An achingly/cloyingly cute painting of Tygers at Play by George Stubbs, best known for his horse paintings, was the most expensive lot at Sotheby’s July 2014 Old Masters Evening sale in London (there’s also a flip catalogue). The work has had two owners since it was bought from the artist and has been publicly exhibited only four times. The 63-lot sale, which pulled in £68,341,500 or $117,130,497, with none withdrawn and twelve unsold, was substantially more successful than last night’s sale at Christie’s, which brought in nearly £45 million, and saw almost half the works go unsold. It was a new record for an evening sale of Old Masters at Sotheby’s in London, and they made a video to celebrate the event.
The first quarter of the sale – some 16 mostly Dutch and Flemish paintings – included lot 4, an early and unpublished winter skating scene by Hendrick Averkamp. Estimated at £1-1.5 million, it opened at £700,000 and found a buyer at an impressive £4.4 million (£5,010,500 with fees or $8,587,496), a new record at auction for the artist. The sale proceeded with lots six to sixteen from the Coppée Collection in Belgium, formed in the 1920s and 1930s. As Colin Gleadell reported in the Telegraph: “While various branches of the Coppée family have sold paintings from the collection in the past, this will be the largest disposal yet and will include several early Netherlandish panels and works by Jan Brueghel and Franz Francken the Younger, together with the three Pieter Brueghels.” A Temptation of Saint Anthony by a Bosch follower, estimated at £60,00-80,000, sailed past it’s high estimate and hammered for £350,000 (£422,500 with fees or $662,422), and was followed by a graphic portrait head of Christ Crowned with Thorns from the workshop of Albrecht Bouts – estimated at £120,00-180,000, it raced to a hammer price of £320,000 (£386,500 with fees or $662,422). An early 16th century Northern France School The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, a squarish oil on panel ( 29 7/8 by 34 1/4 in.) estimated at £80,000-120,000, made £140,000 (£170,500 with fees or $292,220).
Brueghel mania carried over from the previous night’s sale at Christie’s with two of three works by Pieter the Younger starting with lot 10 Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, an image he executed dozens of times during his career. This late (1626) signed work, estimated at £1-1.5 million, opened at £700,000 though it really took off at the £1 million mark – it went to a telephone bidder for an impressive £3.4 million (£3,890,500 with fees or $6,667,928), followed immediately by a Frans Francken the Younger The Israelites, After Crossing the Red Sea, at the Tomb of the Patriarch Joseph, which the sale catalogue claimed “can justly be considered among Francken’s most impressive works,” carried a presale estimate of £200,000-300,000 – it made the low £200,000 (£242,500 with fees or $415,621).
This was followed by two more Pieter Brueghel the Younger paintings: The Outdoor Wedding Dance, another theme the artist depicted on dozens of times, a picture said to be “in a remarkable state of preservation” carried an estimate of £1-1.5 million, and went for £1.3 million (£1,538,500 with fees or $2,565,142); then a large (39 3/8 by 58 in.) Calvary from 1615 estimated at £3-4 million. The sale catalogue noted: “This is one of the rarest of all Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s compositions. It is one of only two signed works which deal with the subject of the Crucifixion, and is the earliest and much the most important of all of them. Moreover it is one of only four certainly autograph versions of this precise composition, and by common consent the finest.” The market didn’t care, bidding stopped at £2.4 million and it failed to sell.
The next major work, and one I would gladly own, comes from the Duke of Northumberland. It’s the spectacular left side of a diptych by Giovanni da Rimini and dates to the early 1300s (the right side of the diptych is in Rome). Estimated at £2-3 million, it roared ahead to make a remarkable £5 million hammer price (£5,682,500 with fees or $9,474,433), a new record at auction for the artist. Another work from the Duke of Northumberland, lot 19, a small (9 1/2 by 14 1/2 in.) and jewel-like oil on copper The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man of 1613 by Jan Brueghel the Elder easily blew through its £2-3 million estimate and sold for £6 million (£6,802,500 with fees or $11,341,809), to the buyer who also purchased lot 10, the Brueghel Birdtrap. This was followed by another bidding war for lot 21, Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of The Mohawk Chieftain Thayendanegea, which trampled its £1.5 million high estimate to hammer for £3.6 million (£4,114,500 with fees or $6,860,106). The Stubbs Tygers at Play, sold from a private collection, opened at £3.3 million and climbed steadily to hammer for £6.8 million (£7,698,500 with fees or $12,835,710).
The mid-16th century Florentine The Descent into Limbo is one of those Mannerist oddities that shows the “influences of Giorgio Vasari, Francesco Salviati and Agnolo Bronzino,” as the catalogue notes. It’s big (57 1/2 by 44 7/8 in) and apparently in a good state of preservation; estimated at £500,000-700,000, it hammered at the low end for £500,000 (£602,500 with fees or $1,004,549). Next up were three drawings – the first by Sandro Botticelli and according to the catalogue it “seems to be the only surviving drawing by Botticelli that can be clearly linked with one of his paintings, and is also the only study by the artist that remains in private hands.” Estimated at £1-1.5 million, it sold for £1.1 million (£1,314,500 with fees or $2,191,666), a record for a work on paper by the artist. Two nearly identically sized drapery studies from the Barbara Piasecka Johnson collection followed, labeled as being from the “Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, circa 1470, traditionally attributed to Leonardo da Vinci” (an attribution they’ve carried for more than a century), and each with a £1.5- 2 million estimate – the first, lot 28, made £1.5 million (£1,762,500 with fees or $2,938,617), while the second failed at £1.3 million.
The drawings were followed by another Johnson collection work, Bartolomeo Cavarozzi’s The Sacrifice of Issac, which she purchased in 1989 (the same year she purchased the Leonardo drawings). It has all of the drama and chiaroscuro one wants in a Caravaggesque painting – estimated at £3-5 million, it £3.2 million (£3,666,500 with fees or $6,113,156), a new auction record for the artist.
From the descendants of a Finnish collector came Banedetto Gennari’s Diana and Endymion, “an important lost work by Gennari: his only surviving history piece from his first stay in Paris, recorded in the artist’s own memoirs, presented by him to King Charles II in London in 1674, and with an unbroken provenance since it was painted,” according to the catalogue. Estimated at only £200,000-300,000, it topped the high mark to hammer at £420,000 (£506,500 with fees or $844,488). Two works by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, were also on offer – lot 41, a portrait of a man and lot 53, a depiction of the Virgin and Child. Both carried estimates of £800,000-1,200,000 – the portrait made £1.5 million (£1,762,500 with fees or $2,938,617), a record at auction for the artist, while the religious painting made £650,000 (£682,500 with fees or $1,304,663). Lot 45, a hilarious George Romney Portrait of Edward Wortley Montagu (1678–1761), “the only son of Sir Edward Wortley Montagu (1678–1761), British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire,” according to the catalogue. He’s depicted in Turkish-ish looking garb sporting a long beard. The catalogue goes on to say he was a “wildly eccentric man, who distained convention and actively courted controversy,” and that his wife was “the infamous and equally eccentric writer, traveller and orientalist, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (circa 1689–1762).” Edward is also “[d]escribed by Isobel Grundy in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as ‘traveller and criminal'”. The painting, estimated at £2-3 million hammered for £3.5 million (£4,002,500 with fees or $6,673,369).
Another Madonna and Child, this time by the Lucas Cranach-ish Master of the Piasecka Johnson Madonna, which carried a £600,000-800,000 estimate, sold for £600,000 (£722,500 with fees or $1,204,625). This was followed immediately by a Sir Peter Paul Rubens oil sketch of The Annunciation, expected to sell for £2-3 million, it made £2.75 million (£3,162,500 with fees or $5,272,837). Lot 59, an early and pleasant if unremarkable Claude Lorrain Mediterranean Seaport, which Piasecka Johnson appears to have purchased from the New York-based Old Masters dealer Richard Feigen in 1982, failed to sell at £380,000 against a £400,000-600,000 estimate. Lot 61, A Michele Marieschi of Venice shot well past its £600,000 high estimate to hammer for £1.9 million (£2,210,500 with fees or $3,685,567), while lot 63, the evening’s final, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Cottage Door bombed at £1.4 million against an estimate of £1.5-2 million.
From the sale catalogue:
This hitherto unpublished winter landscape was painted early in the artist’s career, probably around 1610, and is a significant addition to his early œuvre [On the basis of a photograph, Dr. Roell, Director General of the Rijksmuseum, wrote in a letter dated 21 February 1949 that in his opinion the present work is ‘a genuine and excellent work by Hendrick Avercamp’. Earlier attributions to Molenaer and Brueghel are recorded.] It was originally painted on a panel comprising two horizontal panels, probably of fairly similar width. At some later date, probably after the artist’s death, a small section of the top edge of the upper panel was trimmed, presumably to remove the bevel, and a third horizontal panel was glued to it. The sky was thus extended, creating a more modern winter landscape with a much lowered horizon line. The bare branches of the trees left and right were extended into the added panel, and patches of pale blue sky, unfamiliar in Avercamp’s early winter scenes, were included.
The current appearance of the painting is shown here, but a reconstruction of its original appearance is shown as well, which includes a small section of the added plank, to recover the original proportions … The lower two planks of the current panel thus comprise about 95% of the originally visible panel, allowing for the rebate of a frame. The proportions and the high horizon line are a key pointer to an early dating, and this is supported by tree-ring analysis … Few of Avercamp’s pictures are dated, and latter-day scholars wisely suggest a relatively broad span of dates for undated works. Nonetheless, a comparison with one of his earliest dated pictures, the small landscape in Bergen, Norway, of 1608 shows a similarly high horizon line, also to be found in other works thought to date from the years around 1610 and the early teens.
According to the catalogue:
Although no fewer than 127 versions of the composition have survived, only forty-five are now thought of as autograph works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger himself, with the remainder being largely workshop copies of varying degrees of quality.1 The Coppée painting is one of only eight panels which have the distinction of being both signed and dated, and being painted in 1626 is the latest in date of those so far known.2 Eleven further copies are signed, with four using the signature form P. BRVEGHEL used by Pieter Brueghel the Younger up to 1616, and three others using the form adopted here of P. BREVGHEL, indicating works executed in or after this date when his signature form changed. Ertz rightly describes this example as ‘…besonders strahlende und Helle Version gehört zu denbesten Vogelfallen‘ (‘…this exceptionally light and luminous version is one of the best examples of the Bird Trap’).
The prototype for this famous composition has generally thought to be the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, signed and dated 1564, formerly in the Delporte collection and today in the Musées des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
From the catalogue:
The Outdoor Wedding Dance has long been recognised as one of the most popular works in Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s œuvre, and indeed Georges Marlier, the great scholar of Flemish art, went so far as to describe it as ‘one of the most popular of all subjects in Flemish painting at the beginning of the seventeenth century’. The extent of its popularity among Brueghel’s patrons can readily be ascertained from the fact that over sixty extant versions have been assigned to his hand. Of these Klaus Ertz accepts nearly thirty as fully autograph works, including the present panel. Of these paintings, about half are signed and almost as many dated. The dated works range from two panels of 1607, today in Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, and Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts, to that of 1626 sold in these Rooms, 17 December 1998, lot 16. As Ertz ackowledges, although unsigned, the Coppée version is one of the finest to have survived (‘zu den besten Versionen das Themas‘), and remains in a remarkable state of preservation. Recent dendrochronological analysis of the oak panel suggests that the earliest the panel could have been constructed would have been around 1610, so a date of execution somewhere in the second decade of the century would seem most likely.
Recent dendrochronological analysis of the oak panel suggests that the earliest the panel could have been constructed would have been around 1610, so a date of execution somewhere in the second decade of the century would seem most likely.
Although no painting by him has come down to us, the composition of the Outdoor Wedding Dance clearly originated with the artist’s father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, for it is recorded by an engraving in reverse by Pieter van der Heyden which was published by Hieronymous Cock (above).
From the lot notes:
In his catalogue of the works of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Klaus Ertz lists only twenty-one known paintings which reflect Brueghel’s different treatments of the theme of the Crucifixion. Of these he considers only eight to be autograph works, and of this group only two are signed and dated: the present painting and that now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, which is signed and dated 1617. The latter, however, differs significantly in its format and landscape setting, and in fact only four other works follow the composition of the Coppée version. These are the panel in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp, that last recorded in the collection of Karl Landegger in New York in 1961, another in the church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris, and a fourth, which Ertz accords doubtfully autograph status but which Marlier lists as signed, last recorded at the dispersal of the collection of Countess Gatterburg in Hanover in 1949.
