic periods that followed Egyptian rule.
Also listed are the pyramids of Meroe and nearby sites including Naqa and Musawwarat es Sufra.
The first archaeological digs in Sudan took place only about 100 years ago, much later than in Egypt or Greece.
French, Polish, German and other foreign teams are working on various sites in northern Sudan and will benefit from the Qatari funding.
Claude Rilly, director of the French archaeological mission in Sedeinga, says sponsors are hard to come by in his profession.
Qatar’s funds “will give a new start, I hope, to archaeology” in Sudan.
The money will be used to help protect the sites, develop small local museums and tourism booklets, restore the National Museum in Khartoum, and build two presentation and conference centres at the UNESCO sites, he told AFP.
Some of the funds will also help to excavate and restore the monuments themselves, including at Sedeinga where the French team is digging about 200 kilometres (120 miles) from the Egyptian border.
Rilly said work has begun with Qatar’s assistance to reinforce the sandstone blocks of a temple there.
Tourists at the Sudanese pyramids and other relics often have the attractions to themselves, though the few visitors have still managed to leave litter behind.
The stonework of some monuments has collapsed, they are poorly guarded and there are no explanatory signs.
UPDATE: Results of the sale have been posted, and 68 of the 158 lots sold – 90 lots bought in. Not exactly a sustainable business model.
The 158-lot Pre-Columbian art auction by Binoche et Giquello at Drouot in Paris on March 28, 2014, is stocked largely with artifacts that lack a published pre-1970 provenance, and more than 50% of the work in this sale has no published provenance at all (download the catalogue and see for yourself). The “pre-1970″ refers to the date of an international UNESCO convention aimed at halting the looting of antiquities. As the New York Times reported: ‘In 2004 the Association of Art Museum Directors declared “member museums should not acquire” any undocumented works “that were removed after November 1970, regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation.”’ Numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries.” It’s a standard I believe should apply to private collectors as well as museums and other institutions.
Of the 158 lots, 86 have no published provenance, an additional 54 do not have a published pre-1970 provenance (such as Lot 24 above), 13 do have a published pre-1970 provenance, and five more are unclear. Here are a few more works without published pre-1970 provenance.
UPDATED with sale results.
Tajan’s March 26, 2014 sale of Old Master & 19th Century Paintings & Drawings contains a number of works amid the 157-lot sale worth pondering. Among the more entertaining is The Wave, a work on paper by the German Symbolist artist Carlos Schwabe, whose style suggests Gustav Doré meets Edvard Munch. According to the lot notes, this image was used to illustrate The Words of a Believer by the upstart French priest Félicité de Lamennais (1782-1854). According to Answers.com, in the work Lamennais “denounced all authority, civil as well as ecclesiastical. In the next decade his thinking moved further and further to the left. He believed in the moral superiority of the working class and foresaw a time when governments would be overthrown and the workers would rule. During his last years he spent time in prison and was also elected to the Chamber of Deputies. After his death in Paris on Feb. 27, 1854, Lamennais was buried without funeral rites, mourned by thousands of intellectual and political sympathizers around the world.” As the lot notes indicate, “Stormy waters are the metaphor of angry people described in this Catholic social manifesto.”
This watercolor of 1774 is an autograph copy of the artist’s original tapestry cartoon of 1756, itself one of seven scenes from the life of Marc Antony created between 1740 and 1757 that would be rendered as Gobelin tapestries. If the Google translation of the lot notes is correct, only three of the tapestries were realized. The scene, which follows Caesar’s assassination, depicts the meeting of Cleopatra and Marc Antony in 41 BC. The imagery is based on a 1559 translation of Plutarch; according to the catalogue:
The text provides many details on the wealth of the … Queen of Egypt['s ship] “whose stern was gold, the sails of purple, silver oars” and the splendor of his suite, consisting of “small children dressed more or less as painters are wont to portray the Amours “and” women and ladies similarly the most beautiful …dressed as nymphs Nereids, which are the fairy waters, and as the Graces , some resting on the pole, the other on the cables and ropes of the boat, which he left wonderfully soft and sweet smells of perfume …
This highly finished work has an equally interesting story. First, there is the stated provenance: “Mentioned in the will of the artist and bequeathed to his wife: “Madame Hallé … the grand design of the Scythians from the table made for the King of Poland” … Thence by descent.” Second, the drawing is based on a suite of four paintings created for Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland from 1764 to 1795, which depict good governance. They are still preserved in the Royal Castle in Warsaw. According to the lot notes:
The monarch had a very clear idea of the iconographic program he wanted and gave his instructions. Painters mission was to illustrate the essential to good government moral virtues: Magnanimity, Concorde [Agreement/Harmony], Emulation and Justice. After the death of Carle Van Loo in 1765 and the defection of François Boucher, the achievement of these four large paintings … was entrusted to Louis Lagrenée (The head of Pompey delivered to Caesar), Joseph-Marie Vien (Caesar at the foot of the statue of Alexander and The Continence of Scipio), and Noël Hallé (Scilurus, king of the Scythians). Our artist in charge of the allegory of the Concorde, represented a rare episode in the life of Scilurus king of the Scythians.
From Wikipedia, Scilurus “was the best known king of Scythia in the 2nd century BC. He was the son of a king and the father of a king, but the relation of his dynasty to the previous one is disputed. His realm included the lower reaches of the Borysthenes and Hypanis, as well as the northern part of Crimea, where his capital, Scythian Neapolis, was situated.”
This specific scene in Scilurus’ life is drawn from Plutarch’s Sayings of Kings and Commanders: “Scilurus on his death-bed, being about to leave eighty sons surviving, offered a bundle of darts to each of them, and bade them break them. When all refused, drawing out one by one, he easily broke them; thus teaching them that, if they held together, they would continue strong, but if they fell out and were divided, they would become weak.”
The Antwerp Mannerists of the first part of the 16th century, which includes the Master of 1518, produced congested images within daffy architectural settings – they never fail to entertain. According to the lot notes, Max J. Friedländer was the first to identify the artist and his moniker is based on a Life of the Virgin in the church of St. Mary in Lübeck and dated 1518. There are currently seem 40 works attributed to the artist.
It almost goes without saying that no Old Master sale is complete without a Brueghel or two. According to the provenance, this has been in the same family collection since the early 20th century, implying that it’s fresh to the market. This work by Pieter Brueghel the Younger is presumably based on a similar work by his father in the Detroit Museum of Art. Pieter the Younger made a career out reproducing compositions his father created. This work from 1624 is one of more than 30 versions produced between 1607 and 1626. In an entertaining bit of French snark, the lot notes bemoan the “cruel news about the potential sale of some masterpieces” from the museum, so satisfy Detroit’s debt, including the Elder’s Wedding Dance, valued at $100-200 million. Mon dieu.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s brother, Jan the Elder (also know as the Velvet Brueghel), is the author of this remarkable set of miniature gouaches. According to the lot notes, Jan the Elder was “famous both for his religious and mythological painting[s,] … his landscapes, still lifes and genre scenes. Although well documented, one aspect of [his] production, however, is too little mentioned … his work as a miniaturist.” It continues: “Originally, our sixteen scenes from the life of the Virgin and Christ were probably part of a Book of Hours lavishly illuminated manuscript of great value …” The works date to Jan’s stay in Italy from 1590-1596.
The genre of the collector’s cabinet painting, with intent and studious figures surrounded by paintings, drawings, sculpture, scientific objects and other ephemera, probably started with Frans Francken II, according to the lot notes. It certainly became a popular reflection and representation of Netherlandish prosperity. There are two variants, one shows the wealthy and preening well-dressed collector amidst his prized possessions, frequently showing them off to others. The second, developed by Peter Paul Reubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, artists who periodically worked together, are allegories of the senses, from which this present composition is derived. Part of the enjoyment these works provide is identifying the paintings depicted. Fortunately, the cataloguers took care of that, see below.
Identifications and proposed identifications for some of the works:
1 . Frans Francken II (?) The Meal at Simon
2 . Peter Paul Rubens Satyrs and Leopards (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)
3 . Peter Paul Rubens Drunken Silenus (Moscow, Pushkin Museum)
4 . Peter Paul Rubens Hunting Tigers (Rennes, Musée des Beaux- Arts)
5 . Giambologna Hercules and the Centaur
6 . According to the Antique The Laocoon
7 . Peter Paul Rubens The Judgment of Paris (Vienna, Dorotheum, April 16, 2008 , No. 302)
8 . Lambert van Noort (?) The Healing of the Blind
9 . Joos de Momper Animated characters Rocky Landscape
10 . Andries von Eertvelt (?) Marine
11 . Frans Francken II (?) Croesus showing Solon his Treasures
12 . Hendrick van Balen The Adoration of the Shepherds
13 . Peter Paul Rubens Portrait of Charles the Bold (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum)
14 . Pieter Brueghel the Elder The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist
15 . Sebastian Vrancx Scene looting
16 . Gaspar de Grayer Portraits of the Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella (Althorp, Spencer collection and Chrysler Museum Collection, Norfolk, VA)
17 . Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder ( ?) Virgin and Child in a Garland of Flowers
18 . Hieronymus Bosch (?) The Temptation of St. Antony
It’s time to start chumming the waters for the mega-million dollar evening sales of Post-War and Contemporary art this coming May in New York. Christie’s has just announced they’ll be offering a 1951 Jackson Pollock painting from the collection of E.ON, the German power and gas company. Number 5 (Elegant Lady) is estimated to bring $15-20 million, which a Christie’s press release states, E.ON plans to use “to continue their art and culture activities as well as their commitment to Museum Kunstpalast in Düsseldorf.”
Additionally from the release:
―The sale of Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) offers the rare opportunity for collectors to acquire a late Jackson Pollock masterpiece with exceptional provenance. This work has been owned by two legendary dealers from both sides of the Atlantic – the celebrated New York dealer Martha Jackson and one of the most powerful gallerists of Post-War Germany Alfred Schmela. It‘s an honor for Christie‘s to support E.ON to continue pursuing its outstanding dedication to the arts by facilitating this sale‖, commented Robert Manley, International Director Post-War and Contemporary Art New York and Herrad Schorn, Director Post-War and Contemporary Art Düsseldorf.
―We do not part with Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) easily, but this sale will allow us to secure E.ON‘s engagement with art and culture for years to come‖ explained Dr. Johannes Teyssen, CEO E.ON SE and Dorothee Gräfin von Posadowsky-Wehner, Head of Arts & Culture E.ON SE.
Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) found its way into the E.ON art collection in 1980. The corporation known then as VEBA acquired the painting on the advice of the legendary art dealer Alfred Schmela (1918-1980). For the next twenty years, the painting hung in VEBA‘s headquarters in Düsseldorf. In 2001, after VEBA merged with VIAG to become E.ON, the company moved into its new headquarters in Düsseldorf, neighboring the Museum Kunstpalast. To share the work with the wider public, Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) was exhibited in the museum from then on. At Museum Kunstpalast Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) was part of the widely acknowledged exhibition Le grand geste! (April – August 2010), which traced the development of Art Informel and Abstract Expressionism. Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) was also shown in the equally bespoke exhibition Jorn & Pollock: Revolutionary Roads (November 2013 – February 2014) at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk north of Copenhagen.
The outstanding exhibition history of Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) spans back to 1956, when the legendary New York art dealer Martha Jackson (1907-1969) presented it in the opening show of her new space at 32 East 69th Street. In 1954, Martha Jackson had traded this work with Pollock — along with another painting from the same period (Number 23, 1951/Frogman currently in the collection of the Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia) – for her green 1950s Oldsmobile. A move which would have tragic circumstances two years later when Pollock crashed this car into a tree near his home on Long Island killing himself and Edith Metzger. As was the practice at the time Pollock only titled his work with a number and the verbal titles of these two pieces were assigned by Martha Jackson herself. It is not difficult to see how she come up with this particular moniker as the curvaceous line that spills down the right hand portion of the canvas recalls the seductive outline of a female figure along with the sultry form of two eyes suggested by the bold form that emerges in the upper left corner. Both paintings, Elegant Lady and Frogman are from Pollock‘s celebrated series of black enamel paintings, which he started in late 1950s and of which examples can be found in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Tate Modern in London as well as the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo. 1951 marks the most productive and significant moment in Pollock‘s career as a draughtsman and the black enamel paintings articulate a new and more sophisticated approach to his famed dripped technique.
In the months prior to 1951, Pollock began to work on a series of drawings using black enamel dripped directly onto his chosen support. In a letter to his friend and mentor Alfonso Ossorio in January 1951, Pollock announced, ―I‘ve had a period of drawing on canvas in black — with some of my early images coming thru — think the non-objectivists will find them disturbing — and the kids who think it‘s simple to splash a Pollock out‖. Following his radical intervention into the artistic canon with his iconic ‗drip‘ paintings, this return to his earlier interest in automatic drawing provided the artist with a new approach to the drip. In works such as Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951), Pollock reduced its means to the bare minimum: colors are expelled in favor of black, and lines are used sparsely. Although not properly figurative, these paintings began to move away from the abstract, atmospheric feeling of the drip paintings, in which lines, colors and space fuse into wholeness. As Kirk Varnedoe suggests, Pollock disliked being thought of as a ‗known quantity‘ and with these new works he relished the opportunity to surprise people again by revisiting some long abandoned habits of the hand.
Following its exhibition debut at Martha Jackson Gallery in 1956 Number 5 (Elegant Lady, 1951) was included in a number of early museum exhibitions for the artist, including the influential New Images of Man show curated by Peter Selz at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1959. The exhibition included works by artists such as Francis Bacon, Alberto Giacometti and Willem de Kooning. In his essay for the exhibition catalogue, Frank O‘Hara extolled the virtues of Pollock‘s work, particularly its originality and richness: ―One of the dramas of these paintings is the intolerable conflict between an artistic intent of unerring articulateness and a medium which is seeking to devour its meaning. In the traditional sense, there is no surface, as there is no color. There is simply the hand of the artist, in mid-air, awaiting the confirmation of form.
There’s some big news coming out of the Asia Week auctions in New York, including the sale of the “Min” Fanglei, a massive ancient Chinese bronze vessel, at Christie’s in a private transaction for more than $30 million. That was followed this morning by The Sublime and the Beautiful: Asian Masterpieces of Devotion, which did include some sublime works – including several with no pre-1970 provenance. The “pre-1970″ refers to the date of an international UNESCO convention aimed at halting the looting of antiquities. As the New York Times reported: ‘In 2004 the Association of Art Museum Directors declared “member museums should not acquire” any undocumented works “that were removed after November 1970, regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation.”’ Numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries.”
Shouldn’t private collectors adhere to the same standards? Apparently not as today’s sale and others demonstrate. Collectors are still willing to take a chance, ignore international news reports about looting in Syria, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Italy, Greece, Egypt and elsewhere and hope/assume/pretend the poorly-provenanced work they own is OK.
The sale made a hair under $19 million ($18,985,250), with 21 lots sold from 33 offered. Here are four items that sold despite having no pre-1970 provenance, or in one case no published provenance whatsoever, beginning with the first item, an elegant Gandhara Bodhisattva estimated at $600,000-800,000. Despite a provenance that only goes back to 1985, a US private collector bidding by telephone paid $840,000 ($1,103,000 with the buyer’s premium).
From the lot notes:
The ancient region of Gandhara, straddling the Khyber Pass in what is now eastern Afghanistan and western Pakistan, was for centuries an important center of trade and commerce. Its position at the crossroads of Central Asia meant that it was exposed to the goods and ideas from India, China, and the Mediterranean world. In the centuries before the beginning of the Common Era, the region came under Hellenistic control after Alexander the Great annexed Gandhara to his expansive empire; following his death, the region was controlled by a succession of kings of mixed Greek and Central Asian descent. Buddhism was already well established during this time, with the Indo-Greek King Menander and the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka both noted proponents of the faith.
It was not until the reign of the Kushans in the first centuries CE, however, that profound changes in the religious art of the region were realized. The Kushans were nomadic horsemen from the steppes of Central Asia. Sometime around 160 BCE, they were pushed out of their homeland in Western China, and after more than a century of migration ended up seizing power in the regions of Gandhara and Northern India. Astute rulers, the Kushans allowed religious freedom for their subjects and adopted local Hellenistic and Indian traditions, including the Buddhist faith. Prior to their rule, the presence of Buddha was depicted in art through conspicuous symbols such as the dharmachakra (wheel of law) or his footprints; upon their ascension to power, however, the first images of Buddha in anthropomorphic form began to appear.
In Gandhara, the sculptural tradition was still heavily influenced by the earlier Hellenistic style. Local artisans favored the principles of figural naturalism, in particular the athletic and heroic idealized body. The depiction of the Indiandhoti and sanghati, like that of the Greek chiton and himation, offered the artisans an opportunity to reproduce voluminous folds of drapery with wondrous aplomb, as is evident in the present work. The deeply carved locks of curly hair are a further indication of the artisan’s sculptural élan.
A few minutes later the story repeated itself with lot 1608, also with a provenance that goes back to c. 1985, hammered at $850,000 to a European private collector bidding by telephone ($1,025,000 with the buyer’s premium).
From the lot notes:
This superbly carved sculpture evolves from the Gupta stylistic tradition, with flowing lines, well-rounded forms, and sensuous expression of the lips. The jewelry of the goddess is particularly noteworthy in identifying the date and region from which the sculpture comes. In addition to the armbands, anklets and multiple necklaces, she wears two different earrings, a hoop made of flower buds in her right ear and a thick foliate circle in her left. Her girdle is composed of a floral belt with two lion or kirttimukha masks at front issuing loops from their mouths, and two chains hanging straight down over her thighs, both terminating in corresponding peepul leaves as found in her tiara. The contrast within her jewelry of the soft, floral elements on her right and the bolder, more rugged motifs on her left could indicate that she is a matrika, a Hindu goddess who is the counterpart to a male figure and embodies both male and female aspects within herself.
Even with no published provenance, Lot 1616, a 14th century Japanese Bodhisattva, pulled down a hammer price of $280,000 ($341,000 with the buyer’s premium) to a telephone bidder.
Lot 1622 a Ming Dynasty Avalokiteshvara, with a provenance that only dates to 2001, topped its $800,000 high estimate and hammered for $2.2 million ($2,629,000 with the buyer’s premium) to a US private collector bidding in the room (true same bidder also purchased Lot 1611, a gilt-bronze Buddha Amitabha from China for $1,565,000 with the buyer’s premium).
UPDATE: ArtNet.com‘s Eileen Kinsella reports that “Christie’s Asian Art Department staff are furious” at the company’s CEO Steven Murphy for selling the “Min” Fanglei privately, rather than at auction. The report also revises up the selling price to $30 million from $20 million. According to Kinsella:
The Asian art department staff had been working on the sale for over a year and believed the price of the vessel could climb as high as $50 million on the auction block. Now the deal won’t be reflected in the department’s auction coffers.
[ … ]
According to an inside source, Christie’s CEO Murphy was “panicked” over the possibility of a repeat of the the fiasco that occurred during the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé sale in Paris in 2009. That sale included two rare bronze Chinese zodiac sculptures, a rabbit and a rat, that had been looted from Beijing’s Old Summer Palace during the 1860s and passed through several hands before coming into the collection of the Parisian fashion designer. Prior to the sale, Chinese state media officials referred to the objects as “war plunder.”
Murphy’s fears are not unfounded. A report by the Chinese Association of Auctioneers “found that about half the sales of artworks worth more than $1.5 million between 2010 and 2013 were not completed because the buyer failed to pay what was owed.”
Kinsella also reports:
[I]nternal sources at Christie’s suggested … fear of buyer default drove the decision-making and overrode specialists. “I think people here are upset because they worked so hard on this consignment, marketing, catalogs, views, vetting, etc.,” said one inside source. “It’s anti-climactic.”
“Of course the specialists have every right to be angry unless senior leadership has compensated for it in their goals” for that department, said a former senior executive at Christie’s who asked not to be named. “Historically I’ve seen there always be a disconnect between senior leadership and how they drive and motivate specialists. They tend to put all this pressure on the specialists, and then come in and make these types of decisions, which dilutes the holistic approach to the business.”
ArtNet.com‘s Eileen Kinsella reports the “Min” Fanglei, a massive ancient Chinese bronze vessel, was just sold at Christie’s in a private transaction for more than $20 million, and that tomorrow’s scheduled auction of the work has been cancelled. The bronze had been estimated to sell for approximately $15 million and ealier in the day ArtNet.com‘s Ben Genocchio wrote the work might make $40 million. According to the more recent report: “A group of private collectors from China’s Hunan provence bought the famed “Min” Fanglei, a massive bronze ritual vessel that dates from the Late Shang/Early Western Zhou dynasty (12th–11th century BC), and agreed to donate the object to the Hunan Provincial Museum where the cover of the object is currently located.” This is the second major ancient Chinese bronze vessel at auction during Asia Week 2014 – the first, wine vessel with an owl head, failed to sell at Sotheby’s.
In his earlier article, Genocchio wrote:
Christie’s New York offered the work in March 2001, when it sold for US$9 million and set a then–world record for an Asian artwork. This remains a world auction record for any archaic Chinese bronze sold at auction. Who won it? Christie’s is not saying, but a New York Asian art dealer told me privately it was an Italian man, who just died, and his wife has put it back up for sale.
I can’t confirm these details, but this work was the talk of many Asia Week dinners and receptions over the weekend. I was told the vessel is well known in China and that several prominent Chinese museums want it back. Shanghai Museum has sent a delegation to attend the auction and presumably bid on items.
The vessel is missing its lid, or cover, which may be in the Hunan Provincial Museum, Changsha, in China. I have been in touch with the museum to verify, but have not received confirmation. The Christie’s sale catalog mentions this possibility as well. If this is indeed true, then it is a fair bet that the Hunan Museum will be bidding on it.
Bronze ritual vessels produced in China in the late Shang and Early Western Zhou periods-in the twelfth and eleventh centuries BC-rank among the most beautiful, most accomplished, and most technically sophisticated examples of bronze casting ever seen. The ritual vessels’ bold forms, brilliant designs, and perfect casting reflect both the sophisticated aesthetic sensibilities and the technological prowess of early China, just as they also convey insight into the culture that produced them.
Arguably the largest wine storage jar known from ancient China, the present magnificent fanglei embodies all of the characteristics associated with the finest and most impressive bronzes from the late Shang and early Western Zhou periods. Its massive scale, robust, tapering form, forceful decoration with clearly defined motifs and superbly articulated details, combined with casting so flawless as to demonstrate consummate mastery of the bronze caster’s art produce a truly phenomenal display of aesthetic inventiveness and casting proficiency.
Bronze casting came fully into its own during the Shang dynasty (c. 1600 BC- c. 1050 BC) with the production of sacral vessels intended for use in ceremonies honoring the spirits of deceased ancestors. These include vessels for food and wine as well as vessels for water; those for food and wine, the types most frequently encountered, group themselves into storage and presentation vessels, heating and cooking vessels, and serving vessels. Vessels for storage and presentation, such as this majestic fanglei wine vessel, typically assume one of a variety of jar forms.
The auctions during Asia Week 2014 include two highly important Ancient Chinese bronzes – the first this morning at Sotheby’s, a rare, Early Zhou Dynasty Owl-Headed Wine Vessel, estimated at $4-6 million, bombed, unable to surpass a chandelier bid of $3.7 million. It was preceded by mostly spirited bidding for the first dozen lots in the sale, including the late 19th century Wu Dacheng Jijintu Qing Dynasty scroll, estimated at $100,000-150,000, which bid up swiftly to $260,000 before a bidder in the room offered $500,000, which effectively ended the battle (the final price inclusive of buyer’s premium was $605,000).
As for the owl wine vessel – appropriately known as a hu - it is a unique surviving example of its type with a clear provenance dating back at to the 1800s.
According to a Sotheby’s press release:
The piece dates from the Early Eastern Zhou Dynasty (c. 8/7th century BC) and is the only surviving owl bronze of this caliber. In addition to its extraordinary rarity, the vessel boasts a distinguished provenance dating back to the early 19th century, having at various times been in some of the world’s most illustrious private collections of Chinese Art.
Dr. Tao Wang, Head of the Chinese Works of Art Department at Sotheby’s New York commented: “This bronze owl from the collection of Sakamoto Goro is one of the rarest examples of early Chinese bronze culture to have appeared at auction. With a history that includes some of the most renowned 19th and 20th century collections of Chinese Art, the provenance, form, iconography, and condition combine to make this one of the greatest objects I’ve handled in my career.”
The Owl In Chinese Art
The owl has a unique and enormously significant place in early Chinese culture where it was perceived as a deity by the Shang people. The screech call and nocturnal behavior fit perfectly a perception of abnormality in ritual and magic while the physical appearance is warrior-like. Indeed, it has even been suggested that Xuanniao, the mythical black-bird from which the Shang people originated can be associated with an owl.
A Distinguished History
The bronze and its inscription was published by Wu Yun, one of the most accomplished Chinese connoisseurs of the 19th century, one of over 100 ancient bronzes in his precautious collection. The bronze vessel was first collected by Li Meisheng, an eminent scholar-official in Suzhou and was allegedly rescued from a metal recycling store in Shanghai in 1861. In the 20th century the owl belonged to two renowned collectors of Chinese Art – Lionel Edwards and Baron Paul Hatvany. In the late 1970s it entered the collection of the British Rail Pension Fund from whom Sakamoto Goro acquired it at the landmark auction at Sotheby’s London in 1989.
One of the British Museum’s great treasures of antiquity, the 1st century AD silver Warren Cup, which depicts homosexual lovers, has been declared a 20th century creation by Luca Giuliani, professor of classical archaeology at Humboldt University in Berlin, reports The Guardian.
Giuliani’s reasoning, according to the article, is “such explicit imagery is unprecedented in Roman silverware. He suggested instead that the cup was designed for the pleasure of its former owner – a wealthy American gay man, Edward Perry Warren, who bought it in Rome in 1911, and who also acquired other ‘counterfeit’ pieces, he said.”
The museum purchased the object 15 years ago for £1.8 million and it has been “singled out by director Neil MacGregor for his critically acclaimed History of the World in 100 Objects.”
This debate is not over. Professor Dyfri Williams, author of The Warren Cup, published by the British Museum Press in 2006, is not backing down:
The fact that Warren bought other fakes is irrelevant, he said. He also dismissed the uniqueness of the iconography as not being proof: “We’re really only reacting to each piece when it’s found. We may find something spectacular next week.”
He added: “The real issue, which he has not addressed, is the object itself … If the cup was made around 1900, as he claims, they would be using virtually pure silver. They have been refining silver since the middle of the 19th century.”
The homoerotic content of the Warren Cup is discussed in a museum audio guide, part of a new project called ”A Little Gay History.”
UPDATE: The sale price of the painting was approximately $16 million, according to the Art Tribune, which reports “the work did not receive the temporary export ban from British soil. This means no attempt was made to see if it might be acquired by an English museum when in fact the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, to quote just one example, only holds two paintings by Ruisdael, both much smaller.”
The Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, Texas has just announced its acquisition of a major 17th century Dutch landscape painting by Jacob van Ruisdael. The work had been in the same English collection since 1811 and will go on view in April. The sale was brokered by Nicholas Hall at Christie’s. Text of the museum’s announcement:
FORT WORTH—The Kimbell Art Museum announced today the acquisition of Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield, c. 1656, an exceptional work by one of the greatest landscape painters of all time, Jacob van Ruisdael. As the leading exponent of the Dutch landscape tradition in the 17th century, Ruisdael was renowned for his love of nature and for his ability to render its glories in paint. The remarkable work, impressively large and in near-perfect condition, is considered by experts to be among the greatest Dutch landscapes in the world.
“Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield epitomizes Ruisdael’s mastery of landscape painting, uniting an unprecedented observation of nature with a sympathetic feeling for the bounteous glory of the Dutch countryside,” commented Eric M. Lee, director of the Kimbell Art Museum. “It is an imposing complement to the Kimbell’s Rough Sea at a Jetty, one of his most important seascapes. Whether depicting the sea or the land, these paintings attest to Ruisdael’s profound love of nature in all its forms.”
Seymour Slive, professor emeritus in the department of fine arts at Harvard University, former director of the Harvard University Art Museums, and the world’s greatest authority on Ruisdael, called the painting “a world-class masterpiece,” describing it as “an unusually large, signed, and almost miraculously well-preserved masterwork by the greatest and most versatile—by far—17th-century Dutch landscapist. A special feature of the painting is the large, mirror-smooth lily pond that virtually extends across its foreground. Comparable [stretches of water] are found in the artist’s forest [paintings] in Berlin and at the Hermitage. The fact that this landscape holds its own when juxtaposed to these stellar achievements by Ruisdael speaks volumes for its superior quality.”
Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield was donated by an alumnus to Oxford University’s Worcester College in 1811. Except for its appearance in exhibitions, including the famous Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition of 1857, the painting remained in the possession of Worcester College until its purchase by the Kimbell Art Foundation through a private treaty sale negotiated by Christie’s, London, represented by Nicholas Hall.
The painting is in remarkably good condition. Before it is put on display at the Kimbell this April, director of conservation Claire Barry will delicately adjust small areas of old restoration. The landscape will be enhanced by an antique Dutch frame, dated to approximately 1730, in the French style, typical of the luxurious but restrained frames placed on paintings by Ruisdael in the century after his death.
Jacob van Ruisdael
Jacob van Ruisdael is considered the greatest Dutch landscape painter of the 17th century, Holland’s “Golden Age.” Born in Haarlem in 1628 or 1629, the son of a painter and picture dealer, Ruisdael was probably tutored by his uncle Salomon van Ruysdael, another landscape painter. Ruisdael began painting in his teenage years and moved to Amsterdam in 1655, shortly before he began Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield. Paintings from this period in his life are the ones for which he is most renowned. They typically show a greater emphasis on the majestic power of natural forms—noble trees and cloud-filled skies—and an increased mastery of light effects to give those forms emotional resonance. A prolific artist, he completed some 700 paintings over the three decades of his career, before his death in 1682. Edge of a Forest is ranked as one of his highest achievements, from the years of his greatest genius.
Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield
A large and imposing canvas, Edge of a Forest with a Grainfield shows a typical scene of Dutch country landscape as imagined by one of its greatest admirers. A grove of old oak and elm trees stands beside a pool or a stream, at the intersection of a sandy road or path. Tall timbers reach towards a cloudy sky, while one tree trunk lies fallen at the left. The trees—standing or fallen—are reflected in the water of the pool, the surface of which is broken by pads of water lilies and bunches of reeds. To the right, in the background beyond the stand of trees, fields of wheat can be seen. In the near ground, the ears of wheat can almost be counted one by one against the darker foliage of scrubby oaks, but in the distance, fields stretch towards a low horizon.
Above the trees, and echoing their shapes, large cumulus clouds rise against a bright blue sky; light reflects on the clouds, as it reflects off distant patches of leaves seen in the spaces between branches. Below the trees, a flock of sheep graze in the shade, watched by a shepherd with a staff, in conversation with a seated woman. Untouched nature, in the form of the oak trees, is placed side by side with the natural world as shaped or husbanded by mankind—the people who sow wheat in the fields or graze their sheep on Holland’s sandy soil.
Every detail of the painting attests to the artist’s keen eye and his love of natural variety and incident. Everywhere he leads the viewer towards something he thinks should be noticed: a broken branch lies bent in the lower right, pointing the way into the canvas; a puddle of water in the sandy road reflects the bark of the tree above it; delicate flowers of a water lily poke their heads above the water; a bush is in flower in the shadowy glade beside one of the trees, while silvery-green leaves shine between patches of ivy green. These myriad details, however, do not detract from the impressive unity of the whole—the sense of nature, in its grandeur, captured by a painter who truly loves it.
The Reverend Treadway Russell Nash (1724–1811), by whom bequeathed to Worcester College, Oxford, in 1811.
The painting remained in the possession of Worcester College since 1811 and was consigned for sale through Christie’s, London, represented by Nicholas Hall.
New York’s Museum of Modern Art will exhibit a new suite of paintings, etchings and drawings by 83-year-old artist Jasper Johns from March 15 to September 1, 2014, reports the New York Times. The Regrets series is based on a Christie’s auction catalogue image of a John Deakin photograph of a young Lucian Freud once owned by Francis Bacon. According to the article: “Over the years, Bacon took that photograph of Freud on the bed and folded it, tore it and creased it until a pronounced dark patch dominated its foreground.” Johns’ works are abstractions derived from the auction catalogue image.