From the auction catalogue:
A very early follower of Giotto, to whom the panel was once attributed, Giovanni was undoubtedly one of the patriarchs in the relatively short-lived glory of Rimini’s school of painting in the first decades of the century. This jewel-like work is arguably the artist’s masterpiece, and it is difficult to overstate its importance as a bridge between the archaic style of the thirteenth century – still so dependent on static Byzantine models which until that moment had dominated painting in the peninsula – and the new, more recognizably Italian style bathed in emotion and perspective, which was pioneered by Giotto and which was to herald the innovations that led to the Renaissance. When Waagen (seeLiterature) saw the painting in 1854 he assumed it to be by Giotto’s hand and described it thus: ‘…a relic of the most delicate kind, the heads fine, the motives very speaking, and the execution like the tenderest miniature…In excellent preservation’.
First recorded in 1292, by 1300 Giovanni is referred to as a ‘maestro’ in Rimini. By the end of the thirteenth century Rimini was a small independent commune under the rule of the Malatesta family, but it was not to enjoy the wealth or verdant cultural scene from which Padua and Florence benefited until the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, the great Giotto was lured there to work for the cathedral of San Francesco, better known today as the Tempio Malatestiano. The chronicler Riccobaldo Ferrarese records that Giotto produced some superb frescoes which were most likely destroyed during the restructuring of San Francesco in 1450 but his spectacular Crucifix from just shortly before 1300 still hangs there.
The Alnwick panel was originally the left wing of a diptych and narrates a selection of episodes from the lives of the Virgin and Saints. The right-hand panel, (shown at left) now in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome, shows six episodes from the life of Christ. Placed side by side, the two identically-sized panels illustrate in a refined palette and with the care of a miniaturist some of the most popular and emotionally charged biblical and apocryphal scenes which presumably resonated most strongly with the Medieval believer.
From the lot notes:
This is one of the finest examples of Jan Brueghel’s famous ‘Paradise’ landscapes to remain in private hands. Transcending the tiny dimensions of the copper panel upon which it was painted, its beautifully rendered panoramic woodland setting and the lovingly detailed depiction of the teeming variety of the animal life within it, makes it easy to see why such pictures became the most famous of all the artist’s works, earning him the sobriquet ‘Paradise Brueghel’. Within these exquisite works of art Brueghel managed to give expression not only to Counter Reformation religious thought on the Creation and the natural world, but also to the burgeoning contemporary interest in the classification and representation of all its many species. From his own day to this, such works have consistently remained the rarest and most prized of all his creations.
According to the lot notes:
This beautiful paletta d’altare, remarkable for its condition and quality, was painted in Florence, probably circa 1560. Deeply aware of the mannerist innovations of his day which were to reach their zenith in the decorations of Francesco de Medici’s studiolo in the 1570s, the artist elegantly synthesises the influences of Giorgio Vasari, Francesco Salviati and Agnolo Bronzino but nonetheless works in a distinct and impressive style, making it all the more unusual that the painting should have eluded a precise attribution thus far. Characteristically for a Florentine work of the mid-sixteenth century, when disegno was considered key to the conceptualization of a composition and in the process of of producing the painting itself, IRR scans show the presence of very fine underdrawing.
From the catalogue:
A very rare late drawing by Sandro Botticelli, the present sheet is closely related to the figure of St. Joseph to the left of The Nativity with adoring St John the Baptist, at Buscot Park (left), a tondo now believed to be a substantially autograph work by the artist, dating from the late 1480s. It seems to be the only surviving drawing by Botticelli that can be clearly linked with one of his paintings, and is also the only study by the artist that remains in private hands. The drawing, squared for transfer, shows minor but significant differences from the final painted work, especially in the position of the head of St. Joseph, which is higher and slightly tilted to the right. Moreover, some faint chalk lines, noticeable to the right of St. Joseph’s head, indicate a revision in the position of his head, which appears initially to have been drawn leaning forward and turned, looking down towards the Child, an interesting but discarded alternative.
From the sale notes:
These two remarkable drapery studies from the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection belong to a hugely important group of some 16 similarly drawn draperies on fine linen (‘tela sottilissima di lino’), which bear witness to the brilliance and originality of one of the most important of all Renaissance workshops, that of Andrea del Verrocchio (circa 1435-1488). There sculpture, painting and architecture came together in a unified artistic expression of monumentality, anticipating what Vasari would later describe as the nuova maniera. The achievements of Verrocchio’s workshop were essentially the product of his own incredible vision and talent, but also grew out of the innovative contributions of the various brilliant young artists in his bottega, most notably the young Leonardo da Vinci, who seems to have begun his apprenticeship between 1464 and 1469. Leonardo joined Verrocchio’s workshop more or less at the peak of the master’s career, when he was involved in major commissions for the Medici family, having rapidly taken over the mantle of the family’s favourite artist after the death of Donatello in 1466. Interestingly in the context of these drapery studies, Donatello was the first sculptor to experiment, already in the middle of the 15th century, with the use of actual fabric in casting the draperies of his figures, a famous example being the bronze of Judith and Holofernes, in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
According to the sale notes:
This masterpiece of early naturalism was painted around 1617, probably in Spain, by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, one of Caravaggio’s most successful and accomplished followers. Such are its quality and dramatic impact that for several years after its rediscovery in 1987 the painting was associated with Caravaggio himself and it has been exhibited as such numerous times in the recent past. The cinematographic intensity of the spot-lit scene is tempered by a serenity unexpected in a depiction of one of the Old Testament’s most enigmatic and potentially catastrophic episodes which is recounted in Genesis 22. The unusually good condition allows us to appreciate the full extent of the painterly bravura in the sublime chiaroscuro effect, the modelling and foreshortening, the shimmering textures, and the remarkable still-life elements. The painting is nothing short of the summa of the artist’s œuvre and attains a quality never to be surpassed either by his contemporaries nor by Cavarozzi himself. The beauty of the work will without doubt encourage scholars to re-evaluate Cavarozzi’s fundamental impact in the development of both the Caravaggesque movement and seventeenth-century painting generally.
According to the catalogue:
Gennari recounts the circumstances of the commissioning of this picture and its subsequent history in his Raccolta di memorie preserved in manuscript in Bologna, Biblioteca Communale. He lists the works he painted in Paris in sequence following his arrival in 1672; but he mentions the Diana and Endymion as number fifteen at the end of his list as a work he had forgotten to mention earlier, so we cannot assume it was painted at the end of his Paris sojourn. The greatest likelihood is that it was painted in 1673 or in the spring of 1674, since he did not reach London until the 24 September.
Having accepted a commission from the Duc de Richelieu for this painting, his only large-scale history painting done during his first Paris sojourn, and the only surviving picture from this period other than portraits, he was counselled by his friends not to deliver it on the basis that once installed in his palace the Duc would not pay for it. Armand-Jean, Duc de Richelieu was the great nephew and heir of Cardinal Richelieu (1629–1725), but he had been forced to sell his collection to Louis XIV in 1665 following a gambling loss. In assembling a second collection in the 1670s, when he acquired works by Rubens and Poussin, he was advised by Roger de Piles. It is unclear why the Duc was considered a credit-risk by Gennari’s friends, but his earlier improvidence gives a possible hint.
Gennari then decided on the spur of the moment (‘improvvisamente’) to bring the Diana and Endymion with him to England to present to Charles II.3 One might think that such a move would have been planned by Gennari in order to elicit commissions from the King, which would lead to a longer stay in London. Both of these things came to pass, but Gennari implies in the passage quoted above that he made a late decision to visit the English court on his way back to Italy. In an earlier passage preceding his entry for no. 15, he made his intentions abundantly clear. After sixteen months in Paris he and Signor Franceso Riva resolved to pass ‘a month or slightly more’ in England before returning to Paris and proceeding directly to Italy. In fact, Gennari, Riva and the Bolognese Nobleman Count Antonio Giuseppe Zambeccari departed from Paris on 11 September 1674, arriving in London a fortnight later, on Monday 24 September, and even allowing for the compression of events recounted at a later date, he seems to have been given commissions from the King relatively swiftly, starting with a portrait of the King’s ‘favorita’, Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth.
From the auction catalogue:
Almost completely unknown until first exhibited some twenty years ago, this is a German High Renaissance panel of great beauty and no little importance, not only in its size and exceptional state of preservation, but equally in the detail and rich colour of its design. In a beautiful sunlit landscape, the Virgin Mary is shown seated on a grassy bank, with the Christ Child standing on her lap. She tenderly offers Him some grapes, while behind them the landscape spreads out past a single tree, leading across lakeside houses and bridges and pastures towards a distant hill top castle. The details of all the flora and fauna and all the distant buildings in the landscape are painted with the utmost clarity and precision in clear, bright colours.
The subject of Maria auf der Rasenbank or the Virgin on a grassy bank, stemmed from a combination of two earlier Marian iconographic themes, the Madonna of Humility and the Madonna in the Rose garden. The grassy bank and the posture of the Virgin seated upon it are symbolic of Mary’s humility, while the grapes that she proffers her Son are symbolic of the blood of Christ and hence forewarn of His Passion to come. Iconographically this type, with the Virgin seated full-length in a landscape, was derived in German art from the earlier work of Martin Schongauer (circa 1440–91) and particularly Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), who had both explored the theme in a series of woodcuts and engravings from the 1480s onwards, notably the former’s engraving of the same subject of 1480–81 and the latter’s Holy Family with a dragonfly of 1494–96.
The Museum De Lakenhal in Leiden, The Netherlands, has acquired a rare self-portrait by the 17th Dutch painter Jan van Mieris, son of the better known Frans van Mieris the Elder, from Old Master painting dealer Bob Habolt, reports the Art Tribune. Frans the Elder, along with Gerrit Dou and others, was one of the fijnschilders, or “fine painters” who created genre scenes and portraits that dazzled with brilliantly depicted surfaces and textures like velvet, silk, glass- and metal-ware, among others. There’s another self-portrait in the Kunshtalle Hamburgh from 1688 (below). Jan’s brother Willem as also an accomplished artist.
According to the museum’s Web site, Jan van Mieris’ extant body of work covers some twenty paintings. Museum director Meta Knol: “After centuries of wandering the painting is now back ‘home’ in Leiden. It fits perfectly with our collection of the best paintings of the Golden Age. “
The self-portrait was executed in 1685 and shows the 25-year-old artist staring directly at the viewer, holding paintbrushes in his left hand. During his short career, van Mieris painted portraits and genre scenes. The museum claims: “The painter made the self-portrait on the eve of his departure for Rome, perhaps especially for his famous father, the painter Frans van Mieris the Elder.” In 1688, he traveled to Italy with stops in Venice, Florence and Rome. He died in Rome on March 17, 1690, exactly three months to the day before his 30th birthday.
The museum’s Web site notes: “The acquisition was made possible with support from the Rembrandt Society, thanks to her BankGiro Purchase Lottery Fund and its Fund Theme 17th-Century Painting and the Mondriaan Fund.”
It’s time to go Old Masters shopping and Christie’s July 8, 2014 Evening Sale in London featured a mixed bag of works including the Rothschild family’s Guardi (above) that has not been on the market for 60 years and an early Vermeer, among others, from the estate of Barbara Piasecka Johnson. The rocky 70-lot sale made £44,986,000 ($77,016,032) with two lots withdrawn and nearly half – 32 lots – unsold. New York-based Old Masters dealer Richard Feigen termed the sale a “bloodbath,” according to Scott Reyburn in the New York Times.
The sale opened with six Italian 14th-15th century Gold Ground paintings from a private European collection beginning with a previously unpublished fragment from a Sano di Pietro altarpiece, a nicely detailed half-length portrait of Saint Margaret (notice the recumbent dragon along the base with its coiled tail). Estimated at £60,000-80,000, the painting hammered for £50,000 (£62,500 with fees or $107,125). Next up, a crucifixion attributed to an obscure Sienese painter from the second half of the 14th century, Francesco di Vannuccio, who was a contemporary of Paolo di Giovanni Fei and Bartolo di Fredi. There are only a handful of works considered autograph and they rarely come on the market. A recent work at auction was a beautiful reliquary that had been on long-term loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. This exquisite work sold at Sotheby’s in January 2010 for slightly over $1 million, against an estimate of $300,000-500,000. The estimate for the current work reflects the understandable attribution concerns. This panel, one half of a diptych and last sold at auction in October 2000 for £27,647 (or $40,000), doesn’t have the same eloquent figuration as the reliquary, or another crucifixion that was featured at Giovanni Sarti’s booth in Maastricht in 2004. The painting, which carried a £80,000-120,000 estimate, hammered for £140,000 (£170,500 with fees or $292,237).
Lot 3, the “highly expressive panel,” as the sale catalogue calls it, by an unknown Italian painter (once said to be the great Sienese painter Pietro Lorenzetti), made a hammer price of £60,000 (£74,500 with fees or $127,693), below the estimate of £80,000-120,000; and lot 5, a beautifully articulated and detailed Madonna and Child by the Florentine painter Niccolò di Pietro Gerini hammered, below the £150,000-250,000 estimate for £120,000 (£146,500 with fees or $251,101). The last of the lots from this collection, The Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist by the still unidentified 14th Florentine painter called The Master of the Misericordia, was the first picture (but by no means the last) to fail to sell when bidding stopped at £300,000, well below its £400,000-600,000 estimate.
The extremely strange Melancholia by Lucas Cranach I, featuring a figural typology found in many a Cranach Lucretia seated amid a raucous group of nude infants, carried an estimate of £500,000-800,000. It hammered for £750,000 to a telephone bidder (£902,500 with fees or $1,546,885). Unfortunately, the next lot, a pair of previously unpublished Jan Brueghel the Elder 8½-inch diameter biblical scenes in wooded settings was withdrawn. Said to have been in the same family since the mid-19th century, they carried a £500,000-800,000 estimate. Lot 13, Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Road to Calvary, estimated at £5-7 million, has been on the market a handful of times over the past 25 years, last selling eight years ago at Sotheby’s in London for a record £5,160,000 (5 July 2006, lot 20). It was then on loan to the Kunsthaus in Zurich from 2007 to 2013. Bidding opened at £3.8 million and it was poised to sell to a commission bidder for £4.5 million when two bidders joined the action. It sold for a hammer price of $4.85 million to a telephone bidder (£5,514,500 with fees or $9,451,852).
Another work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, a tiny, previously undocumented oil on copper Landscape with a windmill, figures and horses by a farmstead, with a not so tiny £250,000-350,000 estimate; bidding stopped at £180,000 and it failed to sell. Lot 16, the Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a lady, is the sort of work curators, collectors and dealers love – completely unknown, fresh to the market, unlined and protected by an old coat of dirty varnish that should clean nicely. Surprisingly, it sold way below £250,000-350,000 estimate and hammered for £140,000 (£170,500 with fees or $292,237).
The cinematic Guardi, Venice, the Bacino di San Marco with the Piazzetta and the Doge‟s Palace, did not disappoint. According to the catalogue, it was one of a pair “purchased in Venice in 1782-4 by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 5th Earl of Shaftesbury (1761-1811)” and is being sold by the Baron Henri de Rothschild collection (the pendant has not been securely identified). The picture, which carried an estimate of £8-10 million, opened at £5.5 million and hammered for £8.75 million (£9,882,500 with fees or $16,938,604). Two lots later, a rare nocturne by Canaletto (one of only three), estimated at £3-4 million, was withdrawn from the sale. Lot 23, Jacob van Ruisdael’s A path on a wooded rise, Haarlem in the distance was the subject of a serious bidding war and soared past its £180,000 high estimate to hammer for £370,000 (£446,500 with fees of $765,301). Lot 24, an elaborate Abraham Mignon still life set in a forest, estimated at £700,000-1,000,000, failed to sell when bidding peaked at £450,000.… Another variant of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Payment of the Tithes - several iterations have sold recently – with a £700,000-1,000,000 estimate; bidding stopped at £600,000 and it failed to sell. This work was previously undocumented.
Additional Dutch and Flemish pictures include lot 31, a still life oil on panel Willem Claesz. Heda reportedly “in the family of the present owner by the early 19th century” and touted as “one of the most significant discoveries in recent years.” It carried a £1.5-2.5 million estimate and was the subject of a protracted bidding war – it finally hammered for £4.25 million (£4,842,500 with fees or $8,300,045). This was followed by Jan Lievens painting, Tronie of an old man, which carried a £500,000-800,000 pre-sale estimate – it almost failed to sell but a lone online bid carried it to a hammer price of £420,000 (£506,500 with fees or $868,141).
The Johnson estate works included a remarkable and dramatic The Annunciation to the Shepherds by the as yet unidentified 17th Neapolitan painter called the Master of The Annunciation to the Shepherds. The work, which measures roughly four by six feet and carried a pre-sale estimate of £1-1.5 million, zipped to a hammer price of £2.1 million to a telephone bidder (£2,434,500 with fees or $4,172,733). This was followed by lot 38, Luca Giordano’s large and haunting The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew. Estimated at £800,000-1,200,000, the painting sold for £800,000 to the buyer of the The Annunciation to the Shepherds (£962,500 with fees or $1,649,725). The Vermeer came up in the very next lot – Saint Praxedis is the artist’s earliest dated work. Estimated at £6-8 million, the bidding opened at 2.5 million before it climbed to a hammer price of £5.5 million (£6,242,500 with the buyer’s premium of $10,699,644).
A bidding war broke out over Tintoretto’s The Siege of Asola, an enormous oil on canvas (78 x 184½ in.), which sailed past its £800,000 high estimate to hammer for £950,000 (£1,142,500 with fees or $1,958,245). Later in the sale, lot 58, a tabletop still life by Johannes Bosschaert with fruit, flowers and blue and white china, expected to bring £500,000-800,000, became the 26th (though not the last) bought-in lot when bidding stopped at £420,000 and it failed to sell.
The sale wrapped up with several English picture topped by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Lady Frances Marshami, a very large image (94¼ x 58½ in.) of a subject heavily caked in makeup. Expected to bring £3-5 million, bidding opened at £1.9 million and it hammered mid-estimate for £4.2 million (£4,786,500 with fees or $8,204,061).
From the lot notes:
This previously unpublished Saint Margaret by Sano di Pietro exemplifies the colourful and enchanting qualities that made Sano’s work enormously sought after amongst Sienese patrons of the mid-14th century. Born Ansano di Pietro di Mencio, Sano’s early artistic training probably took place in the workshop of the great Sienese revolutionary Sassetta, several of whose unfinished works Sano completed after the elder artist’s death in 1450. Although Sassetta undoubtedly remained his strongest artistic influence, Sano’s paintings reveal his awareness of the art of Domenico di Bartolo and suggest that he also knew the work of Paolo Uccello and Fra Angelico. Here Margaret’s attribute, the dragon from whose belly she burst forth unscathed, appears subdued along the lower edge of the picture, its curling tail, bright red wing, and bristling scales and hair exemplifying Sano’s strong interest in colour and design. It is likely that the present work once formed part of a series of half-length saints which served as the predella for an altarpiece.
From the sale catalogue:
Boldly punched along the borders of its original engaged frame, this arresting panel shows the Madonna and John the Evangelist slumped in despair at the foot of the Cross, the sinuously elongated body of Christ occupying nearly the entire of the composition. The ‘rare and interesting Trecento painter’ Francesco di Vannuccio, as he is described by John Pope-Hennessy, was a contemporary of Paolo di Giovanni Fei and Bartolo di Fredi, and is listed along with them in Sienese records from 1356 (J. Pope- Hennessy, ‘A Diptych by Francesco di Vannuccio’, Burlington Magazine, XC, no. 542, 1948, p. 137). He may also have had contact with other Sienese contemporaries such as the Ovile Master and Naddo Ceccarelli, but his poignant and passionate emotional sensibilities most readily recall the refined, lyrical art of Simone Martini, who was, along with the brothers Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, the most distinguished and influential Sienese painter of the second quarter of the 14th century.
Here, John the Evangelist’s anguished eyes, furrowed brow, and open mouth, which seems to cry out in despair, recall Vannuccio’s highly expressive style. Mary, too, clasps her cheek in evident disbelief, her other hand extended as though pleading for mercy. Christ’s serene yet sorrowful expression is a distinct contrast to the physiognomies of His companions, enhancing the deep pathos of the scene.
This Madonna and Child with a goldfinch is a characteristic work by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, who is frst recorded in 1368 as a member of the Arte dei Medici e Speziali in Florence. Gerini may have been a student of Andrea di Cione, called Orcagna, and primarily undertook commissions in Florence throughout his career; it is likely that he collaborated with Andrea’s brother, Jacopo di Cione on several occasions between 1366 and 1383. Gerini was also certainly influenced by the work of Taddeo Gaddi, Giotto’s pupil and most immediate follower, and worked with Taddeo’s son Agnolo on a number of projects between 1390 and 1395.
From the catalogue:
The Master of the Misericordia, named in 1958 by Richard Offner after the impressive Madonna della Misericordia in the Accademia at Florence, was one of the most effective and productive painters active in Florence in the period fromcirca 1355 to 1390. Formed in the world of Taddeo Gaddi and Bernardo Daddi, the dominant Florentine artists of the previous generation, his development paralleled that of Giovanni da Milano, and anticipated that of the Florentine masters of the late Trecento. Offner’s core group of pictures by the Master was significantly expanded by Boskovits in 1973 (M. Boskovits, Pittura Fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370-1400, Florence, 1975, pp. 366-72) and by Chiodo.
An excerpt from the catalogue notes:
An image charged with dynamism, fantasy and eroticism, Melancholia is one of the most iconic and enigmatic subjects in Cranach’s oeuvre. Its iconography, which is highly original, complex and somewhat unsettling, warrants a detailed description. Set in an austere chamber, with a small opening to the right on to a rocky landscape, a winged woman sits, dressed in a lavish vermilion dress, her long hair sensuously flowing down her shoulders, seemingly preoccupied with the sharpening of a wooden stick. In front of her, eight nude children dance frantically to the sound of a drum and pipe, played by two of their companions, while five further children have collapsed in exhaustion on the floor. Dominating the upper third of the composition, a threatening black cloud filled with wild and fanciful creatures permeates the space. Alluring young women, hovering on flying carpets and charging horses, use their carnal charms to subjugate men, while hybrid demons, reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch’s most frightening creations, complete the devilish procession. The head of an old bearded man emerges ominously from the far right of the cloud, with the word MELANCHOLIA projecting from his lips towards the winged figure below.
From the lot notes:
This beautifully preserved pair of panels, which have never before been published, were painted at the outset of Jan Breughel the Elder’s Antwerp career, after a seven year sojourn spent in Italy. He travelled there as a young man of twenty one in 1589, working first in Naples, then in Rome, under the patronage of Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, and finally in Milan for Cardinal Federico Borromeo. He had returned to Antwerp by October 1596 and the following year registered as a master in the Antwerp guild of painters.
From the catalogue:
From the lot notes:
Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s 1607 Road to Calvary is an undisputed masterpiece from the artist’s early maturity and one of the finest of all large-scale compositions by the artist still remaining in private hands. Described by Klaus Ertz as ‘von allerbester malerischer Qualität’, this picture is distinguished by its vivid palette and myriad of details, as well as its almost miraculous state of preservation. In 2006, when it last appeared on the art market, the picture achieved notoriety for setting, by a considerable margin, a new record auction price of £5.16 million, thus establishing a new benchmark for the artist, which has since been surpassed.
Brueghel seems to have attached particular importance to the subject of the Road to Calvary early in his career. He signed and dated five treatments in the years between 1599 and 1607, all of which are of especially high quality. This is the largest of the five and the only one still in private ownership after the Nostell Priory version of 1602 was acquired for the National Trust in 2011. The other three are the pictures of 1599 in Florence (Galleria degli Uffzi); that of 1603 in Antwerp (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten); and that of 1606 formerly in Halle (Staatliche Galerie Moitzburg), destroyed in the Second World War.
This hitherto undocumented work is a notable addition to the painted oeuvre of Jan Breughel the Elder, demonstrating the extraordinary delicacy and finesse of his technique when working on a small format. It belongs with a series of treatments of windmill landscapes, which was a motif that he frequently incorporated into his paintings over the course of a decade. Breughel adopted a common compositional formula for these windmill pictures, typically placing an elevated windmill prominently in the left or right foreground, with a strong diagonal recession into a distant landscape, punctuated by further windmills, accents of light and travellers gradually receding into the distance. In so doing, as in this work, Breughel was able to evoke a remarkable sense of spatial harmony and a pervading mood of rustic idyll.