The article continues:
Last summer, Ann Temkin, chief curator in the Museum of Modern Art’s painting and sculpture department, and Christophe Cherix, the museum’s chief curator of drawings and prints, made separate visits to Mr. Johns’s studio, where they first saw many examples of “Regrets.”
“Our jaws dropped,” Ms. Temkin recalled.
Not everything was finished, but that didn’t matter. The curators decided the museum had to show the series as soon as possible. The result is“Jasper Johns: Regrets,” which will be displayed from March 15 through Sept. 1 in a drawings gallery on the third floor.
The curators were also determined to acquire as much of the series as possible for the museum’s collection. At last count, MoMA has either been promised or been given eight works in the show — two etchings, four ink-on-plastic drawings, a watercolor and a painting — by museum supporters.
The e-catalogue for Christie’s Antiquities sale in London on April 2, 2014 has just gone live and there are some intriguing items, such as the ones illustrated here – but there’s also an issue of provenance. None of the works illustrated in this blog post has a datable pre-1970 provenance – as noted in the provenance section of each catalogue listing – and there are many, many more like them in the sale. The “pre-1970″ refers to the date of an international UNESCO convention aimed at halting the looting of antiquities. As the New York Times reported: ‘In 2004 the Association of Art Museum Directors declared “member museums should not acquire” any undocumented works “that were removed after November 1970, regardless of any applicable statutes of limitation.”’ Numerous American museums – including the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Boston’s Museum of Fine Art and the Getty in Los Angeles – have been forced to return looted antiquities to their host countries.
Take the Roman Wall Mosaic show below – how many times have we seen images of walls at archaeological sites with gaps that once contained mosaics? Recently, federal officials seized control of a sarcophagus of a Roman noblewoman worth $4 million that was allegedly looted from Italy in the 1970s or early 1980s, according to the New York Times, and had been offered for sale by Phoenix Ancient Art. I cannot assert these are looted – but – as the repatriation of antiquities continues to make international news, one wonders why any potential buyer would consider acquiring works without clear datable pre-1970 provenance.
A newly attributed and heavily restored painting by Leonardo da Vinci, which had been shopped to the Dallas Museum of Art in summer of 2012 with a reported $200 million asking price, has finally found a buyer – at the substantially reduced price of $75 million, reports the New York Times. According to the article, the painting “was bought by an unidentified collector for between $75 million and $80 million in May 2013, in a private sale brokered by Sotheby’s.”
The painting was first unveiled in November 2011 and featured in the National Gallery exhibition Leonardo da Vinci – Painter at the Court of Milan. In August 2012, Art in America reported the painting was on offer to Dallas for $200 million, but after weeks of negotiation, an offer by the museum was rejected by the consortium of dealers who owned the work.
We’ll see where it shows up next.
UPDATED with sale results.
The March 28, 2104 sale of Old Masters at Koller in Zurich includes a Madonna and Child by Jan Gossaert, known as Mabuse, a capably wrought triptych by a 16th century follower of that great Netherlandish genius Rogier Van Der Weyden, the exterior wings of a a triptych by the Master of the Holy Kinship, and a Hermit Praying by Gerrit Dou. There’s also a bizarre set of four paintings depicting some of Aesop’s Fables by Jan van Kessel the Elder (estimated at CHF150,000-200 000 or € 123,000-164 000), a so-so Pieter de Hooch of musicians (estimated at CHF 90,000-120,000 or € 75 000-100,000), six painting by Jakob Philipp Hackert including two pendants, the landscapes View of the Chateau Gaillard and the Seine and View on ruins of a river (estimated at CHF 120,000-180,000 or €100,000-150,000) and the seascapes Coastal landscape near Vietri, 1776 and A shipwreck (estimated at CHF 200,000-300,000 or €166,670-250,000), and others.
The Mabuse is one of approximately 60 works by this artist accepted as autograph. This work is a recent addition having been deemed authentic by Maryan Ainsworth, author of the artist’s catalogue raisonné and curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition Man, Myth, and Sensual Pleasures: Jan Gossart’s Renaissance. According to the Met, that exhibition brought “together the majority of Gossart’s paintings, drawings, and prints, and place[d] them in the context of the influences on his transformation from Late Gothic Mannerism to the new Renaissance mode.” We’ll see what the market says. The painting last been sold at auction at Christie’s in London, July 10, 2002, Lot 97 as “Studio of Gossaert“ (selling for £41,825 or $64,829).
I have long thought that if we did not know the artist’s identity, he might plausibly have been titled the “Master of the Double Jointed Madonnas” (in the vein of the Master of the Female Half-Lengths and similar monikers), because of his strange rendering of physiognomy (the National Gallery of Art’s Madonna and Child of 1532 is a prime example. Exactly what is going on with her left arm? It’s a peculiar painting).
According to the lot notes, this is one of only two known Gossaert’s depicting the Madonna and Child in private hands. Here’s more from Koller’s entry:
“Jan Gossaert, also called Mabuse after his birthplace Maubeuge in Hennegau, counts as one of the outstanding painters of the Renaissance north of the Alps. His work combines the tradition of early Netherlandish painting from Jan van Eyck to Memling with the artistic achievements of the Italian Renaissance and transforms them into an ideal synthesis of the highest perfection. Gossaert, who was active in the first third of the 16th century, completed both religious as well as secular paintings, which he created for the major patrons of his day. Thus Gossaert entered into the service of Philip of Burgundy and followed him in 1508/09 to Italy, where he came to terms with the masterpieces of the Italian Renaissance.”
“The composition … depicts the Mother of God in front of a late-Gothic architectonic throne, part filigree and part solid stone, with the infant Jesus sitting before her on green velvet. Each is turned towards the viewer in a frontal pose. While
“Mary assumes a contemplative attitude, gazing downward and embracing her child protectively, the Christ Child through his expansive gestures and direct eye contact, engages the attention of the viewer, and his childlike exuberance is expressed affectionately.”
The center panel of this triptych is based on a Pietà by Rogier van der Weyden in Brussels from 1441 (below).
According to the sale catalogue:
“[This] Annunciation with Saints Bartholomew and Peter [was] once part of a substantial altarpiece that originally graced the Catholic parish church of St. Martin in Richterich, Aachen … The altarpiece was divided by 1862, when the central panel with the Crucifixion of Christ was transferred to the Brussels collection of the Musées des Beaux-Arts Royaux de Belgique (inv. no. 1498). The wings (interior and exterior) moved through several private German collections and were sold separately first in 1978 at a London auction … The inner panels then entered the Indiana University Art Museum in Bloomington (inv. nos 78.62.1 and 78.62.2), so that [these] paintings … are the last privately owned pieces of this important altarpiece.
“The master [whose identity remains unknown] was among the most important Cologne painters of the Gothic period and was active in the last quarter of the 15th and first quarter of the 16th century. His method comes out of the Cologne tradition embodied by Stephan Lochner (ca. 1400-1451), and is also influenced by Flemish masters such as Rogier van der Weyden (ca. 1400-1464), Justus van Gent (ca. 1410-1480) or Hugo van der Goes (ca. 1440-1482).”
Apparently there are few known works by Jacobsz. who was influenced by Jan van Scorel (1498 - 1562). The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam has a similarly-themed and more accomplished vanitas painting of Pompeius Occo (below). The handling of the paint is much broader and less detailed in the Koller picture - see the treatment of the fur, skull parapet, facial features, and landscape, which is pretty much the entire work.
This beautifully rendered work by Dumonstier, who along with his brother Etienne was a student of François Clouet, depicts 30-year-old French nobleman and admiral Bernard de Nogaret de La Valette (1553 – 1592). It is exquisite.
According to the sale catalogue:
“This painting … by Gerrit Dou, discovered in a Swiss private collection, [was examined firsthand by art historian ] Ronni Baer …and she confirms that it is the one she lists in her catalogue raisonné of 1990 as no. 119 … At that time it was known to her only through a black-and-white photograph.
“The painting was once in the collection of the Kurfürstlichen Galerie, Alte Pinakothek, before it was transferred in 1935 to the collection of the Stadtresidenz in Landshut and was then passed on to the art dealer Dr. Plietzsch in Berlin in an exchange of 1938 (written confirmation from the Alte Pinakothek is available). Through the Dutch art trade the painting then came eventually to Switzerland and” is being sold from a private collection.
After removing years of accumulated dirt, discolored varnish and a good deal of overpainting, officials at Musée Tessé in Le Mans, France, could finally settle the debate – was The Crowing of Thorns in their collection actually by the Caravaggesque painter Bartolomeo Manfredi? After consulting “several specialists, including Jean-Pierre Cuzin and Gianni Papi” according to The Art Tribune, the work was determined to be authentic.
According to the article:
This rediscovery is important as Manfredi’s paintings are particularly rare in [France]. This is the third one residing in France along with Christ Chasing the Merchants from the Temple in Libourne (recently exhibited in Montpellier) and The Triumph of David over Goliath purchased over twenty years ago by the Louvre, and also a fourth one if we consider a Saint John the Baptist at the Louvre which is only attributed to Manfredi.
The restoration of this canvas now enables the Musée Tessé to display it alongside The Drinkers painted by a French disciple of the Manfrediana Methodus, Nicolas Tournier. The Crowning of Thorns will also be the subject of an exhibition from 24 March to 24 May 2014.
Christies’ February 13, 2014 Evening Sale of Contemporary Art, which pulled in £124,192,000 ($206,158,720), started on a ridiculous note with a Damien Hirst spot painting of Mickey Mouse, which should disappear for the sake of us all. It made a hammer price of £750,000 or £902,500 with the buyer’s premium ($1,498,150), perhaps because auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen and staff wore mouse ears during the sale of that lot. Fortunately, it was sold to benefit a charity. Of the 49 lots offered, one was withdrawn and nine went sold.
Compared with Sotheby’s the night before, this was a lively almost fevered event with active, engaged and sustained bidding for many lots. A painting by white hot Oscar Murillo had 14 phone bidders interested, and a Lucio Fontana had 10 telephone bidders. Stand out works included a 1966 Francis Bacon portrait of his lover/muse George Dyer (above), that hammered for £37.6 million or £42,194,500 with the buyer’s premium ($70,042,870). During the Old Master sales preview in New York last month, it was tucked into a ground floor alcove (along with the Twombly and Richter, below), completely at home with those older works. It’s sinuous, fraught and vibrant – and spell binding. Ignore the enormous prices for the artist’s work – it’s can be an impediment to appreciating his genius, and this painting is worthy of much contemplation.
Following tentative bidding at Sotheby’s the night before for Richter’s much touted Wall, there was greater enthusiasm for the artist’s 1989 Abstraktes Bild (below), the subject of a dedicated video and separate catalogue, which opened £12 million at ultimately hammered for £17.4 million or £19,570,500 with the buyer’s premium ($32,487,030). There was a selection of paintings by a few YBA’s formerly in the Saatchi collection including Jenny Saville’s Plan, which was exhibited in 1997′s Sensation in London and New York (est. £800,000-1,200,000), hammered for a record price £1.8 million or £2,098,500 with the buyer’s premium ($3,483,510); Gary Hume’s Vicious (est. £300,000-400,000) for a record hammer price of £340,000 or £410,500 with the buyer’s premium ($681,430); and Chris Ofili’s Popcorn Tits (est. £400,000-600,000) hammer price £320,000 or £386,500 with the buyer’s premium ($641,590) – a price reflective of the fair number of Ofili’s currently on the market.
Two Cy Twombly works came up, Untitled (Rome) from 1960 (est. £1.2-1.6 million), opened at £900,000 and climbed at a healthy clip to hammer at £2.3 million or £2,658,500 with the buyer’s premium ($4,413,110), to Turkish collector Kemal Has Cingillioglu, while Untitled (below) from 1972 and part of the legendary Bolsena series (est. £1.2– £1.8 million), made £2.0 million or £2,322,500 with the buyer’s premium ($3,855,350). The Koons market remains strong and his über bauble Cracked Egg (Magenta) (below), also the subject of a dedicated video and separate catalogue, made a hammer price of £12.5 million, smack in the middle of it’s £10-15 million estimate (£14,082,500 with the buyer’s premium or $23,376,950). The work is part of Koon’s “Celebration” series and the first cracked egg to come to auction. Domenico Gnoli’s Black Hair soared way past its £1.8 million high estimate to hammer at £6.2 million or £7,026,500 with the buyer’s premium ($11,544,540). According to Artinfo.com’s Judd Tully, it “sold to London dealer Guya Bertoni, who apparently beat out a determined Chinese telephone bidder. Bertoni acknowledged that she had bought the painting on behalf of a client as she raced out of the salesroom.” Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Slide Germ hammered below its £2.2 million estimate at £2.0 million or £2,322,500 with the buyer’s premium ($3,815,868).
Here’s more on some individual works in the sale.
The story behind the Bacon of George Dyer is complicated and ultimately tragic – from the catalogue:
Among the cast of colourful characters that touched Bacon’s life, George Dyer was perhaps one of the most captivating. The two men had met in Soho in the autumn of 1963.
Painted in 1966, Portrait of George Dyer Talking (1966) is a glowing tribute to George Dyer, Bacon’s great lover and muse. The subject of some of Bacon’s most arresting portraits including Two Studies of George Dyer (1968) (Art Museum Ateneum, Helsinki), Portrait of George Dyer in a Mirror (1968) (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid), andPortrait of George Dyer Riding a Bicycle (1966) (Fondation Beyeler, Basel), it was this man who was to dominate the artist’s greatest decade in paint: the 1960s. Even on the eve of the artist’s major retrospective at the Grand Palais, Paris in 1971, an occasion which marked his career’s achievements, it was Dyer who was to mark the occasion, tragically taking his life just hours before the opening.
From the catalogue:
Executed in 1989, Abstraktes Bild hails from the finest period in Richter’s abstraction and is a key example of this abstract style that would become synonymous with the artist and that he would return to time and again throughout his career. These works dating from 1988 through 1992 are the product of a long investigation into the possibilities of painting spanning more than five decades and are the purest articulation of the artist’s improvised technique.
According to a 2103 Koons statement: “Cracked Egg is a symbol of birth. It’s already happened so it’s about moving on and transcendence, like Botticelli’s Birth of Venus. It was technically very difficult to create due to both the concave and convex surfaces.”
From the catalogue:
Executed in 1978, Francis Bacon’s Study for a Portrait is a marked departure from the artist’s painting of the previous decade which had been dominated by canvases that explored his inner turmoil following the death of his former lover George Dyer. It is one of the first beacons marking Bacon’s emergence from this dark period thanks to his burgeoning friendship with John Edwards, an affable young East Ender four decades his junior whom he met in the Colony Club in 1974 and who became Bacon’s closest friend and companion from 1976. Study for a Portrait possesses many of the young man’s distinguishing features while seemingly merging them with that of Dyer and Bacon’s own self-portraits. The work also relates to a prolonged series of very dark self-portrait heads Bacon began in the mid-1970s.
I love this work – it’s big, authoritative, mysterious and magisterial. From the catalogue:
Vast and engulfing, Untitled of 1972 is an outstanding large-scale drawing related to both the poetics of Stephane Mallarmé and Twombly’s celebrated Bolsena series of paintings made in 1969, exemplified by its combination of fragmented language, disjointed measurements, corrections, grids and overdrawings schismatically outlining a sense of poetic calculation in space. It was during the summer of 1969 at the very same moment that Neil Armstrong was taking his first bold steps onto the surface of the moon, that Twombly found himself standing in the Palazzo del Dago on the shores of Lake Bolsena engaged in the painting of a series of white and grey-ground paintings that attempted to reflect a sense of the strange synchronicity of this division in space and time. The fourteen paintings that resulted from this summer came to be known as the Bolsena series and reflected in many ways the culmination of the artist’s increasing interest in the concepts of time, space and measurement as an essential part of his ongoing concern in the late 1960s with the development of line.
Sotheby’s February 12, 2014 Evening Sale of Contemporary art contains works by the artists collectors are hungry for: Richter, Warhol, Basquiat, Twombly, Freud and more.
The Richter Wall (above) opened at £12 million and it took an effort to get it to the £15.5 million hammer price. Indeed, much of the sale, with some exceptions, proved lethargic. Of 59 lots offered, two were withdrawn and ten failed to sell and generated a total of £87,915,500 ($144,550,665).