According to the catalogue:
This previously unpublished portrait, which is in remarkable state, constitutes an important addition to the known oeuvre of Cornelis de Vos. The attribution has been confirmed by Katlijne Van der Stighelen, on the basis of photographs, and the work dated by her to circa 1625. Together with Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens, de Vos was one of a small group of talented young painters active in Antwerp in the second quarter of the 17th century. While de Vos undertook some religious commissions, notably collaborating with Rubens, van Dyck and Jordaens on the cycle of the Garland of Roses for the church of Saint Paul, he is best remembered as the favoured portraitist of Antwerp’s wealthy patrician class.
From the sale catalogue:
This impressive picture is one of only three known nocturnes by Canaletto. It shows the church and campanile of San Pietro di Castello, the former cathedral and from 1451 to 1807 seat of the patriarchate of Venice, on the Isola di San Pietro at the eastern extremity of the city, from the Fondamenta on the west side of the Canale di San Pietro behind the Arsenale. An ancient foundation, the church was progressively rebuilt: the campanile of 1474 – its status emphasised by the fact that it was the only one completely faced in marble in the city – was reconstructed in 1482-88 by the greatest Venetian architect of the time, Mauro Codussi, but the upper element was added in 1670. The façade of the church itself, work on which was begun in 1596 under the supervision of Francesco Smeraldi but was not finished until 1621, reflected an earlier project by Andrea Palladio, and echoes the façades of other churches designed by him in Venice, most obviously those of San Giorgio Maggiore, begun in 1566; San Francesco della Vigna, begun in 1568 but not finished until 1634; and the Redentore, begun in 1576. The low palace on the right, which housed the canons, was built for Patriarch Lorenzo Priuli (1591-1600) and transformed into a barracks in 1807, when the canons were transferred to Saint Mark’s. The festival took place on the vigil of the day of Saint Peter, 29 June, thus on the night of 28-9 June, and is shown here by the light of a waning moon.
According to the catalogue:
Abraham Mignon’s compositions are notable for their sumptuous vitality and masterfully calculated disorder. This picture, depicting a rich, brightly-coloured arrangement of flowers in a dark woodland clearing, populated by a myriad of creatures, is a particularly fine example of his mature work. The emphasis on the right-hand side of the composition and the strong lighting emanating from the left are characteristic features of paintings executed at this time. Mignon was registered at the Guild of St. Luke in Utrecht in 1669, having travelled to Holland from Frankfurt with his teacher Jacob Marrel (1614-1681), still-life painter and art dealer, some ten years earlier. While in Utrecht, he studied under Jan Davidsz. De Heem (1606-1684) and worked as his assistant until 1672, when the French invasion of the Dutch Republic and the occupation of Utrecht forced de Heem to fee. Mignon meanwhile remained in Utrecht until his death in 1679.
From the sale notes:
This hitherto unrecorded work is an early treatment of this iconic Brueghelian subject, distinguished by its excellent condition and its meticulous rendering of detail. The date, traditionally read as 1613, which would make it the earliest dated treatment of the subject, appears more likely to be 1618, the year in which Pieter Brueghel produced at least half a dozen dated versions of the subject, including those in the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht; the Norwich Castle Museum; and the picture recently sold at Christie’s, London, 2 July 2013, lot 29 (£1,047,475).
The various versions of Brueghel’s Payment of the Tithes paintings can be divided into two main groups, regardless of size: those with plaited straw ropes on the back wall and under the central window, and those with a dark cloth in its place; the present painting is of the latter type. Amongst the dated versions of this subject, the compositional variant with plaited straw and the man on the far left with a grey/blue sleeve appears only in works dated up until 1617; conversely those with a dark cloth and a man with a red sleeve appear from 1618-26, with only two exceptions. One might therefore hypothesize that Brueghel decided for some reason to change his composition and colour scheme in circa 1618, the date of this painting. The type of the signature (P. BREVGHEL rather than P. BRVEGHEL) is also what one would expect in 1618, since the artist changed the spelling of his name decisively in 1616 (see K. Ertz, Breughel-Brueghel: Pieter Breughel le Jeune (1564-1637/8) – Jan Brueghel l’Ancien (1568-1625), exhibition catalogue, Lingen, 1998, p. 19).
According to the catalogue:
This is one of the most significant discoveries in recent years in the realm of 17th-century Dutch still-life painting. A spectacular pronk still life, painted in 1644 by arguably the greatest exponent of the genre, which has survived in extraordinarily pristine condition. The picture belongs to the phase of the Haarlem painter’s career when his compositions took on a richer and more elaborate character. According to Vroom this was when Heda was ‘in the prime of his life, self-consciously at the zenith of his development, and capable of depicting his favourite subject matter in his inimitable style.’ (N.R.A. Vroom, A Modest Message, Schiedam, 1980, I, p. 62, referring to the year 1643).
From the sale notes:
This poignant and reflective depiction of a man in old age has been dated by Bernhard Schnackenburg to 1632, placing it towards the end of a highly fertile period of artistic exchange between Lievens and Rembrandt in Leiden, which the leading Rembrandt expert Ernst van de Wetering has hailed as: ‘one of the pivotal moments of art history, that can perhaps best be compared with the meeting of Picasso and Braque, that was to lead to the development of Cubism’ (The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt, Amsterdam, 2001, p. 49). Rembrandt’s mythical fame eventually overshadowed Lievens’ posthumous reputation, however, it is now argued that the more experienced and self-assured Lievens would have been the driving force and dominant personality at this decisive moment (ibid., pp. 39 and 51).
According to the catalogue:
The artist was first identified in the eponymous picture in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a work that was once given to Velázquez, but whose attribution was questioned by August Mayer in 1923. It was not until 1958 that Ferdinando Bologna suggested naming the anonymous master after the Birmingham picture and, in the years since, the artist’s oeuvre has grown substantially, with several hypotheses being put forward for his identity. He has been recognised in the past as Bartolomeo Passante, or Bassante (1618-1648), a documented artist who is the author of a signed picture in the Prado, a work that has since been distanced from the style of the present artist. And in more recent times the theory has been advanced that he should be identified with Juan (or Giovanni) Dò, originally from Valencia, but known to be working in Naples in the 1620s. The association of Juan Dò with The Master of the Annunciation has gained a greater degree of approval and prompted triumphant claims that the mystery has been resolved. But the hypothesis has not gained universal support.
From the sale notes:
The authorship of this remarkable picture has been the subject of considerable debate, and has played an important role in both re-shaping our knowledge of the oeuvres of Jusepe de Ribera and Luca Giordano, and in understanding artistic taste in mid-17th century Naples. When it was rediscovered and exhibited at the Trafalgar Galleries, London, in 1976, the picture was deemed by Eric Young to be a mature period work by Ribera, dating to circa 1648-50. The attribution was upheld when the picture was subsequently exhibited in the Ribera show at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, in 1982-83, when it was considered to belong to an earlier moment of his career, circa 1638-40. However, Nicola Spinosa, in his 1978 publication of Ribera’s Opera Completa, underlined the ‘altissima qualità’ of the picture, but raised a question mark over the apparent differences it presented with Ribera’s oeuvre, not least in the figure in the background, and he remarked on the similarities with Giordano’s tonal expression (op. cit., pp. 123-4). Later, in his revised 2006 catalogue raisonné, Spinosa confirmed his earlier feeling that this was not a late work by Ribera, but in fact an early masterpiece by Giordano, dating to circa 1656-57, an opinion he confirmed upon viewing the picture recently in person.
According to the sale catalogue:
An image of concentrated devotion and meditative poise, this famous painting of Saint Praxedis is here offered for sale at auction for the first time in its brief documented history. First considered to be by Vermeer in 1969, the picture has been the subject of scholarly discussion ever since, largely on account of its unusual subject matter in the context of Vermeer and of Dutch painting in general. Saint Praxedis was firmly brought into the oeuvre of Vermeer in 1986, and in 1995 featured in the seminal monographic exhibition on the artist at the National Gallery of Art, Washington and Mauritshuis, The Hague, as his earliest known painting. At the time it was the only work by Vermeer, from an established corpus of 36 paintings, to remain in private hands. Since then, the ex-Beit/Rolin Lady at the Virginals, a picture that was for a long time dismissed as being by a follower of Vermeer, has been re-accepted into the oeuvrefurther to its sale at auction in 2004 for £16,425 million (Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 2004, lot 8) and is also now in private ownership.
The painting is here presented, as Arthur Wheelock has always maintained, as Vermeer’s earliest dated work, an exploratory painting by a young artist who had recently converted to the Catholic faith and who had a proven interest in contemporary Italian art. Moreover, as a technical exercise by an artist who had a profound understanding of the raw materials of painting, of pigments, colour and methods of application.
$19.5 million Bacon Portrait of Lucian Freud leads Christie’s July 2014 Contemporary Art sale in London
UPDATE: A solid sale that brought in £99,413,500 with 12 of 75 lots unsold and none withdrawn. In a packed salesroom, the auction got off to a brisk start with a Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still, #25 leapt past it’s £150,000 high estimate to hammer at £200,000 ($£242,500 with fees or $412,997). Lot 3, Yves Klein’s Relief planétaire (RP 9) surpassed its £700,000 high estimate hitting £780,000 (£938,500 with fees or $1,598,265), immediately followed by Michelangelo Pistoletto’s Amanti (Lovers) from 1962-66, which hammered at £2 million (£2,322,500 with fees or $3,955,217) against an estimate of £1-1.5 million. Several more works by Italian artists all sold including Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese (a white canvas with ten vertical slashes), hammered at £5.3 million (£6,018,500 with fees or $10,249,505), against a £4-6 million estimate to the same bidder who purchased lot 2, a small Jean Dubuffet, Paysage (Landscape), featuring butterfly wings on board.
Lot 11, Roy Lichtenstein’s three-foot diameter Mirror #8, saw a sustained bidding war, hammering at £1.7 million (£1,986,500 with fees or $3,383,009), £1 million over it’s £700,000 high estimate. Peter Doig’s Gasthof (Lot 14), from 2002-2004, ably made a hammer price of £8.8 million (£9,938,500 with fees or $16,925,265), against a £5million high estimate – and establishing a new auction record for the artist.
Lot 16, the Francis Bacon Study for Head of Lucian Freud opened at £5 million climbed at £500,000 increments to £9 million, then moved at smaller intervals to a hammer price of £10.2 million (£11,506,500 with fees or $19,595,568). Next up, Frank Auerbach’s Primrose Hill, Autumn was the first of two buy-ins before Tracey Emin’s My Bed, which opened at £650,00, hammered at a record £2.2 million (£2,546,500 with fees or $4,336,689), a clean £1 million over its £1.2 million high estimate – to boisterous applause.
Lot 29, Andy Warhol’s Self -Portrait (Fright Wig), opened at £4 million and hammered at £5.6 million (£6,354,500 with fees or $10,821,713), below its £6 million low estimate. The Christopher Wool’s Untitled (HA AH), opened at opened at £4 million and hammered at it low estimate of £5.5 million (£6,242,500 with fees of $10,630,977).
David Ostrowski’s F (Dann lieber nein), for which there were ten telephone bidders, zipped for its £20,000 opening bid to hammer for £85,000 (£104,500 with fees or $177,963) to a telephone bidder. The buyer of the Doig picked up lot 39, Urs Fischer’s Vain Whining for a hammer price of Frühstück now (Self-Portrait)350,000 (£422,500 with fees or $719,517), above the £300,000 high estimate. The three Albert Oehlens all performed well: lot 44, Frühstück now (Self-Portrait) hammered for £900,000 (£1,082,500 with fees or $1,843,497) over a high estimate of £400,000; lot 45, Ohne Titel (Untitled) sold for £500,000 (£602,500 with fees or $1,026,057), exceeding the £280,000 high estimate; and lot 46, Ohne Titel (Untitled) made £400,000 (£482,500 with fees or $821,697), past the £350,000 high estimate. The quartet of Richter panels, Abstrakte Bilder, opened at £2 million and was bought in at £2.8 million.
The last major battle of the evening was for Roy Lichtenstein’s Purist Painting with Bottles from 1975, estimated at £2-3 million, it hammered for £3.3 million (£3,778,500 with fees or $6,434,785). One bidder in the room picked up two works by Andy Warhol, lot 71, Race Riot for £600,000 (£722,500 with fees or $1,230,417), surpassing the £450,000 high estimate), followed by lot 72, Ambulance Disaster for a hammer price of £480,000 (£578,500 with fees or $985,185), over the £450,000 high estimate. The auctioneer signed off by wishing “good luck to America” in the World Cup starting in a matter of moments.