The Twombly from 1964, which had not been seen for some 40 years, generated a serious bidding war before finally hammering to a phone bidder for £10.8 million. The Basquiat Tenor just managed to hammer at £3.8 million, the bottom end of its estimate, while the Freud squeaked past its £2.5 million low estimate to hammer for £2.6 million, purportedly to Stephen Ongpin. The Kiefer Let a Thousand Flower Bloom dried up at £550,000 (low estimate was £60,000). The remaining Twombly’s sold – one (Lot 49, below) well over its high estimate, while another (Lot 52) went £10,000 over the reserve to hammer at £310,000.
This Twombly has apparently not been seen for some four decades, which makes its appearance at auction notable. From the catalogue:
Cy Twombly’s breathtaking painting Untitled (Rome) of 1964 brings together in perfect concert all the spectacular drama, enveloping scale, stunning colour, sublime confluence of line and form, and sheer emotional urgency that characterise the most irresistible achievements of his prodigious oeuvre. Executed in the artist’s thirty-sixth year, this major triumph of his groundbreaking 1960s output belongs to a critical moment in his long and illustrious career. Created in Rome, Twombly’s beloved adopted home, it was acquired in Italy forty-five years ago and has remained in the same important private European collection ever since. Never before exhibited publically,Untitled (Rome)’s monumental scale, surpassed by only one other work of 1964, sets it apart as among the most physically impressive canvases of Twombly’s entire canon. The canvas spans in excess of two by two and-a-half meters, and to stand before it first-hand is to enter an experiential arena limited only by the beholder’s imagination.
Thanks to Looting Matters for this fascinating story. Bloomberg’s Vernon Silver reports in The Apollo of Gaza about the discovery last year of an ancient male nude bronze statue purportedly in waters off the shore of the Gaza Strip. The nearly six-foot-tall, 1,000-pound antiquity is a rare surviving large scale figure, of Roman or Greek origin and perhaps 2,000-years-old. It’s also incredibly valuable to archaeologists, art historians, among others:
Research by Thomas Bauzou [a professor of ancient history at France’s Université d’Orléans who does archaeological research in Gaza] concluded … the statue dated from between the 5th century B.C. and 2nd century A.D. “The Apollo of Gaza is exceptional because it is the only classical Greek bronze life-size statue found in the whole Middle East.”
And, theoretically, it’s worth a good deal of money:
“A bronze of this size is one of a kind,” says Giacomo Medici, a dealer whose 2004 conviction in Rome for acting as a hub of the global antiquities trade led to the repatriation of works from the world’s biggest museums and richest collectors, including the Getty and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. If the Apollo could be sold, such a statue would bring “20, 30, 40 million euros, maybe more, 100 million for the highest quality,” Medici says, speaking by phone from house arrest at his villa north of the Italian capital. “You could make it a centerpiece of a museum or private collection.”
Because of numerous regulations, potential buyers in the US and Europe are prohibited from purchasing the statue, even if it could be exported from Gaza. Silver’s article provides some valuable insights on that dimension.
But the most intriguing question is where was the statue found. Jouda Ghorab, as 26-year-old fisherman claims to have discovered the object in 12- to 15-foot-deep waters off the coast in mid-August, 2013. However, at least one expert is unconvinced:
“It does not come from the sea. It’s obvious,” Bauzou says. The giveaway, they say, is the lack of any sea encrustation or damage from hundreds of years underwater. Instead, they suspect the bronze came from a clandestine excavation somewhere on land. “This story has been fabricated to hide the real place where the statue was found so they can continue digging.”
So what is the future for this amazing discovery:
Officially, that determination will be made by Hamas. “Our investigations are still going on,” says Muhammad Ismael Khillah, assistant undersecretary at the Gaza Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities … [who] hopes to strike a deal outside of Gaza to restore and display the bronze. Along with the Louvre, whose contacts have been “indirect,” a U.S. museum has gotten in touch, he says. (Of course, any Hamas deal with an American institution risks running afoul of sanctions if not done with permission from the U.S. government.)
One arrangement Khillah floats is lending out the Apollo to a foreign museum for money. “We are keeping the door open to cooperation with any government,” he says. He also doesn’t rule out a public exhibition at home in Gaza, making accommodations for its nudity, of course. “We will have to cover it in certain places,” he says. In the meantime, almost nobody can set eyes on the bronze, which is being held at a secret location. Khillah will reveal only a few details: The Apollo is in a Hamas Interior Ministry office, somewhere in Gaza, being kept away from sources of humidity, he says. It is propped up in a corner.
Christie’s will be offering property from estate of Huguette Clark, the reclusive heiress who died in May 2011 at the age of 104. As the New York Times obituary noted: “She was almost certainly the last link to New York’s Gilded Age, reared in Beaux-Arts splendor in a 121-room Fifth Avenue mansion awash in Rembrandt, Donatello, Rubens and Degas. Her father, a copper baron who once bought himself a United States Senate seat as casually as another man might buy a pair of shoes, had been born before the Mexican War.”
According to the Christie’s announcement, more than 400 items will be put to auction including “[f]our masterworks by Claude Monet and Pierre-Auguste Renoir will be presented in the Evening Sale of Impressionist & Modern Art at Christie’s New York on May 6, followed by a dedicated sale titled An American Dynasty: The Clark Family Treasures on June 18.”
One of the stars is a 1907 Claude Monet Nymphéas, that has not been publicly exhibited since 1926. According to the announcement:
Huguette Clark purchased Claude Monet’s Nymphéas in 1930 in New York from the Durand-Ruel Galleries, whose Paris branch had jointly acquired the work with the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune directly from the artist ten years earlier.
Paintings by John Singer Sargent and William Merritt Chase will also be offered:
Leading the group of American Art is John Singer Sargent’s Girl Fishing at San Vigilio [(Estimate: $3-5 million)] …
San Vigilio was a small fishing village at the southern end of Lake Garda and Sargent was so taken with this picturesque locale that he referred
to the spot as “paradise” in a letter to his friend Ralph Curtis. In Girl Fishing at San Vigilio, painted in 1913, Sargent painted one of his companions fishing along the shore, draped in a cashmere shawl, which appears in many of Sargent’s compositions from the period.”
[ … ]
William Merritt Chase’s A Water Fountain in Prospect Park (illustrated left; estimate: $700,000-1,000,000) was painted in Brooklyn, New York in 1886. It depicts a water fountain near the lake in the park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted and Calvert Vaux, the landscape architects also responsible for Central Park. This small work was probably painted en plein air at the park and belongs to a series of works he painted in the same park between 1886 and 1887. In 1915, Chase was commissioned to paint a portrait of Senator Clark and it has been surmised that this painting was given to Clark as a token for having commissioned the portrait.
A Degas that should have been part of the cache is instead with the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City. In March 2012 MSNBC reported about that a $10 million Degas ballerina painting was stolen sometime in the 1990′s from Clark’s extensive Fifth Avenue apartment complex overlooking New York’s Central Park. It ended up in the home of Henry Bloch (the “H” in H&R Block), who purchased it in good faith. Even after the theft was discovered and the FBI brought in, the very private Clark declined to make a stink lest the affair become public.
The National Gallery of Art has just announced a round of new acquisitions (made since September 2013) and the lead work is a crazy, opulent Still Life with Peacock Pie by the 17th Dutch painter Pieter Claesz:
In this large―more than four feet across―and magnificent banquet piece, Pieter Claesz (1596/97–1660) demonstrates why he was one of the most important still-life painters in Haarlem. A sumptuous feast is set with some of the most extravagant foods available in the Netherlands in the early 17th century. A large peacock pie is festooned with the fowl’s own feathers and gullet—a true delicacy marking only the most special occasions—plus a pink rose placed in its beak. An array of foods surrounds the garnished game, including a cooked bird, olives, lemons, breads, peaches, nuts, and candies. Many of these foods, which Claesz rendered beautifully in pewter platters and Wan-li bowls, were delicacies imported from foreign lands. A small mound of salt, which was itself a precious spice, in a gilded saltcellar adds even more flavor to the meal. Perched at the ready is a berkemeier filled with glistening white wine poured from a pewter pitcher.
Painted in 1627, the size of this spectacular banquet feast is critical to its impact. Using life-size pictorial elements, the table top becomes extension of the viewer’s space. Claesz subtly enhances the effect with evidence of human presence―food partially eaten, a napkin crumpled―and precisely captured textures: the pebbly lemon peel cascading from the plate, the shining pewter pitcher, the tablecloth’s crisp folds. He harmonized and animated the scene with subtle shadows and delicate touches of light, as in the light passing through the glass of wine and reflecting on the cloth. This banquet scene was purchased through the Lee and Juliet Folger Fund.
Also purchased, the first illustrated publication of De claris mulieribus by Giovanni Boccaccio; 15th- and 16th-century tempera-and-gold drawings on vellum by Zanobi Strozzi and Simon Bening; an 18th-century chalk-and-ink wash by Jean-Honoré Fragonard; 19th-century works on paper by French masters Cézanne, Monet, and Gauguin; and a charcoal-on-canvas painting by the American contemporary artist, Jim Dine, the first painting by the artist to enter the gallery’s collection.
UPDATE: The painting was featured in Robilant & Voena’s booth at Maastricht as seen in this Judd Tully video.
The standout in Sotheby’s current selling exhibition Painting & Passion: The Baroque in Italy is the dramatic/operatic Alessandro Magnasco prison painting (above). But when I saw it the other day I was struck with deja vu – hadn’t this recently been at auction.
In fact, the painting was sold at Dorotheum on April 17, 2013. The picture was estimated at EUR200,000-300,000 and sold for EUR253,330 (approximately $347,000) – the current asking price is slightly north of $1 million. This is one of the artist’s finest and most interesting works I’ve encountered and I don’t begrudge an owner who wants to make a profit, but a three fold increase?
The provenance provided by Sotheby’s lists the painting’s most recent appearance at auction as ” Sotheby’s, London 5th July 1995, lot 57″, and at least one Sotheby’s Old Masters representative queried professed to know nothing of the painting’s most recent auction history.
Setting aside all of that, enjoy the picture – if you’re in New York, be certain to visit Sotheby’s and see it. Meanwhile, here’s the catalogue entry from Dorotheum:
Fausta Franchini Guelfi believes the present painting to have been painted entirely by Alessandro Magnasco without the assistance of artists such as Antonio Francesco Peruzzini or Clemente Spera, and as such it is an important example within the artist´s oeuvre.
The theatrical rendering of the interior of a prison apparent in the present painting helps to illustrate an episode from the biblical story of Joseph and the composition almost certainly relates as a ricordo of a backdrop, or scenery, designed for the performance of an oratorio.
The story of Joseph offered reflections on both devout meditation and considerations on royal recognition, and the story was the subject of at least three “sacred acts” or oratorios sung at Vienna’s Imperial Chapel, all with text and music by Italian authors . The most well-known – Giuseppe (Joseph) by Apostolo Zeno (1722) and Giuseppe riconosciuto (Joseph recognised) by Pietro Metastasio (1733), the first with music by Antonio Caldara, the second set to music by G. Porsile – both focus on the end of the biblical hero’s story when Joseph, as the Pharaoh’s chief minister, recognises his brothers. However the performance of interest here is Gioseffo che interpreta i sogni (Joseph interpreting dreams) with text by Giovanni Battista Neri and music by Antonio Caldara, also performed in Vienna’s Imperial Chapel for Emperor Charles VI in 1726. A copy of the opera libretto, printed in Vienna, is in the Theatrical Library collections of La Scala in Milan (TI.R.909/18); while the score by Caldara is kept in the Archives of Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. The Parte Prima (First Part) starts precisely with the scene portrayed here by Magnasco, and the obsessive burden of prison in his painting, with connotations of suffering and denial of freedom, with Joseph’s Aria: “Maybe you are unsettled by your foot being / restrained within these walls? Ah! Be consoled in the knowledge / that every man in this world/ is a prisoner, / and whether his prison / be large or small / there is nothing of more pain or less suffering/ than a chain fixed to a wall”.
The oratorio would have been performed at a later date in Milan, which was usual practice for many performances first held in Vienna and the oratorio would have been held with the presence of the scenery. This suggests that the religious opera was performed at a convent, monastery or the palace of an nobleman (perhaps the commissioner of the painting himself) who followed the latest musical events of the Viennese court. Particularly appreciated were the works of Antonio Caldara (Venice 1670/1671–Vienna 1736), imperial composer as of 1716; the maestro of Emperor Charles VI who took pleasure in music and appreciated its extraordinary creative versatility.
If the painting, as has been suggested by Fausta Franchini Gulefi, were a documentation of the Milanese scenery of Gioseffo (Joseph), Magnasco would have had the sketch directly from the scenic designer in order to depict the scene, according to the commissioner’s wishes. It is currently not possible to propose the name of a scenic designer; however Corpo di guardia reale (The guard) and Anteriore di un serraglio di fiere (Front of a menagerie of animals) designed by Pietro Righini for Medo, performed at the Teatro Ducale of Parma in 1728, and engraved by Jacopo Vezzani and Martin Engelbrecht (see G. Botti, Pietro Righini apparatore e scenografo a Parma, in La Parma in festa. Spettacolarita e teatro nel Ducato di Parma nel Settecento, Modena 1987, fìgs. 6-7), can be compared, hypothetically, with the scenic design of Magnasco’s painting, both for the presence of the pointed arches in the centre of the scene, and the type of prison in Serraglio. The author of the scenic design for Gioseffo che interpreta i sogni (Joseph who interprets dreams) would have been, most probably a pupil of Ferdinando Galli Bibiena, as shown by the “veduta per angolo”; the presence of a large group of Bibiena scenic designers in Milan has been documented for the first half of the eighteenth century (S. Zatti Scenografi in Lombardia dallíllusione al vero, in Settocento Lombardo (exhibition catalogue) edited by R. Bossaglia, V. Terraroli, 1991, p. 441).
Fausta Franchini Guelfi dates the present composition to between 1726 and 1730 and it can be stylistically be compared to the works executed by Magnesco for Seitenstetten Abbey, Austria, painted for Conte Gerolamo Colloredo, the Austrian Governor of Milan. These works, and others completed during the succeeding period, such as the Satire of the Nobleman in Poverty (Detroit, Institute of Art) and The Synagogue (Cleveland, Museum of Art), suggest the artist’s active participation in the intellectual debates of advanced aristocratic circles. In the first half of the 18th century in Milan, protests against corruption in the monastic orders, religious intolerance and social prejudice and ignorance began to be expressed in circles that were particularly sensitive to the new ideas of the Enlightenment emerging from France, Austria and the countries of northern Europe. In fact it has been argued that Magnasco influenced by these trends, used compositions such as the present painting and others of his prison scenes to depict the misery of those incarcerated, using such works to show the poor conditions and the cruel methods of torture to which prisoners were subjected. Magnasco´s paintings such as the Transportation of Prisoners (F. F. Guelfi, Magnasco, 1977, p. 123, fig. 118) or a Scene of the Inquisition (Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna) were also social comments according to some observers.
Whatever the underlying message in Magnasco´s oeuvre it is clear that he excelled in producing canvases of atmospheric interiors. These were often peopled with small, and elongated characters who were frequently dressed in tatters, such as here, and they are rendered in flickering, nervous brushstrokes. Magnasco’s style is strikingly original. In late-baroque and Rococo painting, the loose brush became a tool used by other artists and ultimately, his work may also have influenced other celebrated painters de tocco (by touch) such as Gianantonio and Francesco Guardi in Venice.
We are extremely grateful to Fausta Franchini Guelfi for her help in the cataloguing of this lot.
Beautiful $13.6 Million Book of Hours and Choice $8.9 million Bassano lead Christies Jan. 2014 Old Masters Sale
ORIGINAL POST: The January 29, 2014 Old Masters sale at Christie’s in New York is crowded with intriguing and desirable works, starting with a beautiful Netherlandish Book of Hours from the early 16th-century. Though I’m quick to call out auction house hyperbole, this time the exaltations are worthy:
The Rothschild Prayerbook is one of the group of spectacular manuscrits-de-luxe produced around 1490 to 1520 for an international clientele and members of the Habsburg court in the Netherlands. Vast undertakings, they achieved completion — unlike so many earlier ambitious manuscript projects — through the efficient co-ordination of labour and the collaboration of several artists and their workshops.
The Rothschild Book of Hours includes work by Gerard Horenbout, Simon Benning and his father, Alexander Benning (also know as the Master of the Older Prayerbook), and Gerard David, who painted the image of the Madonna and Child on a Crescent Moon (above).The lot that surprised me is this Adoration of the Shepherds by Jacapo Bassano, specifically it’s $8-12 million estimate – and it carries a third party guarantee, so it will be sold. Jacopo Bassano ranked with Titian, Paolo Veronese and Tintoretto as among the most significant 16th-century artists in the Veneto, yet today he is not as well known as his peers. This is a particularly handsome example of his work – the details of the three shepherds (it has been suggested that they represent the three ages of man), particularly the oldest one kneeling in the foreground (Bassano’s pictures often have kneeling figures with legs tucked closely beneath them). The figure of St. Peter on the right is unusually imposing – even though he’s reclining, they way he engages the viewer verges on intimidating. More about the artist from the lot notes:
Jacopo Bassano, known as such because he was born in the town of Bassano del Grappa in the Veneto, was the son of a provincial painter, Francesco, and after working with him was sent to Venice where he trained with Bonifazio de’ Pitati. In Venice he would have been exposed to the work of Titian and Pordenone, whose influence is apparent in early works such as the Supper at Emmaus (Fort Worth, Kimbell Museum) of 1538. In the 1540s Pordenone’s influence–seen in the tendency to crowd figures into a curve in the foreground–is combined with a Lombard naturalism perhaps inspired by Savoldo and a colorism reminiscent of Lorenzo Lotto. By 1540, Jacopo had returned to live in his native Bassano where he would remain for the rest of his life. However, he traveled frequently to Venice and was clearly abreast of the current artistic trends there.
First, the biographical background from the sale catalogue:
Paolo di Giovanni Fei was among the leading Sienese painters of the 14th century. Influenced by the earlier masters of the Sienese Trecento including Duccio, Ugolino, the Lorenzetti, and Simone Martini, Fei also looked to the art of his closer contemporaries, Bartolo di Fredi and Andrea Vanni, as he developed his own style. First recorded as a painter in 1369, Fei’s earliest secure works date from 1381. His name is mentioned in the 1389 register of painters enrolled in the Breve dell’Arte, and between 1395 and 1400 he is documented as working in the Siena Cathedral. Although he is known to have undertaken major public commissions, Fei’s extant oeuvre mainly consists of small, exquisitely-wrought panels for private devotion, of which the present work is an important example.
The picture is characteristic work that also retains its original engaged frame “inlaid with small cabochon stones and medallions of reverse-painted glass, orverre églomisé.” It’s being offloaded by the estate of Barbara Piasecka Johnson with proceeds to benefit her eponymous foundation.
This is a so-so work in so-so condition by a very talented artist – it’s begin sold by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the lot notes:
Though long attributed to the master himself, more recent scholarship has convincingly associated this Madonna of Humility with an artist in Lorenzo’s workshop, which included, among others, the young Fra Angelico. However, Federico Zeri (loc. cit.) has argued that while executed by a close associate, the design of the present work must have been invented by the master himself. Zeri suggests The Madonna of Humility was painted c. 1405-1410, while Eisenberg (loc. cit.) favors a dating of c. 1408-1410.
Actually, for more than 40 years the attribution on this work has bounced between the artist, the artist and workshop and just plain workshop. Moreover, both scholars cited above say this is a workshop picture. That lack of consensus and it’s questionable condition could prove fatal.
This is a splendid picture by Leiden fijnschilder Frans van Mieris – intimate in scale and rich in detail. The photo would appear to make the lush sleeves look in more contrast to the rest of the clothing than is actually the case. From the lot notes:
Van Mieris was apparently fascinated with the subject of the seated traveler, as it appears elsewhere in his oeuvre. A similar figure can be found in The Painter in his Studio in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden …
The theme of the traveler is part of a long tradition in Netherlandish art, of which perhaps the best-known prototype is Hieronymus Bosch’s The Pedlar in the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam … Like Van Mieris’ protagonist, Bosch’s figure has a bag, hat, stick and untidy clothing. The Pedlar has been interpreted as embodying the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), the young man who squanders his inheritance on frivolous amusements in a distant land before returning home repentant, or, alternatively, as representing all mankind, striving to improve himself even as he is surrounded by opportunities for sin … The meaning of Van Mieris’ traveler is similarly complex: he is unambiguously drinking and living as a vagrant, yet his clear, intelligent gaze and handsome features distinguish him from the boorish peasants of [Adriaen] Brouwer and [David] Teniers [II]. A possible pendant, similar in size and also on copper, is Van Mieris’ The Broken Egg in the Hermitage Museum. In this painting, a woman sits on the ground beside a basket of eggs, staring forlornly at one that has broken on the ground beside her, perhaps referring to her lost virginity … Together, the two pictures might signify a narrative linking her unhappy expression with the traveler’s vagrancy, although the ambiguity of Van Mieris’ imagery prevents a single, definitive interpretation.
This is a peculiar picture that would benefit from a bath, but is not without charm. From the lot notes:
The 18th century witnessed a second Golden Age of Venetian culture: though the city was no longer a great political power, it had reemerged as an artistic capital, home to luminaries such as Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, Giambattista Piazzetta, and Giambattista Piranesi. Its greatest artistic dynasty, though, was without doubt the Tiepolo family workshop, in which the young Giandomenico trained under his father Giambattista and traveled with him to assist on vast decorative commissions in Wurzburg (1750-1752) and Madrid (1762-1770). In these early years, Giandomenico’s style was meant to blend seamlessly with that of his father, and some of his youthful works are barely distinguishable from Giambattista’s. Indeed, the present picture and its pendant Dancing the Minuet … which most recently sold at Christie’s, London (£1,308,500), were for many years thought to be works by the elder Tiepolo.
The catalogue notes open with this: “In exceptionally fine condition, this tender representation of the Annunciation is a rare, early painting by the South Netherlandish master, Jan Provost. Considered by Max J. Friedländer one of the most important exponents of the Renaissance as it was interpreted in the Low Countries, Provost was an extraordinarily inventive artist, never repeating his compositions and often striving for the esoteric and enigmatic in his paintings.”
Though I am a fan of the artist, I am not a fan of this painting. There is a certain lack of pictorial cohesion – the geometry of the room acts against rather than supports the primary narrative.
This is a highly important artist and a personal favorite of mine. I am, however, a little taken aback by the estimate. From the lot notes:
Conceived on an intimate scale, it originally formed the right half of a portable diptych, which could open and close like a book to be conveniently carried and displayed by travelers. David represents the Virgin Mary cradling Christ’s ashen body in her arms, while Saint John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene grieve behind them.
A popular subject in Netherlandish Renaissance art, The Lamentation depicts a moment immediately after Christ is taken down from the Cross. While the Deposition is briefly described by all four Evangelists, the specific episode represented here does not appear in the Gospels. David’s source was likely the Meditations on the Life of Christ, a widely read text that promoted a deep, personal connection with the sufferings of Jesus. Probably written in the late-13th century by an anonymous Franciscan friar called the Pseudo-Bonaventura, the book offers a detailed account of the events following the Crucifixion, specifying that Mary Magdalene and Saint John the Evangelist were both present while Mary mourned for her son. The motif of the Virgin embracing her son cheek-to-cheek, however, ultimately derives from a Byzantine icon type known as the Threnos.
Lost to notice until its discovery in a private European collection in 1998, this beautiful Self-Portrait as a Lute Player is by Artemisia Gentileschi, one of the leading painters of the Baroque age and among the boldest and most powerfully expressive woman painters in history. Born in Rome, Artemisia studied with her father, the prominent artist Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), who introduced her to the dramatic realism of Caravaggio and the practice of painting from live models. In 1611, when she was 17, she was sexually assaulted by her father’s business associate and fellow artist Agostino Tassi, a crime against the family’s honor. When Tassi reneged on his promise to marry Artemisia, Orazio brought charges against him, and at the end of a protracted trial, Tassi was convicted and sentenced to a 5-year banishment from Rome. To minimize the scandal which the trial had engendered, Orazio arranged for Artemisia to marry the minor Florentine painter, Pierantonio Stiattesi, and at the end of 1612, the couple moved to Florence, where they would live until 1620.
Once belonging to Ferdinando de’ Medici, Grand Prince of Tuscany, this splendid, recently discovered Still Life with musical instruments is among the masterpieces of Evaristo Baschenis, the preeminent still life painter of 17th-century Italy. An ordained priest and practicing musician in his native Bergamo, Baschenis invented the subject of the musical still life and became its most celebrated practitioner. His fascination with musical instruments, which he himself collected, was likely influenced by the contemporary fame of the Amati family of violin-makers in nearby Cremona, whom he may have known. While Baschenis’s dramatically illuminated, acutely naturalistic still lifes surely owe a debt to Caravaggio and the 17th-century Dutch, Flemish, and Spanish still life masters, their quiet poetry and exquisite harmonies of color and form reflect his own unique sensibility.
At present, there are only four signed works by “Giovanni da Bologna, one of the most faithful pupils of Lorenzo Veneziano (fl. 1356-1372), the leading Venetian painter of the second half of the 14th century. Although Giovanni’s career remains somewhat shrouded in mystery, recent efforts to reassess his development have uncovered numerous documents, including several which show that he worked in Treviso in the late 1370s and early 1380s. He is also recorded as living in Venice from 1383-1385, where he seems to have primarily remained for the rest of his career, writing his will in that city in October 1389.”
It is rare to see a 13th century Italian painting at auction:
[T]he present composition is inspired by the iconography known as the ‘Hodegetria’ type, which translates to ‘she who shows the way’. Associated with a lost Byzantine icon showing the Virgin Mary thought to have been painted from life by Saint Luke himself, this format was taken up by numerous painters of the 13th-century, who hoped to achieve an accurate depiction of the Mother of God. The most celebrated example of the so-called ‘Hodegetria’ was once kept in a home in Constantinople run by blind guides (hod*e*goi), whence the name. In such images, the Christ child, shown slightly off to one side of the composition, is presented as a teacher or ancient philosopher, dressed in a toga, holding a scroll while blessing the viewer with his empty hand. The Madonna’s proper right hand gestures toward her son, who will lead the way to salvation, while the elegant golden fringe on her mantle, as seen here at left, denotes her royal status as Queen of Heaven.
The posture and gestures of the Madonna have been conceived in such a way as a to emphasize her three-dimensionality as well as her expressiveness. Instead of facing the viewer squarely, she is turned at a slight angle to the picture plane, underscoring her bulk while at the same time emphasizing her protective stance towards her son, whom she gently supports on her lap. The placement of her hands, while recalling the Hodegetria type, underscores her caring, motherly attitude, instead of presenting him stiffly to the viewer, as was frequently the case in other such representations at the time. In this guise, she is more than Queen of Heaven: she is a human mother as well. Her gently inclined head and plaintive gaze add to the emotional tenor of the image, inviting the viewer to share in her love for her son as well as her future suffering. In the 1260s and 1270s, such innovations were truly remarkable: thisMadonna and Child thus provides an early glimpse of the human, earthly aspect of Christ’s life which would become the great devotional preoccupation of the Renaissance.
Despite some obvious condition issues, this is a splendid work by Arentino that should clean well:
Born in Arezzo around 1350, Spinello Aretino received major commissions throughout his life in his native city, as well as in Lucca, Florence, Pisa, and Siena. A passionate respondent to the work of Giotto’s immediate followers, such as Andrea di Cione, called Orcagna, and his brothers Nardo and Jacopo di Cione, Spinello soon became one of the most famous Tuscan painters of the late Trecento; by the early 15th century, his renown was such that he was awarded commissions for work in the Duomo (1404) and Palazzo Pubblico (1407) in Siena.
Born and baptized in Dordrecht, Bol went to Amsterdam to study with Rembrandt in about 1636, and probably remained in the studio until about 1641. Some scholars have proposed that Bol may have even become an assistant to the older master, a level of responsibility suggested by his having witnessed a document in 1640 concerning the inheritance of Rembrandt’s wife, Saskia van Uylenburgh (1612-1642). Like that of his teacher, Bol’s oeuvre largely consists of history pictures, portraits, and genre figures dressed in exotic costumes. Bol also remained deeply influenced by Rembrandt’s palette, technique, and compositions through the 1640s. Bol was successful throughout his entire career, and by the mid-1650s was unrivalled by any of his contemporaries in Amsterdam in receiving official commissions.
Datable to c. 1642, the present Portrait of a Gentleman is contemporaneous with Bol’s earliest signed and dated works, such as the Portrait of a Woman (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art); the Portrait of a Young Woman(Baltimore, Baltimore Museum of Art); and the Portrait of a middle-aged woman (Berlin, Gemäldegalerie).
From the lot notes:
Painted in 1542, this beautifully preserved Portrait of Barbara Schwarz is among the most significant surviving works by the German Renaissance artist, Christoph Amberger, the leading portraitist of the patrician classes in 16th-century Augsburg. One of the major masters of the International courtly portrait style prevailing at the time, Amberger, like his near contemporary Hans Holbein, belongs to the generation of artists following that of Albrecht Dürer.
The Portrait of Barbara Schwarz has as its pendant the portrait of her husband, Matthäus Schwarz [in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza] … Just months after his own likeness was finished, Matthäus commissioned Amberger to execute his wife’s portrait to commemorate her 35th birthday, of which the date, 21 August 1542, is inscribed at upper right.
An astrological horoscope is [also] included at upper right [corner of the painting], consisting of a diagram showing the position of the stars at the time of the sitter’s birth on 21 August 1501.
This painting is large and strange – the subject is the Protestant Reformation – as the catalogue notes: “Painted in 1536, the [Law and Grace] panel illustrates Martin Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith with explanatory passages from a German translation of the bible written on papers affixed to its lower and upper edges.”
The message of Law and Grace is rooted in the theological principles of Martin Luther, as set forth in his Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians (published in 1535, but based on lectures given as early as 1519; see J. Dillenberger, Images and Relics: Theological Perceptions and Visual Images in Sixteenth-Century Europe, Oxford, 1999, p. 96). In the tract, the German reformer asserted that Christian salvation is not dependent on human actions, i.e., “good works”, but rather on undeserved divine Grace freely given by God. Charity, penance, purchasing of indulgences or any mortal acts are ultimately ineffectual: mankind’s sole path to heaven is through faith and God’s grace. In Luther’s words: “By faith alone can we become righteous, for faith invests us with the sinlessness of Christ. The more fully we believe this, the fuller will be our joy.” (M. Luther, Commentary on St. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians, trans. T. Graebner, Grand Rapids, 1941, chapter 1, verse 13; see also B. Noble, Lucas Cranach the Elder: Art and Devotion of the German Reformation, p. 35 ff.).
From the lot notes:
Previously unpublished, this Pietà is a significant addition to Vasari’s corpus of paintings. Representing the moment following Christ’s Deposition, it shows the Virgin seated before the cross, mourning the loss of her Son. His slumped body is resting at her feet; at his side lies the crown of thorns, one of the instruments of his Passion. As related in the Gospels, the scene is shrouded in darkness with the sun and moon obscured. It is typical of the smaller-scale devotional paintings that Vasari made for friends and private patrons in and outside Florence during the earlier years of his career and in particular prior to his engagement as court artist to Duke Cosimo de’ Medici in Florence in 1555.
UPDATE: One bidder picked up several of the best Dutch paintings at today’s sale of Old Masters at Sotheby’s including the newly rediscovered Honrthorst (above), the Pieter Brueghel the Younger Summer scene (below), the Ochtervelt (below) and lot 19, a Martin van Cleve picture - spending a total of $17,308,000. The highest estimated lot, an insipid Fragonard estimated at $6-8 million, tanked. Of the 73 lots originally offered, 3 were withdrawn and thirty failed to sell. More results from this morning’s sale. As expected, the Vernet (below) did not sell; and as hoped for, neither did that insipid Fragonard.
ORIGINAL POST: Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York are getting ready to auction hundreds of Old Master paintings and drawings later this month. Each has produced a specialty catalogue within the sale – at Christie’s it’s Renaissance and at Sotheby’s, The Courts of Europe. Finally, each has on offer works either unknown or not seen in a very long time. Christie’s, however, has a more interesting group of works.
A recently re-discovered Honthorst (above), while not carrying the highest estimate at Sotheby’s January 30, 2014 Old Master Painting sale, is certainly one of the sale’s most interesting works. Sotheby’s calls it “a major addition” to Honthorst’s oeuvre, though it’s not nearly as significant as the large-scale concert painting recently acquired by the National Gallery of Art. Nevertheless, it is important because of its subject and quality, and it more affirmatively displaces a painting of the same subject in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon that until 20 years ago had been considered autograph Honthorst. It’s one of several significant 17th-century Dutch paintings discussed in a brief video about the sale.