ORIGINAL POST: The top lot by estimate in Christie’s Evening Sale of Contemporary Art in London on July 1, 2014, is Francis Bacon’s study of a portrait of Lucien Freud – but the top lot by interest or buzz factor is Travey Emin’s My Bed of 1988 being sold from the Saatchi collection. There’s also the requisite Richters, Warhols, Fontanas, Basquiats and three early paintings by Albert Oehlen.
The lot notes for the Emin include this wonderful quote from the artist that provides considerable insight:
‘I had a kind of mini nervous breakdown in my very small flat and didn’t get out of bed for four days. And when I did finally get out of bed, I was so thirsty I made my way to the kitchen crawling along the floor. My flat was in a real mess- everything everywhere, dirty washing, filthy cabinets, the bathroom really dirty, everything in a really bad state. I crawled across the floor, pulled myself up on the sink to get some water, and made my way back to my bedroom, and as I did I looked at my bedroom and thought, ‘Oh, my God. What if I’d died and they found me here?’ And then I thought, ‘What if here wasn’t here? What if I took out this bed-with all its detritus, with all the bottles, the shitty sheets, the vomit stains, the used condoms, the dirty underwear, the old newspapers- what if I took all of that out of this bedroom and placed it into a white space? How would it look then?’ And at that moment I saw it, and it looked fucking brilliant. And I thought, this wouldn’t be the worst place for me to die; this is a beautiful place that’s kept me alive. And then I took everything out of my bedroom and made it into an installation. And when I put it into the white space, for some people it became quite shocking. But I just thought it looked like a damsel in distress, like a woman fainting or something, needing to be helped.’ (T. Emin, quoted in ‘Tracey Emin Interview: Julian Schnabel’, http://www.lehmannmaupin.com/artists/traceyemin/press/376, [accessed 14 May 2014])
From the lot notes:
Having spent its entire life in the collection of Roald Dahl and subsequently in the collection of his estate, Study for Head of Lucian Freud, 1967 is one of only two single portrait heads that Francis Bacon executed of his friend and sometime rival, the chronicler of the human condition, Lucian Freud. The essence of Freud emerges from a sumptuously thick and complex surface comprised of lustrous undulations of crisp white titanium mixed with sweeps of emerald, all set against a velvety black void. His features appear and dissolve in the alternating sweeps of gestured paint, with flecks of vermilion articulating Freud’s existence all the more acutely. Darkly haloed by a thin trail of emerald tracing the outline of Freud’s crown, there is more than representation on display here – this is the individual presented as their very essence. It is this very quality that made Study for Head of Lucian Freud so compelling to Dahl, who was to acquire it in the same year as its execution.
This is a late work by the artist, completed one year before his death. It carries a third party guarantee, so it will sell.
This work also carries a third party guarantee. From the sale catalogue:
With its giant letters stacked and boldly writ, Untitled collides and confuses the senses with its confrontational urban poetry. Both nihilistic and witty in its tone, the colossal ‘HA AH’ gridded out over two rows extending nearly three metres high is at once the punch line of a joke and a questioning conversation, palindromic word-play and onomatopoeic reflex. Executed in 1990, it is perhaps no coincidence that its ambitious verbiage, ‘HA AH’ rhymes with ‘Dada’, since it is a work whose confident and bold execution, with its thick dripping black letters, overrides the apparent questioning sensitivity of its statement. But more than just a play on words, ‘HA AH’ captures the anti-rational aspects of Dada – its title embodying the multilingual, childish, and nonsensical connotations celebrated in the movement. Untitled was conceived at the end of a decade where painting’s right to exist had been deeply questioned by Douglas Crimp’s essay ‘The Death of Painting’ in 1981.
From the catalogue:
Towering over the viewer, Abstrakte Bilder is a rare four panel painting from the height of Gerhard Richter’s abstract practice. Executed in 1992, the work was featured as the centrepiece of Richter’s landmark installation at Documenta IX in Kassel of the same year and was later exhibited at his comprehensive travelling retrospective held first at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris in 1993 and Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn in 1994, which gave birth to Richter’s then most significant catalogue raisonné publication. With its opulent visual surface, Abstrakte Bilder hails from the finest period in Richter’s abstraction, as the paintings created between 1989 and 1994 represent the purest articulation of the artist’s improvised technique. Indeed the early 1990s was a time of great professional recognition for Richter, his breakthrough exhibition at Tate Gallery, London, took place in 1991 and Documenta IX was the first major presentation of his work in Germany since the showing of 18 October 1977 in Krefeld in 1989.
UPDATE: A raucous crowd at Sotheby’s this evening – the auctioneer repeatedly shush-ing the attendees and at one point pleading for “a little bit of peace and quiet.” It didn’t work, but they still managed to sell £ 93,147,500 worth of the art.
As expected, the Bacon triptych was the top seller, hammering for £23,750,000 (£26,682,500 with the buyer’s premium or $45,400,274), while the Peter Doig came in at £7.5 million (£ 8,482,500 with fees), below the unpublished 9 million estimate, but still a record for the artist.
The first eleven lots came from the Sender Collection – all but the last one sold – though some lots, including Rosemarie Trockel’s knitted wool O.T. Death’s Head, Martin Kippenberger’s Untitled (Showcase with Egg Sculptures) and Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #145 all hammered for or nearly £100,000 below their low estimates.
By contrast, the market for Lucio Fontana and Andy Warhol remained solid.
The market’s attention turns to Christie’s tomorrow evening.
ORIGINAL POST: The cover lot for Sotheby’s June 30, 2104, Evening Sale of Contemporary Art in London is a Peter Doig picture of a roadside with a rainbow-painted entrance to an underpass on Toronto’s Don River Parkway (BTW – Sotheby’s has updated their Web site to include print version of their sale including this one).
It’s one of the highest estimated works among the 59 lots offered for sale that includes reliably marketable works by Francis Bacon, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol, Lucio Fontana, and others.
The sale opens with element works from the Sender Collection, continuing the disbursement the began with the recent contemporary art sales in New York. Urs Fisher’s Youyou, featuring two oversized metal nails (each about six feet long, opens the evening on a glib and cheeky note, followed by Rosemarie Trockel’s downbeat knitted wool O.T. (Death’s Heads) of 1990. The Sender group also includes two works by Damien Hirst – a butterfly painting titled Kingdom of Heaven and a 1992 medicine cabinet called Untitled AAAAAAA (Hirst began the medicine cabinet series in 1988 and it remains for me one of the best parts of his very uneven oeuvre) – and a quirky Martin Kippenberger sculpture, Untitled (Showcase with Egg Sculptures), executed one year before the artist died in 1997.
There are three lots of work by Francis Bacon led by the 1964 triptych Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground).
From the lot notes:
Within the grand theatre of Francis Bacon’s life and work, George Dyer inhabits a position of tremendous importance. Appearing in over forty paintings, with as many created following his death as executed during his lifetime, Dyer wields a power unlike any other. His portrayal spans the full extent of human drama: at once vulnerable, brooding, romantic, absurd, heroic and tortured Bacon’s painterly incarnations traverse the sublime to the ridiculous. Painted within the first year of their meeting, Three Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground) materialised at the height of Bacon’s affection and infatuation with his new lover. Charged with desire and framed within a serene pale ground, this mutating and vibrant portrait combines masterfully scumbled, scraped and diffused handling of paint with arresting intensity and consummate psychological depth. Importantly, there is only one other named work of George Dyer that precedes the moment ofThree Studies for Portrait of George Dyer (on Light Ground)’s execution: this is the first 14 by 12 inch format triptych dated to the very end of 1963.
A monochrome by Yves Klein – a small painting with a big price – from 1960, is being off loaded by a Swiss private collection. It carries a guarantee, so it will sell.
From the fulsome catalogue entry:
Expunging any trace of the human hand, Untitled Blue Monochrome (IKB 271) offers an untouched and pristine evocation of infinate space; Klein’s patented colour – a unique suspension of powdery raw pigment in liquid medium – envelopes the piece’s substantial square format, entirely covering all edges, to affect a hypnotic and truly enchanting intimation of sheer boundlessness through uninterrupted colour.
From the lot notes:
First exhibited in Galerie Yvon Lambert in 1982, this work is part of a wider series completed in the same year, including the Lycian drawings, the Naxos drawings, and theSuma drawings. All of these were executed in the small town of Bassano just north of Rome, and all are initialled and dated in the same distinctive manner.
Lycia was an entire geopolitical region of Turkey in the Fifteenth and Fourteenth Centuries BC, known in the modern era for the exceptional preservation of its ruins and its language. In giving the viewer such a broad context, from history so distant it is all but imagined, Twombly declines the reader any sense of narrative and eschews any rational link with the composition below.
The Courthouse News Service reports that a late 13th century Italian Madonna and Child offered during Sotheby’s Old Masters sale in New York on January 30, 2014, and subsequently withdrawn from the sale, was determined to have been stolen and was seized by US federal officials. According to the article:
Prosecutors claim the “Madonna and Child” was stolen from a safe deposit box in Geneva, Switzerland in 1986.
On Monday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office filed a forfeiture complaint listing the artwork as the defendant.
Sotheby’s, which is not accused of wrongdoing, said in an email statement that it “cooperated fully with the government on this matter.”
“We first became aware of an issue with the painting when it was flagged during our due diligence process; we voluntarily pulled the painting from auction before the U.S. government was involved and held it pending further instructions from relevant authorities,” Sotheby’s said. “We have no comment on the substance of the allegations in the government’s complaint as Sotheby’s has had no involvement in the underlying dispute.”
The complaint details a mysterious Feb. 6, 1991 report that Geneva police provided to Interpol investigating the theft allegations, which appear to involve a squabble over an inheritance from the late Camille Marie Rose Aprosio.
That report is thin on details about the lives of Aprosio and her family, and it is difficult to locate public information about them.
Born Aligardi, Aprosio owned half of the painting when she died in 1980, and left her interest to her heirs Paulette and Roger Aligardi, according to the complaint.
These heirs designated as a representative to that interest a man named Henri Aligardi, whose relationship to them is not revealed in the complaint. The other half of the interest belonged to a man named John Cunningham, prosecutors say.
“In or about 1986, Henri Aligardi and Cunningham placed the painting in a new safe deposit box at a separate branch of UBS in Geneva,” the complaint states.
“The heirs of Camille Marie Rose Aprosio reported that Cunningham had also ceded a percentage of his interest in the painting to two other individuals, Michael Hennessy and John Ryan. Hennessy and Ryan subsequently reported that Cunningham had removed the painting from UBS to an account held at Lloyd’s Bank in Geneva and solely in Cunningham’s name.”
The complaint does not state what happened to the piece for the more than two decades after it was reported missing.
In January this year, the painting was imported to the United States and consigned to Sotheby’s, which set a minimum bid price of “over $5,000,” prosecutors say.
That does not appear to be its actual value, but the statutory minimum to trigger a forfeiture action.
While this “Madonna and Child” was pulled before the Jan. 24 auction, the other works sold netted a total of more than $51 million, ranging from the tens of thousands to the millions of dollars, according to Sotheby’s website.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to assign a more specific value for the painting it wishes to seize.
The lot notes for the painting, which are no longer on Sotheby’s Web site, had no information about the work’s provenance. However, I have saved them and reproduce them below:
A. Smart, “A Duccio discovery: an early ‘Madonna’ prototype”, in Apollo, vol. 120, 272 (1984), pp. 226 – 237 (as Duccio di Buoninsegna).
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. Two other compositions are known to follow the same design, one in the Musée du Louvre, Paris (fig. 1) and another in the Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin (fig. 2).
All three paintings were certainly executed by different hands yet, while certain details vary (the representation of Saint Frances on the right hand side of the Oberlin picture, for example, and the red robe of the Christ Child in the Louvre picture), the compositions themselves are almost identical.