Honthorst is among the group of Utrecht Caravaggisti - artists who were influenced by and emulated Caravaggio. His major colleagues/competitors were Dirck van Baburen (ca. 1592/93-1624) and Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629). This picture is museum worthy and the estimate seems modest given its import.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s interpretation of Summer must be considered one of his most popular and successful subjects, and the present version is perhaps the finest and most impeccably preserved example to emerge in decades. Of the approximately twenty variations on the composition which [Klaus] Ertz [in Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38). Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen 1988/2000] considers autograph (only five of which are dated), this panel, signed and dated 1600, is the earliest by some 21 years, a fact which strongly suggests that it is the prime version of the group.
The violence inflicted on 14th-and 15th-century polyptychs and panel paintings is evident in the work above. Predellas, pinnacles and other segments were sawn off and sold piecemeal, which destroyed the narrative structure, obscured iconography that could point towards those who commissioned the work, and other salient details. The lot notes indicate how little is known about this work’s original function: “It would appear that the panel either sat above and between two larger panels, or perhaps formed part of a piece of furniture, such as choir stall seating.” Nevertheless, this is of significance; as the catalogue entry states:
This exquisitely rendered depiction of a prophet, only newly discovered, is a rare and important addition to the corpus of Simone Martini, one of the undisputed masters of early Italian painting. Simone skillfully combined the innovations of Duccio with Giotto’s lively narratives and, far outshining his contemporaries, he created exalted compositions that were as sensational to the 14th century viewer as they remain today.
According to the lot notes: “This rare, Marchigian master takes his name from an unusual Late Gothic triptych dating to 1408, removed from San Bartolo (or rather, San Bartolomeo), Urbino, in 1864 and now in the Galleria Nazionale delle Marche, Urbino.” This may or may not have been part of a larger altarpiece or a portable triptych. The painting could certainly use a bath and there are surface abrasions and losses that require attention, but overall this work is in solid shape. Compositionally, it follows accepted iconographic protocols, but there is one odd and amusing feature I don’t recall seeing in comparable works from the period – note the heads in profile at the top of the painting, seeming to move behind the hilly backdrop. They have halos, which makes them saints, perhaps the Apostles. Again, a pictorial device I don’t recall having seen before.
The catalogue entry for this early Italian painting starts: “An early and rare panel of monumental scale, this remarkably expressive and touching depiction of the Madonna and Child can be dated between circa 1285 and 1290. While the painting undoubtedly shares an affinity with models by Duccio di Buoninsegna, such as his Rucellai Madonna, now in the Uffizi, Florence (inv. no. P555), Andrea De Marchi and Laurence Kanter believe the author of this panel to have been Florentine rather than Sienese, and more heavily influenced by Duccio’s contemporary Cimabue.”
Unfortunately, the condition of the painting, specifically the losses on the faces of the Madonna and Child (particularly the latter), will likely make a successful sale difficult to any but the most dedicated.
This detail in the provenance hints this picture may be “shopped out” and/or the Vernet market was overheated – the present collector purchased this work just over 15 years ago (London, Christie’s, 16 December 1998, lot 71) for $1,809,782, just a hair over the current low estimate. Not a particularly good investment.
First, let’s dispense with the auction house hype: “This landscape by Jan van Goyen is among the most refined and impeccably preserved examples from his entire oeuvre to come to market. Dated 1646, it is an ideal demonstration of the artist’s shift from a purely tonal color palette of various hues of brown, characteristic of his work from the 1630s, towards a more naturalistic and varied range of blues, greens, dark browns and greys.”
Initially, I was skeptical, but upon firsthand inspection, it is a wonderful picture. The figures (below) are engaged in a variety of activities that gives the work narrative strength an diversity – some are skating, a group travels in a horse drawn sled, and one fellow chases after his hat – the articulation of windmill’s details, such as the black highlights on the ladders, adds veracity and texture.
There are so many versions of this image – here’s the background:
The composition of The Bird Trap is one of the most popular created by the Brueghel family. The prototype has generally been thought to be the painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, signed BRVEGEL and dated 1565, formerly in the F. Delporte collection and now in the Musées des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. More recently, however, Klaus Ertz has proposed that the prototype may be a lost work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, inspired by Pieter Breugel the Elder’s celebrated Hunters in the Snow, also of 1565 and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Pieter Brueghel the Younger and his busy studio produced numerous copies and variations of the composition.
UPDATE: This painting was purchased by London-based Old Master dealer Johnny van Haeften and it was featured in his TEFAF 2014 booth in Maastricht with an asking price of $7.5 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.
This painting would appear to be a new addition – and the earliest dated work – from a group of nine other paintings of the genre. From the catalogue:
A Child and Nurse in the Foyer of an Elegant Townhouse is an previously unpublished painting by Jacob Ochtervelt and an important addition to his oeuvre. The only record that we have been able to find for it is the auction catalogue from 1816 … The subject matter and composition are related to a group of nine other “entrance hall paintings” that Ochtervelt made over the course of about twenty years and which are universally considered to be among his most innovative and interesting pictures. Meticulously painted, the present work is both a beautiful example of Ochtervelt’s luminous style as well as a sophisticated representation of Dutch life and values in the mid-17th century.
I find this both prurient and insipid … but let the catalogue entry enlighten us:
Painted in circa 1770, this light and intimate scene dates from Fragonard’s most fertile artistic period. The spontaneous brushwork clearly illustrates why Fragonard’s virtuoso technique so impressed his contemporaries and why his style still resonates with the modern viewer as much as it did for the members of the court of Louis XV. The artist offers allows us to peer into a moment of blithe playfulness as two girls, probably in their early teens, delight in each other’s company. While the innocence of the scene is underlined by the stock symbolism of the lapdogs, a gentle eroticism pervades the scene; the picture was almost certainly destined to hang in a private boudoir, in much the same way as the artist’s celebrated and much copied Girl in her Bed, Making her Dog Dance, from circa 1768, in Munich.
In a significant development, a settlement has been reached in the multi-year dispute between Sotheby’s and the Cambodian government about an allegedly looted 10th-century Khmer sculpture, according to the New York Times:
The accord ends a long bare-knuckled court battle over the Khmer treasure, a 10th-century statue valued at more than $2 million. The Belgian woman who had consigned it for sale in 2011 will receive no compensation for the statue from Cambodia, and Sotheby’s has expressed a willingness to pick up the cost of shipping the 500-pound sandstone antiquity to that country within the next 90 days.
A quick recap of the situation: Sotheby’s planned to sell the statue in New York for an estimated $2-3 million during a March 24, 2011 auction. Cambodian officials raised concerns about the work’s provenance and it was pulled from the sale. Federal officials confiscated the work in April 2012 and Sotheby’s entered into litigation over the statue’s ownership. Cambodian officials claimed the statue, and possibly a companion piece now in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, CA, was looted during that country’s 1970′s-era civil war. Sotheby’s countered there’s no proof, the statues could have been removed any time in the past 1,000 years and they were legally exported into the US. However, some anecdotal evidence has the statues in situ in the 1960′s.
Of the settlement, the Times reports:
The settlement, filed in United States District Court in Manhattan, declared that all sides agreed that additional litigation “would be burdensome and would require resolution of disputed factual issues and issues of U.S., Cambodian, French Colonial, and other law.”
The article also states that Cambodian officials are turning their attention to the statue at the Norton Simon Museum.
UPDATE: This lot sold for €94,734 (€75,000 hammer price plus the buyer’s premium).
ORIGINAL POST: This handsome 17th century Italian Baroque painting by Giovanni Battista Boncori at Tajan’s December 11, 2013 Old Master Painting sale in Paris recently caught my eye.
The tight composition, elegant depiction of the figures, and deft use of a restricted palette are part of the appeal. So who is this guy? Information about the artist, like his extant body of work, is scarce and at times contradictory. According to a Wikipedia entry (which spells his last name Buonocore): “[H]e first trained with [Pier Francesco] Mola in Lombardy, then traveled to Parma, Venice, Ferrara, Cento, Florence, and Bologna, before settling in Rome.” A recent Sotheby’s catalogue entry for Rest on the Flight into Egypt attributed to the artist (that failed to sell) says: “Boncori trained in the workshop of Pier Francesco Mola between 1660-66.” Meanwhile, La Gazette Drouot, in a catalogue entry about another of the artist’s work, says Boncori arrived in Rome in 1660 and trained in Mola’s workshop (so when and where Boncori first met Mola is unclear, along with when he first gets to Rome).
According to La Gazette Drouot, after Boncori returned to Rome he was the guest of Cardinal Francesco Maria Mancini, brother of Lorenzo Mancini (the brother of Cardinal Mazarin). He received commissions from Mancini along with the Colonna family and the community of Dominicans. He entered the Academy of St. Luke in 1678, became professor five years later, then director in 1699, the year he died. Carlo Maratta succeeded him.
The Wikipedia entry also states:
He painted an altar-piece for the Chiesa degli Orfanelli at Rome. He is known there for a canvas of Martyrdom of San Gaetano which was once in the Villa Medici. He also painted a San Andrea Avellino, Massacre of the Innocents, St Anthony of Padua with Virgin and Child, and a Deposition. He painted a Crucifixion for the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. He also painted some frescoes in the tribune of the church of San Carlo al Corso. He painted the main altarpiece for the church of the Orfanelli. He painted a series of canvases depicting the victories of Hannibal at Ticino, Trebbia, Trasimeno, and Canae, and also the Defeat of Hasdrubal at the battle of Metauro.
The present work comes from the Koelliker Collection, having previously been in the collection Cardinal Luigi Alessandro Omodei (before 1682) and with the art dealers Altomani & Sons in Milan (2005). It was included in the 2005 exhibition: Mola and His Time: Figure Painting in Rome from the Koelliker Collection, and cited as follows: “One of the most important new acquisitions within the school of Mola, is Elias with the Angel by John Batiste Boncori, an artist who has been all but forgotten but that in the second half of the 1600′s was greatly appreciated and even became Prince of the Academy of Saint Luke.”
I think this is a very appealing picture, but I don’t know if it’s fresh to the market (relatively speaking, this was sold to the Koelloker Collection in 2005), if it’s shopped out.
Today about a dozen works are firmly attributed to the artist and two are owned by the Chrysler Museum in Norfolk, VA – one titled The Musical Group has been in their collection since 1971.
The second work is a pendant – same dimensions, same models and almost a mirror image compositionally – and it came up at auction in Paris in May 2009.
Estimated at €120,000-150,000, the museum spent €409,795 (€350,000 hammer price plus buyer’s premium) and a year restoring the work. The Card Players now hangs next to The Musical Group.
$15.7 million Pair of Canalettos leads Sotheby’s December 2013 Evening Sale of Old Masters in London
POST SALE UPDATE:
The just concluded Evening Sale, which saw the star lot – a pair of Canaletto’s sell for a hammer price of £8.5 million (£9,602,500 with the buyer’s premium or $15,732,736 ) – started with a sprint. The Pietà by the van der Weyden in brisk bidding shot well past its £300,000 high estimate and sold to a determined telephone bidder for a hammer price of £800,000 (£962,500 with the buyer’s premium or $1,576,960). Of the 49 lots offered, one was withdrawn and thirteen failed to sell. The tiny Cranach of Lucretia, as predicted, was also very popular, surpassing its £500,000 top estimate to make an £850,000 hammer price (£1,022,500 with the buyer’s premium or $1,675,264). The Aert van der Neer and Cranach the Younger Virgin and Child sold on the lower side of their respective estimates while the Frans Hals portrait did slightly better. And, two of the three Leverhulme paintings bombed – the one that sold – the Rossetti – struggled to make its low estimate.
ORIGINAL POST: The Evening Sale of Old Masters at Sotheby’s December 4, 2013 in London, leads with a pair of “sofa size” oils by Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, a group of Cranachs (both Lucas the Elder and the Younger), Dutch pictures including a Hals portrait and an Aert van der Neer winter scene, and concludes with three Victorian works from the Leverhulme Collection. Also tucked into the sale is a splendid work based on a Pietà by the great 15th century Rogier van der Weyden.
The Canalettos (above) come from the HSBC corporate collection, formerly know as Safra Republic Holdings. The paintings depict quintessentially Venetian views – the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marco, as Sotheby’s specialist Alexander Bell tells us in a two-minute video. The pictures capture the city’s great and iconic architecture, the hustle of daily life on the canal and in the piazza, all in lively brushwork and loving attention to detail. The price, however, strikes me as a bit steep, all the more so if they’ve been offered privately.
This Pietà by a follower of Rogier van der Weyden (above) is one of a number of known variants. Another in the National Gallery in London (below), was considered autograph, though in recent years it has been assigned to his workshop. The only accepted autograph version (further below) is in the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium. The picture at Sotheby’s is closer in composition to the Brussels version, though substantially smaller. The handling of St. John’s face in the picture at auction is not as refined as the Brussels picture, though the treatment of the faces of Christ, the Virgin and the Magdelene are of better quality and closer to the Brussels work. Other differences from the autograph panel include the color of the robes of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdelene, the treatment of the background landscape, and the lack of the skull in the work at auction. Nevertheless, this appears to be a beautiful panel that could reveal some more secrets and details following proper restoration.
According to the lot notes, this painting “was completely unknown to scholars until its appearance at auction at Sotheby’s in 1975 … [where] it caused a sensation, fetching the then unprecedented price of £110,000.” It has gotten a little more expensive since then. It may or may not be “one of [the artist's] finest works left in private hands,” as Sotheby’s claims, but it is impressive, intricate and a thoroughly delightful example of 17th Dutch winter scenes.
This tiny Lucretia is the sort of little jewel of restrained eroticism that old school dealers and collectors adore. Provided it’s fresh to the market, it should do well. It’s the first of sale’s three Cranachs, about which there is a video.
I’m not particularly impressed with this Hals – there’s a certain lack of vibrancy. As the catalogue says: “Much has been written about Frans Hals’ bravura brushwork, which is the overriding hallmark of his style.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t come through for me. [I'm also suspicious of catalogue entries that include language about the "magnificent" frame - who cares?]
The following in the Day Sale caught my eye, a pair of panels for a polyptych by Puccio di Simone:
From the lot notes:
Puccio di Simone was active in Florence around the middle of the fourteenth century and was heavily influenced both by Maso di Banco and Bernardo Daddi. One of his early works, an Annunciation with two saints in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence, also betrays the influence of Giovanni da Milano. Puccio is first recorded as a painter in 1346 when his name was included in the records of the Arte dei Medici de Speziali, the guild of doctors, druggists and painters but he is known to have been active before then since his damaged frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella in Florence once bore the date of 1340.
These youthful works, probably datable to the late 1340s, formed part of the same dismembered polyptych as the Saint James the Greater in the Seattle Art Museum. Boskovits associated the latter with a Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine last recorded in Berlin with Paul Bottenweiser. In the original configuration, the Mystic Marriage would have formed the central component; along the left would have stood the present Saint James the Lesser and a fifth, as-yet unknown panel; on the right flank would have stood the Seattle Saint James the Greater and the present Saint John the Baptist [above]. All the extant panels except the Saint John the Baptist stand out for their lavish use of the same decorative arabesque motif which is also present in several late works by Bernardo Daddi and his shop and it is likely that the two artists were collaborating regularly by the early 1340s.2
As noted above, the Evening Sale’s final three works, all Victorian pictures, come from the Leverhulme Collection. I happen not to care for a single one.
SEE UPDATE AFTER ORIGINAL POST
ORIGINAL POST: Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight has an amazing story about a Bernardo Strozzi painting, St. Catherine of Alexandria, that has recently been donated to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). According to Knight: [The] Nazi-looted Baroque masterpiece … turned up on the art market five years ago [and] was returned Friday to its owner.” Here are some of the many interesting highlights:
The restitution of the Strozzi by an Italian court was made to Philippa Calnan, the original owner’s sole direct descendant. Calnan, a retired public affairs director at LACMA and the J. Paul Getty Trust, is making the gift to the museum.
The painting is among Strozzi’s supreme early achievements. It disappeared after the 1943 Nazi occupation of Florence, one of nearly a dozen works stolen from the collection assembled by Charles A. Loeser, an American expatriate and heir to a Brooklyn department store fortune. Loeser moved to Italy in 1890 and died in 1928.