The gestures here are exquisitely expressive in their tenderness, the Madonna catches the Child’s right foot with the tips of two fingers, while caressing the skin above his ankle with her index finger, in a motion that appears natural and spontaneous. The same gesture is treated with a slight variation in each painting. In the Louvre picture, Christ’s left foot is outstretched and the fingers of the Madonna’s longer and less naturalistic hand do not quite convincingly hold the right foot; in the Oberlin picture meanwhile, Christ’s feet are crossed and the Madonna’s hand credibly grasps the Child’s heel. Also notable are variations in Christ’s gestures. In the Oberlin depiction, the infant appears persistent in commanding his mother’s attention; using her hand as a step, he pulls his weight upward with his right arm, which is wrapped around his mother’s neck. His left hand is positioned on the far side of the Madonna’s chin, gently yet insistently pulling her face toward him. In the present panel however, the gestures are more molified and the Child sits contentedly in his elevated position in the crook of his mother’s elbow. While he affectionately grasps his mother’s chin, his face is already nestled closely into her cheek, and he has no need to pull her toward him.
Laurence Kanter speculates that the three panels may have been based on a Byzantine prototype, perhaps from Assisi or Arezzo, one much venerated or celebrated for its miraculous properties and therefore worthy of reproduction.1 The geometricized scheme of mordant gilding representing folds in the drapery here is certainly a concept inspired by Byzantine methods, though all three paintings diverge slightly from that tradition, unable to resist the temptation to render the folds more naturalistically.2 This aspect is most noticeable in the delineation of the drapery folds on the head. Conventionally the folds here would form concentric semicircles, mirroring the edge of the Madonna’s veil, however, still visible on the forehead here are the remains of curving, vertical lines, in turn emanating finer, horizontal rays. This motif was used by Duccio and Cimabue at a moment when both experimented in the introduction of naturalism to the otherwise stark abstraction of Byzantine patterns.3 While the present painting adheres most faithfully to Byzantine prototypes, of the three panels here examined, it is by far the most advanced in terms of the volumetric treatment of the Christ Child’s shift.4 Rather than lie in comparatively flat lines, the gilded folds are arranged in a sophisticated system of contours, delineating the billowing fabric in the Christ Child’s sleeve and robe and displaying the artist’s superior understanding of volume and form. While Kanter dates the Oberlin and Louvre Madonnas to the 1270s, the advanced knowledge of volumetric form in the drapery suggest a slightly later dating for this painting, between the mid-1280s and 1290.5
We are grateful to both Andrea De Marchi and Laurence Kanter for suggesting the author of this work to be a Florentine painter active in the ambient of Cimabue upon firsthand inspection, and to Kanter for suggesting a dating between the mid-1280s and 1290.
1. L. Kanter, private oral communication, 19 November 2013.
2. L. Bellosi, Duccio alle origini della pittura senese, exhibition catalogue, Milan 2003, p. 154.
4. L. Kanter, private oral communication, 19 November 2013.
UPDATE: These two lots did not disappoint. Bidding on lot 2, the Master of the Aeneid opened at £600,000, paused briefly at £700,000, then quickly proceeded to its hammer price of £1.3 million (£1,538,500 with the buyer’s premium of $2,636,835). The large, ancient Aphrodite, opened at £3 million and crept slowly at £100,000 increments to £4 million, then moved at £200,000 and £100,000 increments. After passing the £5 million mark, the auctioneer said to one reticent bidder: “The slower you go, the further you get. It’s like a first date.” Following much laughter, bidding continued again at (occasionally)£200,000 and (mostly) £100,000 increments. When the bidding reached £8 million the auctioneer said to the same reticent bidder who, acting on behalf of a client, would not bid more aggressively than £1000,000 increments: “Please madam, I beg you from the bottom of my heart” to allow us to conclude this so we can get to bed tonight. The hammer came down at £8.3 million (£9,738,500 with the buyer’s premium or $15,876,863) and this reticent bidder had won. Then she asked for a bidding paddle, which was met with laughter.
ORIGINAL POST:A tall (80″) Aphrodite owned by the Duke of Northumberland and located since 1773 at Syon House in England is the featured lot in Sotheby’s July 9, 2014 “Treasures” sale in London. The work is a first century AD Roman copy of a lost fifth century DC Greek original, and is similar in style to one in Munich’s Glyptothek – this typology is called the “Syon-Munich type.” One of the statue’s notable feature is its head, which has been determined to be original, following the discovery of a comparable statue in 2005. It’s too often the case that statuary found several hundred years ago was “restored” using disparate body parts not original to a work – the arms on this statue are an 18th century addition.
According to the sale notes:
The statue is first recorded with certainty in the late 16th Century, as it stood in the garden of the (no longer extant) Palazzo Cesi in Rome, on the northern slope of the Janiculum near the Basilica of Saint Peter. An engraving published by Cavalleriis in 1585 identifies it as “Agrippina, Marci Agrippae filia, ibidem” (“Agrippina, daughter of Marcus Agrippa, in the same place” [i.e., as the statues illustrated previously, “in the Cesi garden”) and demonstrates a clear attempt at rendering the highly specific coiffure of the Syon statue.
The catalogue adds:
The Cesi collection was assembled by two brothers, Cardinals Paolo Emilo Cesi (1481-1537) and Federico Cesi (1500-1565). Born into the provincial Umbrian elite, they were eager to compete with the Roman nobility for status and evidence of learning and taste. Their open-air museum became a major center of attraction for art lovers in general and Dutch artists in particular, such as Martin van Heemsckerck, who drew several views of the garden, including many of its antiquities, and Henrick van Cleef III, who painted a detailed panoramic view of the Palazzo Cesi and its garden (see M. van der Meulen, “Cardinal Cesi’s Antique Sculpture Garden: Notes on a Painting by Henrick van Cleef III,” Burlington Magazine, vol. 116, January 1974, fig. 27, and J.D. Hunt, Garden and Grove:The Italian Renaissance Garden, London, 1986, fig. 15).
Where in Rome the statue was found and when the Cesi acquired remain unknown. Textual evidence appears to point to a date of acquisition no more precise than sometime in the first half of the 16th century.
After almost 200 years, during which the Syon Aphrodite must have either remained in the Cesi Collection or sojourned in one or more of the great antiquities collections of late Renaissance and Baroque Rome, the statue resurfaced in 1773. It can be tentatively identified with a statue offered in the sale of the collection/inventory of British architects and dealers Robert and James Adam. The Christie’s auction of 25-27 February and 1-2 March 1773 was organized to help fund the brothers’ project to build the Adelphi Buildings, a row of terrace houses in neoclassical style in central London.
A month or two after Christie’s Adam Brothers sale, in the Spring of 1773, four statues, two male and two female, including Aphrodite (a.k.a. Livia) and Scipio, were set on tall pedestals in the Robert Adam-designed Great Hall at Syon House, the Duke of Northumberland’s house in Middlesex.
Also being deaccessioned from the Duke of Northumberland’s collection, this one at Alnwick Castle, is this splendid group of 16th century Limoges enamel on copper panels depicting scenes from Virgil’s Aeneid. The catalogues notes are fascinating:
Few cycles of Limoges enamels have been as often cited as the extraordinary series of plaques representing Virgil’sAeneid of which the present six are amongst the largest groups remaining in private hands. Made circa 1530, it is the earliest instance in which the technique of painting enamel on copper was used to depict secular scenes. According to the latest count by Baratte [“La Série de Plaques du Maître de L’Énéide”, A. Erlande-Brandenburg, J-M. Leniaud and X. Dectot (eds.), Études d'histoire de l'art offertes à Jacques Thirion. Des premiers temps chrétiens au XXe siècle, Paris, 2001, pp. 146-147, nos. 68, 70-72, 74 and 75] … eighty-two plaques from the series survive, making it easily the most numerous suite of Limoges enamels and the only example where a complete set of book illustrations was appropriated. In addition to the six from the collections of the Dukes of Northumberland, the most significant concentrations of enamels from the series in public collections are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (15), the Musée du Louvre (11), and the Walters Art Gallery (7). Many of these passed through the hands of the foremost private collectors of the past 150 years, including Hollingworth Magniac, Frederic Spitzer, Henry Walters, and the Kofler-Trunigers. Their pre-19th-century history and context, however, have been the subject of much speculation.
Here are each of the six panels, with additional notes afterward:
Again, from the catalogue:
Each of the Aeneid enamels is based on illustrations designed by Sebastian Brandt for an influential compilation of Virgil’s texts with commentaries published by Johann Grüninger in Strasbourg in 1502 [left]. While these woodcuts are distinctly Gothic, the enamels were painted in the courtly Renaissance style current in France at the time. The figures are idealised and rounded, and imbued with a healthy rose complexion consisting of white over purple enamel. Here and there the white enamel was applied thickly to enliven the surface and lend volume to hands, faces, horses, and the tops of waves, a process known asenlevage. The magnificent greyish-blue seas, covered in wavy black ripples are specific to the series. The translucent ochre and green hues of the landscape and purple hues of castles and clothes, lightened by the ingenious use of foil and the colour of the copper underneath, are equally characteristic. The lush gilding with which the scenes are detailed and heightened was applied after the enamelling was fired and is beautifully preserved in the Alnwick group.
The incorporation of Virgilian themes into the decorative arts became current in Quattrocento Italy and gained momentum in the 16th century. Fresco cycles include Dosso Dossi’s murals for the studio of Alfonso d’Este in Ferrara, Giulio Romano’s decoration of the Sala di Troia of the ducal palace in Mantua, and Niccolo dell’Abate’s large cycle at the castle at Scandiano.
Despite the use of images from a book published in 1502, scholars agree that the Master of the Aeneid was active circa 1530. This is chiefly due to the use of a translucentfondant, which is the enamel that covers the copper on the front and reverse in order to stabilise the object. Translucent fondants are thought to be an innovation that only gained traction after 1520.
UPDATE 3: Controversy and protests notwithstanding, the 4,500-year-old Egyptian statue known as the Northampton Sekhemka has been sold. Bidding opened at £3 million, had reached £3.8 million when a protester in the room interrupted the proceedings. At one point he vowed/warned any successful buyer “we will follow you.” The auctioneer turned off the audio feed and sat down. After a couple of minutes the sale continued and the statue finally sold to a telephone bidder for a hammer price of £14 million (£15,762,500 with the buyer’s premium or $26,985,402) against a £4-6 million estimate; the Financial Times reports this set a new “world record for an ancient Egyptian artwork at auction.”
Lot 30, the Giambologna Rape of a Sabine Woman also sold, though on the low side of its £3-5 million estimate – it made a hammer price of £3.2 million (£3,666,500 with the buyer’s premium or $6,277,048).
UPDATE 2: The UK Museums Association has urged the Northampton Borough Council to rethink the sale of rate Northampton Sekhemka. In a statement issued July 1, the Council was warned that the Guildhall Road museum could lose its accreditation:
David Fleming, chairman of the MA’s ethics committee, said: “We do appreciate the huge financial pressure that many local authority museums are under at the present time, but the MA’s code of ethicsprovides for such a sale only as a last resort after other sources of funding have been thoroughly explored.
“At a time when public finances are pressured it is all the more important that museum authorities behave in an ethical fashion in order to safeguard the long-term public interest.
“We would urge the council to seek alternative sources of capital funding before undertaking the sale of such an important item with a long history of association with the borough. Without this, the MA cannot endorse the sale.”
Arts Council England (ACE) has said that the sale could jeopardise Northampton Museum’s Accreditation status. The MA also warned that the council may face difficulties should it seek grant funding to support the extension project if it loses Accreditation.
UPDATE 1: According to the Northampton Chronicle & Echo, the Egyptian government has weighed to prevent the sale of the Northampton Sekhemka (below), scheduled to go to auction on July 10. From the article:
An Egyptian minister has denounced the upcoming sale of Sekhemka and accused Northampton Borough Council of acting against the “values of museums worldwide”.
Antiquities Minister Mamdouh El-Damati has asked the Egyptian embassy in London to take all legal procedures to prevent an ancient statue from being sold in a Christie’s auction on Thursday.
In quotes reported on the English-language Egyptian news website ahramonline, Mr El-Damati has denounced the sale of the statue and described the museum’s actions as incompatible with the values and role of museums worldwide, which he said should “spread culture” and not try to simply earn money.
ORIGINAL POST: Suffering from ODD (Ormulu Deficit Disorder)?
Aching for antiquities?
Pining for pieta dura?
Salivating for silver?
Frenzied for fauteuils?
Bursting for bronze?
The aptly named July 10, 2014 Exceptional Sale at Christie’s in London will slake your thirst … and drain your wallet … but, oh will you be stocked with some treasures.This posting will focus on the two highest estimated lots among the 58 on offer – first is Lot 10, the outstanding Northampton Sekhemka, a 4,500-year-old Egyptian statue, followed by Lot 30, a bronze group representing the Rape of a Sabine Woman by Giambologna.