Sotheby’s was approached about accepting the painting for auction, but research into its provenance, or history of ownership, identified its status as Nazi plunder. The auction house notified Italian police and contacted Calnan, Loeser’s granddaughter.
The painting had by then been jointly bought by Marco Voena and Fabrizio Moretti, Old Master art dealers with galleries in Milan, Florence, London and New York. Calnan was blocked by the Italian courts from obtaining an export license for what was deemed a national treasure. She appealed the ruling.
The Strozzi is one of two Loeser works looted by the Nazis to resurface. Last year, a gold-ground Sienese devotional altar by the Master of the Richardson Triptych (circa 1370-1415) [below] was retrieved by the FBI from Moretti’s Manhattan gallery. Like the Strozzi, it was listed in the Lost Art database. In excellent condition given its age and tumultuous history, “The Virgin and Child Enthroned With Angels and Saints, the Redeemer and the Annunciation” is also on loan to LACMA.
UPDATE: The two art dealers from whom the painting was confiscated – Marco Voena and Fabrizio Moretti – have responded by email to the Los Angeles Times’ request for comment. First, it’s unfortunate that it took a couple of days to get a response. Second, the response provided by Voena on behalf of himself and Moretti doesn’t address the extent of their due diligence (or if it does, it was not included in the follow up article). The Los Angeles Times reports: “Voena said that the pair had acquired the painting “in good faith” in 2006 from Open Care, a company in Milan that offers art-related services, including appraisals, storage and restoration. The price was 450,000 euros, the equivalent of about $611,000 today.” When the pair tried to auction the painting through Sotheby’s in 2009, the auction house quickly determined the painting was looted. What due diligence did the two pursue? When acquiring works do they check them against databases of looted and stolen art? The article includes the following:
Voena said that the dealers’ joint acquisition of the painting took place when “restitution issues were very much in their infancy. There may already have been such issues in Germany and the Netherlands and the northern countries generally, but Italy seemed to be completely out of the loop, presumably as very little looting had taken place in the first place.”
“Restitution issues” were not “in their infancy” in 2006 – far from it. Moreover, the painting was listed on the Lost Art Internet Database, founded in 1994. Calling into question “restitution issues” does these dealers a disservice. It would be better for these dealers to describe how they vet material before they buy it, and use this experience to educate their clients and colleagues, and collectors generally, about the need for proper documentation. In addition, what about Open Care, the organization from which the men purchased the Strozzi? Where did they get the painting? What do we know about their due diligence? Have they been associated with any other similarly problematic works? Finally, what are the responsibilities of buyers and sellers?
POST SALE UPDATE: A recently rediscovered Claude Lorrain (above) that sold for £5,066,500 (£4.45 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium), was the highlight in an otherwise unremarkable sale. Of the 46 lots offered, none were withdrawn and 12 failed to sell. One work that got bidders’ blood flowing was Marten van Cleve I’s Saint George’s Day (below), estimated at £200,000 – £300,000 ($320,400 – $480,600). It opened at £160,000 and rapidly shot up to £560,000, before making a hammer price of £620,000, more than doubling its high estimate, or £746,500 with the buyer’s premium ($1,224,260).
ORIGINAL POST: Compared against the great Honthorst just acquired the National Gallery of Art, the offerings at Christie’s Old Masters Evening Sale in London on December 3 look a bit thin, though there are a handful of pictures worth watching, several of which the auction house claims are recently rediscovered. The lead lot, by estimate, is a Claude Lorrain harbor scene (above), and it is about as Claudian in terms of composition and luminosity as they get. The lot notes trumpet this work as a great rediscovery – the composition had been known through variants, including one until now considered autograph:
The reappearance of The Embarkation of Saint Paula from the Smith collection at Hambleden Manor, Buckinghamshire constitutes the most important rediscovery of a painting by Claude Lorrain in more than a generation. It is not that the Hambleden Claude was entirely unrecorded, but it was inaccessible to scholars and students of Claude’s works – even through photographic reproduction – and had been unseen by the public since the late 19th century, when it was last exhibited at the Royal Academy … [T]he careful examination of the present painting, undertaken only in the last few months after it was withdrawn from a sale (Colefax and Fowler. Then and Now. Collection from Hambleden Manor, Lushill and 39 Brook Street, Mayfair; Christie’s, London, 10 July 2013), has shown the Hambleden painting to be – beyond question – not only Claude’s unique autograph version of the composition, but a masterpiece of the artist’s full maturity … Professor Marcel Rothlisberger, doyen of Claude studies and author of the catalogue raisonnéof the artist’s paintings … declared it a ‘great Claude’, concluding that it is ‘a truly sensational discovery, all the more so as the picture is in such wonderful condition, luminous, visible down to every detail, complete with an elaborate figure scene, the brilliant sun, rippling waves, a Roman temple, trees and rocks’ (written correspondence, 19 September 2013).
The lot notes claim this work is in a “perfect state of preservation.” This quintessentially de Heem, an exuberant overabundance of flora and fruit. No dull, moralizing and ponderous memento mori here, this is straight up eye candy.
Marten van Cleve could be an extremely accomplished painter, but I don’t think this is a picture with which to make that claim – it’s a dense composition, but broadly painted. Nevertheless, to the lot notes:
This exceptionally large treatment of the theme of the village kermesse, a subject which enjoyed widespread popularity in the art of Early Modern Northern Europe, particularly in the Dutch and Flemish tradition, has long been associated with the world of Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Sold as ‘School of Pieter Brueghel II’ in 1974, the work was published Dr. Klaus Ertz as ‘very close to the early pictures of Pieter II’ (‘Sehr nahe bei den frühen Pieter II-Bildern’): ‘the hand is that of another painter, unknown to us, who must have painted this wonderful composition towards the end of the sixteenth century, in the immediate proximity of Pieter II’s early compositions. We cannot exclude that Pieter II was himself influenced by this enormous painting’ (loc. cit., p. 881).
More recently, Dr. Ertz has identified this as the work of the earlier artist Marten van Cleve, a contemporary of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This makes it a fascinating rediscovery, an exciting addition to the oeuvre of this important sixteenth-century artist, a key ‘missing link’ in the development of Flemish painting of the Northern Renaissance.
A more interesting work is his Blind Leading the Blind (below):
The Brueghel Birdtrap is one of dozens of variants of this subject, as noted in the catalogue entry:
This picture is an exquisite and beautifully preserved example of what is arguably the Brueghel dynasty’s most iconic invention. With no fewer than 127 versions of varying quality surviving, The Bird Trap is one of the most enduringly popular images in Western art. The sheer number of these extant examples suggests that many would have been workshop productions. By contrast, the present work is one of only 45 panels to have been recognised as autograph by Klaus Ertz, the leading expert on the artist, who praised its ‘remarkable quality and perfect state of conservation, certainly [a work] by the hand of the master himself’ (K. Ertz, Breughel-Brueghel, Antwerp, 1997, p. 369).
Also in the rediscovery department is the van de Velde II maritime scene. According to the lot notes:
[T]his picture has been untraced since it last appeared at auction in the Bernonville sale in Paris in 1881. Until now it has been known only by virtue of an engraving made by H. Toussaint which served as an illustration in the 1881 sale catalogue. On this basis, Robinson included the picture in his catalogue raisonné, surmising that: ‘Until the original picture has been found, it can only be assumed that it was an early work by the Younger painted for the Van de Velde studio, c.1655.’ M.S. Robinson, A catalogue of the paintings of the Elder and the Younger Willem van de Velde, London, 1990, I, p. 310, no. 840.
Of this painting the lot notes include the following:
Traditionally regarded by connoisseurs as a masterpiece by the greatest of all Dutch artists, in recent years, along with many other Rembrandt paintings from the years 1643-45, the status of Man with a Sword has been disputed, with attributions made to various pupils of Rembrandt rather than to the master himself. Recently the subject of a thorough re-appraisal, this painting sheds fascinating new light on Rembrandt’s studio practice during one of the most enigmatic and least well-documented phases of his career. Through a process of scientific investigation, which had never before been conducted on the picture, the removal of an old obscuring varnish, and fresh scholarly analysis, Man with a Sword has now been acknowledged as a reliably signed and dated portrait which was conceived by Rembrandt and then fashioned into a historical portrait or tronie by another artist active in the Rembrandt workshop.
Perhaps this altarpiece fragment will be reunited with its related panels, then we’ll know more about the iconography and intent. It”s an intriguing picture and the punch work haloes are wonderful. The lot notes contain the following about the artist’s life:
Lorenzo was a painter-businessman who established a practice which lasted for three generations: he worked closely with his son, Bicci di Lorenzo, who inherited the workshop that he in turn passed on to his own son, Neri di Bicci, in the mid-15th century. So cohesive was the workshop practice that it is often difficult to distinguish the hand of Lorenzo from that of the precociously talented Bicci di Lorenzo.
What’s unclear from the catalogue notes is whether there is agreement about the authorship. The only bibliographic reference, Bernard Berenson’s Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Florentine School (1963) lists the work as by Spinello Aretino. No other scholars are cited.
Jan Breughel the Elder – the Velvet Brueghel – authored this small and entertaining Temptation of St. Anthony. According to the lot notes:
This Temptation of Saint Anthony is a rare example of the subject by Jan Brueghel, who despite a prolific oeuvre comprising nearly 400 works is only known to have turned to this theme on eight occasions (other examples are now in Kassel, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel; New Haven, Yale University Museum; Munich, Alte Pinakothek; Vienna, Kunsthistoriches Museum; Italy, private collection; and France, private collection). This picture is closest in overall composition to a slightly larger copper dated 1604 now in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden.
How will the Christie’s Payment of Tithes fare following the November 13, 2103 sale at Artcurial of an earlier version of the work (below), which carried an estimate of €300,000-400,000 and sold for €1,660,362? Of that painting, Artcurial’s press release noted:
This Payment of the Tithe, in exceptional condition, is considered the earliest version of this famous subject among the score known. Its signature is also of particular interest: around 1616 the artist altered the spelling of his name from BRVEGHEL to BREVGHEL, and this panel is unique among versions of the Payment of the Tithes as the only one to be signed BRVEGHEL.
Ot the present lot, the catalogue notes:
CONSERVED FOR MORE THAN 200 YEARS in the private collection of a single family, until the death of the 8th comte de Gouvion Saint-Cyr in 2012, this fine version of the Payment of the Tithes, sometimes also known as theCountry Lawyer, first came to the attention of scholars of the artist in 2003 … At this time parts of the painted surface were obscured by old overpainting and a dulled varnish, preventing full appreciation of its merits. A recent restoration has unveiled an exceptionally well-preserved original paint layer.
UPDATE: This lot was sold to NY-based dealer Otto Naumann who had the work cleaned by London restorer Henry Gentle in time for TEFAF 2014 in Maastricht, according to the New York Times. Asking price: $3.5 million. A subsequent New York Times story says the work did sell to “an unidentified collector said to be American.”
The cataloguers for this lot were very enthusiastic:
THIS PREVIOUSLY UNRECORDED WORK CONSTITUTES a major rediscovery for the oeuvre of Bernardo Strozzi, and is one of the best examples of a favourite subject for the artist.
In the most recent edition of her catalogue raisonné for Strozzi (Rome, 1995, pp. 136-9, nos. 243-260), Luisa Mortari identifies two separate compositional types used by the artist, for whom the subject seems to have held a special appeal throughout his career. The first type is identifiable with the present composition, while the second is of a condensed format, focusing even more closely on the three figures, the tabletop and the emotionally charged space between them … The first type, matching the present composition, is represented by no fewer than 15 works, many of which must be studio works or later copies (‘sicuramente non tutte autografe’, op. cit., under no. 243), and attest to the powerful interest that collectors of the seventeenth and later centuries must have had for this depiction of the subject.
This newly discovered work is a candidate for … the long-lost prime version …”
The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, according to the New York Times, has scored a major art world coup by acquiring Gerrit van Honthorst’s The Concert, an enormous painting by one of the leading Dutch Caravaggisti. The painting, which measures four by seven feet, has been in a chateau in Burgundy, France, since the early 1800′s.
According to article, “The Concert was first mentioned in a 1632 inventory of a palace in The Hague, one of several presided over by Frederick Henry, the Prince of Orange.” It was purchased from Adam Williams of the eponymous, New York-based fine art firm:
“It’s not often in your career you can say that something is the best picture ever painted by an artist, but in this case I can,” said Mr. Williams, who said he had jointly purchased the work with Anthony Speelman, a London dealer, after Mr. Speelman saw it in Paris.
The purchase price is reportedly in the neighborhood of $20 million. The painting will go on view tomorrow. Here’s the text of the National Gallery of Art’s announcement:
Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art announces the acquisition of a Dutch masterpiece by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592–1656), considered one of the greatest painters of the Dutch Golden Age.The Concert, dated 1623, is an important and historic painting that has not been seen publicly since 1795. The acquisition is made possible by the Patrons’ Permanent Fund and Florian Carr Fund.
Honthorst was one of the Utrecht “Caravaggisti,” and like many other European artists of his generation, he traveled to Rome, where he was inspired by the radical stylistic and thematic ideas of Italian baroque painter Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio.
The Concert, the Gallery’s first painting by Honthorst, is a vital addition to its collection of Caravaggist work. Visitors will have a rare opportunity to experience a painting so significant in terms of scale, skill, and its place in art history. Measuring more than six-feet wide, this festive scene depicts a group of brightly dressed musicians and singers cheerfully following the lead of a concertmaster.
“Until recently, the influence of Caravaggio on the art of Northern Europe had not been represented in the Gallery’s otherwise rich collection of Dutch art,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “The acquisition in 2009 of Hendrick ter Brugghen’s Bagpipe Player, 1624, was a first step in addressing this gap. Together with the Gallery’s Italian, French, and Spanish Caravaggist paintings, the works by these two Dutch masters convey the enormous impact of Caravaggio’s style in the 17th century.”
The Concert is on view in a special installation on the main floor of the Gallery’s West Building for six months prior to its permanent placement in the Dutch and Flemish galleries.
“The painting is in remarkable condition considering its size and history, and conservation treatment at the Gallery has fully restored it to its former glory. Old layers of varnish were removed, a seam was flattened, and careful inpainting was applied to damaged or abraded areas of the composition,” said Arthur Wheelock, curator of northern baroque paintings.
About the Artist
After training in his native Utrecht, Honthorst traveled to Italy around 1615, where he embraced Caravaggio’s theatrical style, characterized by dramatic gestures and pronounced contrasts of light and dark. As did Caravaggio, the Caravaggisti generally worked directly from posed models and brought their scenes close to the picture plane to suggest that they were an extension of everyday experiences. “Honthorst, in particular, painted with spirit and assurance, employing bright colors and strong chiaroscuro effects, painting scenes illuminated by a single light source,” said Wheelock.
When Honthorst returned to Utrecht in 1620 he was already a famous artist, and he was honored with a sumptuous feast in his native city. His enthusiastic embrace of Caravaggism had a great impact on other Dutch artists, among them Jan Lievens and Rembrandt van Rijn. His international renown also appealed to the court of Prince Maurits of Nassau in The Hague. In the early 1620s the Prince of Orange, as Maurits was known, was trying to broaden the reputation of the court by improving his residences, building gardens, presenting musical soirées, and acquiring paintings. After Maurits died in 1625, the subsequent Prince of Orange, Frederick Hendrick, continued to add to the collection to enhance the court’s international prestige.
Honthorst’s The Concert is first mentioned in a 1632 inventory of one of Frederick Hendrick’s palaces in The Hague. Although the painting may have been purchased by Prince Maurits in 1623, it may also have been a diplomatic gift to him or to Prince Frederick Hendrick from the exiled king of Bohemia, Frederick I, and his wife Elizabeth Stuart, daughter of King James I of England. The exiled royals had moved to The Hague in 1621 after Frederick’s Protestant troops were defeated by Catholic forces. Even in exile, the king and queen of Bohemia actively collected works of art and lived an extravagant lifestyle with funds partially provided by the Princes of Orange. They were great admirers of Honthorst, and he eventually became their court artist. They may have commissioned the painting and then presented it to the Dutch court in appreciation of its financial support.
“The Concert was much more than a decorative element in a courtly setting. It also had an underlying political message: harmony in society, as well as in music, exists when the guidance of its leader is followed. This adage would have been appropriate for either the Prince of Orange or King Frederick I of Bohemia,” Wheelock said.