The Sekhemka was acquired by Spencer Joshua Alwyne Compton, 2nd Marquess of Northampton (1790-1851), in Egypt between December 1849 and April 1850 and has been in the family ever since. There are extensive catalogue notes (excerpted below) and a video. According to the Northampton Chronicle & Echo sale of the “highly-valued Egyptian limestone figure, once a centrepiece display in the town’s museum … will help pay for a ‘state-of-the-art’ redevelopment and expansion of the Guildhall Road museum.” The work should generate interest from serious antiquities collectors, both private and institutional. However, this deaccession has been met with protest, too. The Northampton Chronicle & Echo reports the move “has been publicly denounced by both the Arts Council of England and the Museums Association, which both said the move could risk the museum losing its accredited status and, in turn, its ability to apply for major grant funding from various bodies.”
The article also notes:
The Save Sekhemka Group is calling on Northampton people to help its fight to block the July 10 Christies sale.
They need to raise £2,000 in order to pay for a barrister, that they say would look into the legality of the bid to sell it and would convince both the council and the Marquis of Northampton to be ‘more transparent’ in their currently ‘confidential’ dealings.
They believe that the Sekhemka was gifted to the people of Northampton as part of a ‘Deed of Gift’ signed by the 4th Marquis of Northampton in 1880, as part of a ‘geological collection’ of Egyption items.
However legal representatives of the current Marquis said the Sekhemka was not covered as part of the ‘gifted’ collection, though they say he is entitled to a portion of its sale.
SCULPTURE IN THE OLD KINGDOM 2500 B.C. – ETERNITY
Life after death was the primary belief in ancient Egypt and preparing for one’s welfare after death was the project of a lifetime. A tomb needed to be built, funerary equipment had to be arranged, and the mortuary cult needed to be performed. Aside from the royal family, only the elite had the resources to fully realise these demands. The tomb was made in two parts, comprising a substructure where the sarcophagus was placed, and a superstructure with decorated rooms and chapels. It was a favour of the king to be permitted to have a sumptuously decorated tomb, given only to esteemed members of the administration. Artisans from the royal workshop would create the colourfully decorated walls and lifelike statues representing the deceased and his family.
Group sculptures representing the royal family are known since the early Dynastic period, circa 3000-2650 B.C. A relief fragment from Heliopolis shows an early depiction of king Djoser with his family gathered around his legs. The intimate attitude of the wife kneeling on the ground, her legs tucked to one side, her arm around her husband’s legs was reserved only for royal women in the 4th dynasty (circa 2600-2450 B.C.). Only in the 5th dynasty did non-ruling members of the royal family adopt this style, as with the example of the statue of princess Nebibnebty and her husband Seankhuptah, dating to circa 2450-2300 B.C. This type was subsequently gradually adopted by high officials and entered private statuary shortly after.
Only one other statue is attributed to Sekhemka, Inspector of the Scribes, and is in the Brooklyn Museum. The kneeling figure is made of diorite, the base is in limestone, painted to imitate diorite and is decorated as an offering table. It is suggested that Sekhemka may have had a discarded royal sculpture repaired and a base added to it. The similar quality of the carving between this and the present lot certainly serves to link the two pieces. Moreover, both statues were brought out of Egypt at around the same time; Dr. Henry Abbott, the original owner of the Brooklyn Sekhemka, returned with his collection in 1851.
On the front of the cubic seat, to the right of Sekhemka, is a figure of a young man, Seshemnefer, walking to the left. He is depicted nude, a sign of youth, and holds a large lotus flower with long stem in his left hand, the symbol of rebirth. As well as providing his name, the hieroglyphic inscription above his head identifies him as a scribe of the master of largess, which suggests that he worked in the same office as his father. That such a young man already has a work title may appear incongruous, however this is a depiction of Sekhemka’s son as an idealized youth. His presence reinforces the carefully constructed image of an idyllic, young and fecund family.
SITMERIT AND INTIMACY IN ANCIENT EGYPT
Sekhemka’s wife, Sitmerit, meaning literally “The Daughter of Merit”, is shown kneeling to his right. Though diminutive in scale, her refined features are stately and beautiful. Her imposing wide wig frames her round face, whilst rows of straight and curling natural hair appear on her forehead. Her eyes gaze upwards, in the same direction as Sekhemka’s. She is wearing a tight-fitted white linen dress, revealing the shape of her body. The dress was patterned in blue and orange around her breasts, as the remains of pigment behind her shoulders reveal. Her wrists and ankles are adorned with bracelets and traces of a broad collar are visible on her neck. She is delicately embracing her husband’s right leg, with her left hand carved on the inside of his calf.
Canons in Egyptian art were established by the royal family and followed by the elite, who were always trying to emulate their sovereign. Although appearing quite static at first glance, representations of royal and private couples always have an element of intimacy, showing conjugal affection. In the 4th dynasty, the wife is only touching her husband with one hand, but by the 5th dynasty, she will be gently brushing his calf with her fingertips. Later examples show husband and wife holding hands, arm in arm, or even embracing by the shoulders.
Here, the position of Sitmerit’s body, as well as her composed expression is perhaps what gives peacefulness and harmony to this family portrait. It shows the close link between husband and wife, and their attachment to their family. The smaller scale is not a symbol of women’s place in society; rather, it is an artistic choice, for women had an equal status with men. She provides the love and support that her family needs. She prompts desire, gives life, and watches over her loved ones. She has a protective role and is the grounding force for the family.
Sekhemka holds a papyrus scroll open on his lap. The hieroglyphic inscription lists offerings, with much detail about type and quantity, including food, beverages, unguents and liquids, incense and cosmetics, funerary equipment and royal gifts. These are the essential offerings that Sekhemka will need to subsist comfortably in in the afterlife.
Festival perfume, one jar
Hekenu-oil, one jar
Sefet-oil, one jar
Nehenem-oil, one jar
Tuaut-oil, one jar
First quality cedar oil, one jar
First quality Libyan oil, one jar
Green eye-paint, one bag
Black eye-paint, one bag
Cloth strips, a pair
Cool water; two pellets (of natron)
Royal offering, two cakes (?)
Royal offering of the hall, two cakes (?)
Breakfast, bread and beer
One Nemeset-jar of beer
And now, the Giambologna.
The statue, as the lots notes and a video discuss, is based on Giambologna’s marble version in Florence. According to the catalogue:
Nothing is known about the commission of the marble but according to a letter of 27 October 1580 by Simone Fortuna to the Duke of Urbino … Giambologna was then at work on a marble group of three statues (‘un gruppo di tre statue’) soon to be finished and destined for the Loggia dei Pisani, a loggia that once stood opposite the Palazzo Vecchio in the Piazza della Signoria. Because it is Giambologna’s only marble composed of three figures, and because of its destination for a loggia in the same piazza where it was finally placed, this must have been the Rape of a Sabine Woman … The marble was finished, apart from the ‘ultima mano’, by 30 July 1582, when Donatallo’s Judith was removed from where it had stood under the right-hand side arch of the Loggia dei Lanzi and replaced, on 28 August, by the ‘miracoloso gruppo’ of Giambologna’s Rape of a Sabine … It was, however, covered for Giambologna to add the finishing touches ‘a suo piacere senza essere veduto da nessuno’ (‘at his leisure, without being seen by anyone’), as the diarist Settimani reports for that date. Its unveiling took place on 14 January 1583 and caused a stir of emotion and excitement.
About this bronze, the catalogue says:
The Rape of a Sabine Woman offered here belongs to a small group of bronzes modelled, cast, and finished in a similar way: those in the Bayerisches Nationalmuseum, Munich (inv. 52/118, published in Weihrauch 1956, pp. 84-87, cat. 110); with Mr. and Mrs. J. Tomilson Hill, New York (Kryza-Gersch, in Wengraf 2014, pp. 148-155, cat. 9); in the Liechtenstein Princely collections, Vaduz-Vienna (inv. SK 115, Draper, in: Frankfurt 1986, p. 177, cat. 16); and in a private collection. Among these, it is the only one bearing an inscription with Giambologna’s name. Because its technical features and artistic quality are consistent with bronzes known or likely to have been produced under Giambologna’s supervision, this inscription amounts to a signature.
Bronze groups representing the Rape of a Sabine Woman with three figures are not documented in Giambologna’s lifetime. However, a cast described in the inventory of the Kunstkammer of Emperor Rudolph II (1552-1612, r. 1576) as ‘a group after the one Giovan Bologna made in Florence of white marble, being three figures of bronze, is a Rape of a Sabine’ (‘Ein gruppo nach dem Giovan Bolonia so er zu Florentz von weissem marmo gemacht, sein 3 figurn von bronzo, ist ein rabimento Sabine’; Bauer/Haupt 1976, p. 101, no. 1907) must have been an autograph work. Rudolph probably knew Giambologna personally. He knighted him on 26 August 1588 (Desjardins 1883, App. E 172-174), and according to the above-mentioned inventory, which was drawn up between 1607 and 1611, he had what must have been the largest collection of Giambologna bronzes that anyone had assembled while the sculptor was still alive.
The facture of the cast suggests a date after 1584, at which point Giambologna is known to have produced at least one bronze by the indirect casting process: it is, in fact, consistent with that of the Giambologna bronzes so far analysed, the oldest of which is the Bargello Crouching Venus of 1584 (inv. 62B; Sturman 2001, p. 126).
Inspection of the underside and X-rays both show that the group has been expertly cast: its walls are evenly thin, and since great care has been taken to empty it of its casting core, it is light and easy to handle. There are only five noticeable holes: between the Roman’s right leg and the torso of the Crouching Sabine Man, under the right knee of the Roman, at the right temple and the right foot of the Old Man and to the right side of the neck of the Sabine Woman. No other flaws or repairs are visible either to the naked eye or in the X-ray. X-rays also reveal wax to wax joins in the arms of the Sabine Woman and the Old Man. This is consistent with documented Giambologna bronzes.
THE DATE AND THE MAKER OF THE CAST
Although there can be no doubt that the bronze was made under Giambologna’s supervision, it is more difficult to suggest a date. The detail of the eyes with iris and pupil points to a date after 1587, after, that is, the bronzes given to the Elector of Saxony.
Until recently it was widely thought that only Antonio Susini was responsible for casts in Giambologna’s workshop. But, as suggested by the author in 2013, there is no evidence for this in contemporary documents (Zikos 2013). Susini was an expert assistant to Giambologna for preparing large- or small-scale casts from around 1580 to 1605, in which year the old master suggested that the best works that could be had from his hand were bronzes after his own models made by Susini. But Susini is first documented as having produced such works only in 1598, 1599, and 1601, when he gave Giambologna models to cast in the foundry of fra Domenico Portigiani. Only after Giambologna’s death did he open a foundry of his own where he continued to produce his late teacher’s models.
Another expert chiseller in Giambologna’s service was Felice Trabellesi, described in 1588 as the best man in Florence for casting and chiselling bronzes after Giambologna models (Zikos 2013, p. 198). Although Filippo Baldinucci, Susini’s biographer, claims that Trabellesi was Susini’s teacher, it is more likely that they were the same age, as both entered the Florentine Accademia del Disegno in 1589.
It is impossible to say unequivocally that the present bronze was finished by Trabellesi. But, compared to the other four, it is the only one that shows a strength in modelling that distinguishes it both from the cast in Munich (which is the most subtle and must therefore be the latest of all) and from those in the private, the Hill, and the Liechtenstein collections. These latter four are all consistent in the definition of the surface. If we need a name for the Giambologna assistant who helped to produce this bronze, then Traballesi is therefore the most likely candidate. The fine differences between our bronze and the others of the group are evinced by a precise comparison between them, which has also proved that they all depend from the same model, since they all have the same internal measurements.
Two American Impressionist paintings from the estate of Huguette Clark, which have not been on the market for at least 85 years, were sold today at Christie’s in New York as part of the auction An American Dynasty: The Clark Family Treasures. They are among some $300 million worth furniture, silver, a Stradivari violin known as “The Kreutzer” (estimate: $7.5-10 million) and other artifacts once owned by an heiress the Washington Post called “pathologically private.” She died in 2011 at the age of 104 and her estate was settled last year – the 357-lot auction is expected to last all day.