The Concert remained in the possession of the House of Orange until it was seized by Napoleonic troops in 1795. This masterpiece, along with some 200 other Dutch paintings, was taken to France. It then entered a French private collection where it remained until acquired by the National Gallery of Art, Washington.
About the Dutch Collection
The large scale and festive character of The Concert captures the essence of Honthorst’s artistic genius, but it also reinforces the importance of Caravaggism within the Dutch collection at the National Gallery. The Concert wonderfully complements Hendrick ter Brugghen’s Bagpipe Player. Although these two masterpieces are sympathetic in subject and similar in date (1623 and 1624), they represent the differing personalities of these two great masters. Ter Brugghen’s painting is quiet and reflective and subdued in its palette, whereas Honthorst’s large multifigured composition is bright and dynamic, has powerful contrasts of light and dark, and is filled with figures engaged in momentary actions.
Sotheby’s November 13, 2013 evening sale of Post War and Contemporary art in New York has no chance of besting Christie’s record setting $691.5 million sale of the previous evening, but it did bring in $380,642,000 led by Warhol’s Silver Car Crash, which sold for more than $105.4 million ($94 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium), a new auction record for the artist.
The evening got off to a solid start, with strong results for Lot 2 Untitled by Rudolph Stingle, which hammered at $1.1 million ($1,325,000 with the buyer’s premium) against a $500,000-700,000 estimate, followed by Lot 3 Mark Bradford’s Mithra, estimated at $600,000-800,000, which pulled down $2.2 million ($2,629,000 with the buyer’s premium), a new auction record for the artist. [Complete sale results]. The first lot to test the eight figure range was Jean Michel Basquiat’s Untitled (Yellow Tar and Feathers), carrying an estimate of $15-20 million, hammered at $23 Million ($25,925,000 with the buyer’s premium). The first of the Steven Cohen (SAC) pictures, Brice Marden’s The Attended, drew $9.6 million ($10,917,000 with the buyer’s premium), against a $7-10 million estimate. The New York Times has more about what Cohen sold.
The major lot of the evening, the Warhol car crash, estimated at $60 million, opened at $50 million then jumped to $60 million, stalled briefly before progressing at $1 million increments to a hammer price of $94 million ($105,445,000 with the buyer’s premium).
The Dia Foundation off loaded a sizable number of works including Lot 20. Cy Twombly’s incredibly important Poems to the Sea, a glorious collection of 24 works on paper, estimated at $6-8 million. Bidding was brisk and quickly broke through the $8 million high estimate with 7 buyers vying for the work – it finally hammered for $19.2 million ($21,669,000 with the buyer’s premium). Let’s hope this doesn’t disappear into a private collection and not be seen again. It’s one of the most consequential works of Twombly’s career.
The giant Richter (below), the second work being sold by Steven Cohen, crept along but managed to surpass its $20 million high estimate and hammer for $23.5 million ($26,485,000 with the buyer’s premium). The next Cohen lot, Joan Mitchell’s Atlantic Side, from 1960-61, with a $5-7 million estimate, pulled down $6 million ($6,885 with the buyer’s premium). Then came the Cohen-owned Warhol Liz #1 (Early Colored Liz), estimated at $20-30 million, that hammered for $18 million ($20,325,000 with the buyer’s premium).
The Barnett Newman (bel0w) went slightly above its $18 million low estimate to dealer David Zwirner for a hammer price of $18,250,000 ($20,605,000 with the buyer’s premium). The de Kooning Untitled V (below), which carried an irrevocable bid and a $25-35 million estimate, sold below estimate for a hammer price of $22 million ($24,805,000 with the buyer’s premium).
The Twombly sculpture Untitled (The Mathematical Dream of Ashurbanipal) (below), estimated at $2-3 million, sold just below its low estimate for a hammer price of $1.9 million ($2,285,000 with the buyer’s premium).
The withdrawal of the last work with a seven figure estimate, the Clyfford Still 1960-F meant there would be no more uber-$$$ dramatic moments and the crowd steadily departed to make their dinner reservations. Auctioneer Tobias Meyer sped up the pace to get the auction to its conclusion.
Record Breaking $142.4 million Bacon Triptych Leads Christie’s $691.5 Million Nov. 2013 Contemporary Art Sale in New York
What a wild evening! It virtually rained money. The new record for the most expensive work at auction was established with the sale at Christie’s November 12, 2013 evening sale of Post War and Contemporary art in New York of Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucian Freud, which sold for $142,405,000 ($127 million hammer price plus the buyer’s premium). The triptych got a late, third party guarantee, so it was certain to sell, but at what price? Bidding opened at $80 million and quickly shot past the $100 million mark in $5 million increments. When the hammer finally came down after six minutes of bidding by seven bidders, and a bit of teasing by the auctioneer, the winning phone bid was taken by Lock Kresler at Christie’s London on behalf of New York’s Acquavella Galleries resulting in much applause, even from the auctioneer. (Christie’s press release arrived at 7:59PM). [ The sale brought in a huge $691,583,000 - here are the complete results]. Adding in the results of the Nov. 13 morning and afternoon sales, and the total for the fall Post War & Contemporary sales at Christie’s exceed $750 million.
As Artinfo’s Judd Tully summed it up: “Sixteen lots sold for more than $10 million, and of those, eleven made over $20 million, while three exceeded $50 million. Additionally, ten artist records were set. The results smashed last November’s $412.2 million result for 67 lots sold; and when you include the hefty buyer’s premium to each of the 63 lots that sold, the average lot price comes out to $10,977,508.”
The highly anticipated sale gained an additional boost from a front page New York Times story about hard sell the auction houses employ to move multi-million dollar pieces of art. Then word started flying around on twitter that Christie’s had moved the signature lot of their sale, the Francis Bacon triptych, up into an earlier spot, from lot 32 to lot 8a, right after the Christopher Wool APOCALYPSE NOW. Brisk bidding opened the first seven lots leading into lot 8, the Wool, which easily blew through it’s $20 million high estimate to selling to New York dealer Christophe van de Weghe for a hammer price of $23.5 million ($26,485,000).
The Jeff Koons Balloon Dog (Orange), estimated at $35 – 55 million, opened at $35 million and for a moment appeared about to sell at the low estimate. Bidding picked up and it appeared dealer New York dealer dealer David Zwirner would get the work for $51 million, but another bidder swooped in to get it for a hammer price of $52 million ($58,405,000 with the buyer’s premium), the most expensive work at auction by a living artist. (Christie’s press release about this lot arrived at 8:08PM). The evening’s first couple of buy-ins ensued, with works by Luc Tuymans and Mauricio Cattelan falling flat. The large orange Rothko (below) enlivened the audience drawing at winning hammer price of $41 million ($46,085,000 with the buyer’s premium) and, somewhat remarkably, tepid applause. Hard group to please.
The Warhol Coca-Cola (3) chugged along from $32 to $50 million and seemed ready to sell at that number, then Amy Cappallazzo of Christie’s taking a phone bid grabbed it for $51 million ($57,285,000 with the buyer’s premium). Lot 35, the Richter Abstraktes Bild (809-1), being sold by Eric Clapton, almost got bought in at $18 million (against an estimate of approximately $25 million), but managed to get one real bid and sell for a hammer price of $18.5 million ($20,885,000 with the buyer’s premium).
Phillips inaugurated the Post War & Contemporary art with 40 lots and proceeded smoothly until lot 17, when an untitled work by Cy Twombly, became the first casualty of the evening, followed immediately by one of the top estimated lots, a late Rothko, lot 18 (below). Dealer David Zwirner picked up two of the top estimated works, the David Hammons and the Jeff Koons (below). Bidding picked up steam again until it hit a speed bump at Lot 29, Wayne Thiebaud’s Traffic Lanes, which failed, as did the next two lots.
Now onto the big guns. On Tuesday, Christie’s tests the market with a Francis Bacon triptych of Lucien Freud with an estimate in the range of $86 million, and Jeef Koons balloon dog estimated at $35-55 million.
An amazing story in today’s Los Angeles Times, Cornell University is preparing to return some 10,000 ancient cuneiform tablets to Iraq. The hoard, which dates back 6,000 years, came from, “New York antiquities collector Jonathan Rosen and his family [who] began donating and lending the tablets to Cornell in 2000.” [The article is authored by Jason Felch, co-author of the book Chasing Aphrodite and Web site of the same name, where additional coverage appears.]
Why? “Many scholars … [suspect] the tablets were looted in Iraq after the 1991 Gulf War, which unleashed a wave of plundering in the archaeologically rich expanse of southern Iraq between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.”
According to the article, no accusations of wrong doing are being made by US officials:
The Iraqi government requested the return of the tablets last year, and the U.S. attorney’s office in Binghamton, N.Y., is brokering the transfer.
“We’re not accusing anyone of a crime, but we believe they should be returned,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Miro Lovric.
Harold Grunfeld, attorney for Jonathan Rosen, said all of the tablets “were legally acquired” and that the federal investigation found “no evidence of wrongdoing.” He said the tablets at issue were donated by Rosen’s late mother, Miriam.
“It has always been the Rosen family’s intent that these tablets reside permanently in a public institution for scholarly research and for the benefit of the public as a vast informational tool in explaining life in the ancient world,” Grunfeld said.
The article includes the following:
Rosen, a benefactor to several American museums and universities, was for years a business partner with antiquities dealer Robert Hecht, who sold the J. Paul Getty Museum several antiquities that have been returned to Italy.
Cornell’s acceptance of the cuneiform tablets from Rosen has stirred controversy among scholars who contend that publishing studies of antiquities that were possibly looted increases their value on the art market and fuels the illegal digging seen across the region in recent years.
Damage from illegal excavations in Iraq has far exceeded the more notorious thefts from the Iraqi museum in 2003, experts say. At the ancient Sumerian city of Umma, for example, thousands of tablets like those at Cornell have been found by looters who have dug pits over an area the size of 3,000 soccer fields in search of new finds. At the height of the looting, an estimated 150,000 cuneiform tablets were being stolen from Iraq every year.
OK … but that’s no smoking gun.
On the other side of the debate are scholars such as [David] Owen, the Cornell Assyriologist who has led the research of the Rosen tablets. Owen has argued that ancient texts should be studied regardless of how they were excavated. To do otherwise, he said, would be to forsake valuable information about the ancient world.
Thanks to funding provided by Rosen, Owen and a team of international scholars have worked with experts at UCLA to carefully conserve, photograph and study the tablets, publishing their work in more than 16 volumes over six years.
“Study of these cuneiform tablets is providing much new data on the history, literature, religion, language and culture of ancient Iraq that is filling major gaps in our knowledge of Mesopotamian civilization,” Owen said in a statement released by Cornell.
Some have questioned whether Iraq is stable enough to care for the delicate tablets once they are returned. About 600 antiquities that the U.S. returned to Iraq in 2009 later disappeared.
“We know there are problems there, but the Iraq museum seems to be secure at this point,” said Richard Zettler, a curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum, which will soon return tablets borrowed from Iraq decades ago. “The real thing is, they belong to Iraq.”
Six Twombly’s From Dia Among Nine at Sotheby’s Nov. 2013 Evening Contemporary Sale in New York-UPDATED
UPDATE 1: The New York Times reports that a lawsuit filed by to DIA founders Heiner Friedrich and Fariha de Menil Friedrich to prevent the sale of the Twombly’s and other artwork from DIA’s collection has been dropped:
Two founders of the Dia Art Foundation who have been vehemently opposed to the organization’s decision to raise money by selling several notable pieces from its collection have decided to withdraw a lawsuit filed last week to block the sale. The founders, Heiner Friedrich and Fariha de Menil Friedrich, said in a statement through their lawyers Tuesday morning that while they consider the sale “utterly wrong” and “against Dia’s mission,” the foundation is “our precious child, and we do not wish to continue to oppose it through legal action.”
ORIGINAL POST: Sotheby’s Nov. 13, 2013 evening sale of Post War and Contemporary art in New York includes nine works by Cy Twombly, six of which are being sold by the Dia Foundation. The most significant lot is Poems to the Sea, a twenty-four part work on paper. This comes seventeen years after the sale of Twombly’s other epic series on paper, Letter of Resignation, sold by Christie’s in London for £430,500 ($705,460) against an estimate of £200,000 – £300,000. Poems to the Sea and Letter of Resignation are works of great consequence and import in Twombly’s career. They are also mythical and intoxicating. As the Christie’s catalogue noted of the work in that earlier sale:
Completed in Rome in 1967, Letter of Resignation is generally considered to be one of the most sustained and ambitious series on paper undertaken by Twombly. It ranks alongside his earlier Poems to the Sea in its supreme blending of senuous painterly nuance and a poetic visual dialogue expressed in a violent whirlwind of scribbles and scratched-out phrases.
Of the present lot, the Sotheby’s catalogue notes:
Widely exhibited internationally for almost half a century, Poems to the Sea has long been recognized as among the artist’s foremost triumphs, and is respected as a critical early touchstone for the subsequent evolution of his entire career. Executed at the beginning of a new chapter in the artist’s life, immersed in the prospect of a permanent existence in his newly adopted Italy, this revered masterpiece sits at the head of Twombly’s lifelong dialogue with the classical past, legends of the gods and the myths of ancient civilization. Permeated with the artist’s utterly inimitable, tremulous handwriting and exigent mark making, Poems to the Sea combines a transcription of immediate lived experience with a fresh reinterpretation of ancient history. Here, immersed in the Mediterranean land and seascapes, Twombly masterfully scribes an epic paean to the Sea itself, extending the spirit of Homeric and Ovidian legend yet by the means of an entirely unprecedented vocabulary.
The next five works are also be sold by the Dia Foundation and the three thereafter come from various collections:
Efforts to restitute artwork taken by the Nazis during World War II took on a new dimension today, according to Toby Sterling at the Associated Press. Dutch museum officials have identified dozens of works of art likely taken by the Nazis. The complete article:
Dutch museums announced Tuesday they have found 139 artworks that may have been looted during the Nazi era, including paintings from masters such as Matisse, Klee and Kandinsky.
The major review of all museum collections in the country found art that had either dubious or definitely suspect origins.
“These objects are either thought or known to have been looted, confiscated or sold under duress,” said Siebe Weide, director of the Netherlands Museums Association. He said returning them is “both a moral obligation and one that we have taken upon ourselves.”
The review also listed the names of 20 people whom the museums said definitely had 61 pieces of art taken from them. The museums said they were getting in contact with or seeking their heirs, including the heirs of Jewish art dealer Albert Stern, the deceased owner of the Matisse.
The museum purchased the painting from Lieuwe Bangma family in 1941, but Stern was its owner before the war and the Bangma family is known to have given shelter to his granddaughter during the war.
A previous Dutch review that concluded in 2006 focused on art obtained during World War II. This time all Dutch museums reviewed the chain of possession for all their artwork created any time before the end of the war in 1945, with a special focus on detecting pieces that had any gap in their ownership record after the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1933.
The Dutch are not the first to undertake such a review since a major conference in Washington D.C. on looted art in 1998 that found previous attempt to restore looted art to rightful heirs had been badly flawed. American and British museums have already conducted investigations similar to the Dutch one. In Germany and many other countries, similar investigations are still underway.
“We’re not the first with this investigation, but thanks to this investigation we’re not far behind,” said Rudi Ekkart, a professor at the University of Utrecht who headed the investigating commission.
Among the objects found were 69 paintings, including French painter Henri Matisse’s 1921 “Odalisque”painting of a half-nude reclining woman at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk museum, one of the country’s top tourist draws.
Other paintings included works by old Dutch masters such as Jacob Gerkitsz Cuyp, Impressionist Isaac Israels and modernists Paul Klee and Wassily Kandinsky. Other objects uncovered in the investigation included drawings, sculptures, antiquities and Jewish ceremonial objects.
In a first, the Museums Association was also launching a website Tuesday to publish its findings so far, solicit more information about looted artwork and assist heirs in filing claims. The website will initially only be available in Dutch, but an English translation is expected by the end of 2013, Weide said.
Ekkart said it is still possible that more looted artwork will be uncovered in the Netherlands. He said the museums’ investigations were not exhaustive and there are likely pieces held in individual’s homes that will be eventually detected.
But “you’ll never again have a hundred at once,” he said.
On the Internet: http://www.musealeverwervingen.nl