According to the Post:
[Her] billionaire father — the copper magnate and Montana Sen. William A. Clark — founded Las Vegas, built his family a 121-room mansion on [New York's] Fifth Avenue and was believed to be the second-richest man in the country in 1907, behind only John D. Rockefeller, the year after Huguette was born.
Her story is a sort of forensic examination of what one woman who could have done anything at all did do. She lived increasingly carefully. Although physically healthy, she spent the last 20 years of her highly circumscribed life in a New York hospital room in which she constructed even smaller worlds, designing and commissioning miniature Japanese castles. And where, in all that time, she was never given a psychiatric evaluation.
Meryl Gordon’s new biography of the recluse, “The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark,” describes in detail how her lifelong fear of being taken advantage of by her relatives freed her to be taken advantage of by various caretakers, including at least two of her doctors at Beth Israel.
A John Singer Sargent Girl Fishing, (above) a late work among his Italian paintings and last on the market in 1929, sold for a hammer price of $3.7 million ($4,309,000 with the buyer’s premium).
The following lot, a vignette in Prospect Park, the masterwork of Frederick Law Olmsted, Sr. and Calvert Vaux, sold for a hammer price of $380,000 ($461,000 with the buyer’s premium), well below its $500,000 low estimate. It depicts a scene near a water feature (seen below from a different angle) and is believed to have been a gift from the artist.
The Tate Modern in London today announced a major gift from the estate of Cy Twombly – three paintings created between 2006-2008 from the remarkable Bacchus series and five bronze sculptures. The Telegraph claims the donation is worth 50 million.
According to the museum’s press release, Tate director Sir Nicholas said: “This is one of the most generous gifts ever to Tate by an artist or a foundation. It ranks alongside Rothko’s gift of the Seagram mural paintings in 1969 and together with Twombly’s cycle of paintings The Four Seasons 1993-5, acquired in 2002, this gives an enduring place inLondon to the work of one of the great painters of the second half of the twentieth century. I would also like to thank Nicola Del Roscio, President and Julie Sylvester, Vice-President of the Cy Twombly Foundation in realising Cy’s wishes.”
The Bacchus series paintings, featuring great blood red loops on tan backgrounds, began in 2005 and the first eight paintings were first shown later that year at the Gagosian Gallery on New York’s Madison Avenue (and there is an excellent catalogue). It remains one of the most remarkable and memorable exhibitions I have ever seen.
The New York Times reviewer Roberta Smith called the exhibition a “visual tsunami.” She added, “Waves of pure, red-hot red, almost visible before you see the canvasses, engulf the eye from all sides.” Smith concluded: “These amazing, angry, joyful, enveloping surfaces are in the tradition of the aging artist letting it rip.” Yves-Alain Bois, writing in Artforum, observed: “We immediately intuit that the huge span of the loops involved the whole body, an athleticism unprecedented in Twombly’s entire career and, for that matter, rarely seen in the history of twentieth-century art.”
According to the Tate announcement:
The Roman god Bacchus is a recurring theme in Twombly’s work. In summer 2005, he returned to the Iliad for inspiration to create a cycle of eight paintings in vermilion colour on the theme of the ecstasy and insanity of the Roman god. Red is the colour of wine and also of blood and the three canvases encompass both the sensual pleasure and violent debauchery associated with the god. The unfurling scrolls of the paintings were made, like Matisse’s large drawings for the chapel at Vence, with a brush affixed to the end of a pole, which accounts for their vitality and scale. The three late paintings extend Twombly’s series of Bacchus paintings from 2005 and were begun on canvases dating from that first campaign of painting.
The five sculptures are all bronze casts of Twombly’s assemblages of found objects and detritus, such as the top of an olive barrel, which forms one of the works, Rotalla. Through simple elements Twombly evokes classical artefacts, such as chariots and ships, while their casting in bronze lends otherwise ephemeral objects the permanence of ancient sculpture.
Dallas Museum of Art Acquires Exceptional 19th Century Johan Christian Dahl painting, Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight
The Dallas Museum of Art acquired in May Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight, 1817, by the Norwegian artist, active in Denmark and Germany, Johan Christian Dahl (1788 – 1857). The recent acquisition is one of the most important works from the Copenhagen phase of Johan Christian Dahl’s career. Long missing, the work was rediscovered in 2000 after a cleaning revealed a signature and date of 1817, the year before Dahl left Copenhagen for Dresden. Dahl is best known today as a Romantic painter of Nordic landscapes, often seen in dramatic lighting or weather conditions. He is also considered one of the great masters of Danish Golden Age painting. Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight, on view for the first time publicly since 1817, is currently accessible through the Museum’s conservation gallery.
The first record of Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight appears in a letter from Dahl to fellow artist Christian Albrecht Jensen on October 30, 1817, in which he mentions several works he had completed that summer, including three paintings of Frederiksborg Castle. The largest of those three paintings, which is now in the DMA collection, was commissioned by Etatsraad Bugge. The other two works were created for King Frederik VI in 1817 and are now in the Statens Museum for Kunst (National Gallery of Denmark) in Copenhagen. One of the paintings for King Frederik shows the castle from the same vantage point in the palace gardens as the DMA painting, but in the daylight. The other shows the castle by moonlight but from a more distant point in the gardens.
Frederiksborg Castle is one of the largest castles in Scandinavia. It was built by King Christian IV (1577-1648) in the first two decades of the seventeenth century on the site of an older royal residence and hunting lodge that had been built by King Frederick II (1534-1588), for whom the new palace was named. By the eighteenth century, Frederiksborg Castle was rarely occupied by the royal family, and it was only in the nineteenth century that it became a romanticized symbol of Denmark-Norway’s glorious past. The Romantic character of the castle, particularly in evening light, is evident in Dahl’s 1817 series of paintings. His interest in exploring the visual and psychological effects of moonlight was shared by a number of his contemporaries, particularly Caspar David Friedrich, who had studied in Copenhagen between 1794 and 1798 and who became Dahl’s closest associate in Dresden. Dahl’s paintings of Frederiksborg Castle became powerful icons of Romantic Danish nationalism, and were an important source for younger artists including Christian Købke and P.C. Skovgaard.
The addition of Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight enhances the DMA’s collection of art from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by artists outside of France, while expanding the Museum’s collection of European art from the first half of the nineteenth century. It is a major example of European Romanticism and complements the proto-Romantic landscape paintings in the DMA collection including Claude-Joseph Vernet’s Mountain Landscape with an Approaching Storm of 1775 and J.M.W. Turner’s Bonneville, Savoy of 1803. Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight by Johan Christian Dahl was acquired by the Dallas Museum of Art through the Foundation for the Arts Collection, Mrs. John B. O’Hara Fund. “The rediscovery of Frederiksborg Castle by Moonlight in 2000 was a major event in the world of Danish Golden Age painting,” said Heather MacDonald, the DMA’s Lillian and James H. Clark Associate Curator of European Art. “It is a painting worthy of inclusion in any major museum and we are pleased to now have it as a highlight of the DMA collection,” added Olivier Meslay, Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs.
Rijksmuseum’s biggest donation in fifty years: ‘Wooded Landscape with Merrymakers in a Cart’ by Meindert Hobbema
According to a press announcement from the Rijksmuseum:
The Rijksmuseum is privileged to have acquired the biggest donation of the past fifty years: ‘Wooded Landscape with Merrymakers in a Cart’ (approx. 1665) by the Dutch 17th-century painter Meindert Hobbema. This exceptionally well-preserved landscape is one of the best paintings by Meindert Hobbema, one of the most famous Golden Age landscape painters. The donation is part of Willem baron Van Dedem’s collection, who lives in England. The masterpiece is a key part of the Rijksmuseum’s collection and is on display from today in the Gallery of Honour.
Wim Pijbes, General Director of the Rijksmuseum: ‘A long tradition of important Rijksmuseum donations is honoured at the highest level. To date, there has been no other masterpiece by Hobbema in the Rijksmuseum. It’s a dream come true for every director.’
Wooded Landscape with Merrymakers in a Cart
A cheerful company with horse and carriage passes by several farmhouses in a wooded landscape. Figures along the sandy track are responding to their exuberant waving. Meindert Hobbema, who was at the peak of his career at this time, was student of Jacob van Ruisdael. Even though Hobbema’s landscapes are very similar to those by his tutor, they are lighter and more cheerful. Tree tops reach out high in the sky and leaves are glistening in the sunlight. What’s striking is that Hobbema illuminated his trees from behind, giving the display extra depth.
Donations from private individuals are invaluable for the Rijksmuseum’s collection. As such, this donation continues the tradition of donations by Henri Deterding (1921), François Gérard Waller (1930) and Mr and Mrs De Bruijn-Van der Leeuw (1962). Willem baron Van Dedem has been collecting 17th-century Dutch paintings for over 50 years; his collection is regarded as one of the most important collections in the field. Van Dedem is an honorary member of the Rembrandt Association, was previously a member of the board of the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen and is also chair of TEFAF Maastricht.
$2.2 Million Roman Imperial Portrait Head of a Girl leads Sotheby’s June 2014 Antiquities Auction in New York
UPDATE: The sale, from which only one lot was withdrawn, proceeded in a deliberate if not terribly dramatic pace, selling all but three of the lots offered. The first break out work, lot 9, a marble figure of Apollo (below) being deaccessioned by the Toldeo Museum of Art, blew past its $300,000 high estimate to hammer at $800,000 ($965,000 with the buyer’s premium). The same buyer purchased lot 5, the torso of Aphrodite (below), spending above the high estimate to secure the work, a hammer price of $160,000 ($197,000 with the buyer’s premium). The same telephone buyer came back minutes later to pick up two more works, lot 13, the figure of Pan (below) for a hammer price of $230,000 ($281,000 with fees) and the top estimated work, lot 14, the Roman Imperial monumental figure of a ram. Bidding on that work, another Toldeo Museum deaccession and estimated at $2-3 million, opened at $1 million, proceeded at $50,poo increments, and hammered for $1.5 million ($1,805,000 with fees), the one seemingly legitimate bid. The same buyer resurfaced later in the sale to purchase lot 45, an Egyptian bronze figure, going well past the $50,000 high estimate to nab the 26th Dynasty work of a hammer price of $125,000 ($155,000 with fees), and lot 53, another Egyptian figure.
Lot 34, a Roman Imperial portrait head of a girl, estimated at $800,000-1,200,000, was the subject of determined bidding by two telephone bidders, finally hammering at $1.85 million ($2,225,000 with the buyer’s premium), the sale’s highest price.
ORIGINAL POST: The top ten works (by estimate) at Sotheby’s June 4, 2014 antiquities auction in New York all have one thing in common – a pre-1970 provenance. In some cases, the provenance goes back centuries. That should make them very desirable, especially to any museums looking to make acquisitions. The same can’t be said of Christie’s June 5, 2014 antiquities auction in New York, where six of the top ten lots (by estimate) lack a pre-1970 provenance. And, while some 11 of the 58 lots at Sotheby’s can’t be sourced before 1970, at Christie’s at least 80 of the 129 lots offered have no pre-1970 provenance.
UPDATE: Dubious provenance is not a deterrent – that would seem to be the lesson of this sale. Complete sale results.
ORIGINAL POST: Christie’s June 5, 2014 Antiquities auction in New York has a considerable number of works that lack a pre-1970 provenance – including six of the top ten lots (by estimate) and at least 80 of the 129 lots offered, or nearly two-thirds. The “pre-1970″ refers to the date of an internationalUNESCO 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. I would argue that private collectors should follow these guidelines and avoid works without a pre-1970 provenance.
Erin Thompson, a professor at the City University of New York and the author of the forthcoming book “To Own the Past: How Collectors Reveal, Shape, and Destroy History,” has penned an op-ed titled “Egypt’s Looted Antiquities” for tomorrow’s International New York Times that addresses the ongoing looting problem in that country and how collectors, among others, could respond.
From the lot notes:
Cycladic figures with their ears carved in relief are comparatively rare. The earliest occurrence can be found on some Plastiras figures and some precanonical figures of circa 2800-2700 B.C., such as the example from the Menil Collection, Houston, no. 19 in P. Getz-Preziosi, Early Cycladic Art in North American Collections. In the following centuries ears are mainly found on large-scale figures, quite frequently with the right ear noticeably lower than the left, as on the head presented here.
From the catalogue:
The folded-arm female figure from the Bronze Age Cyclades is one of the most iconic sculptural types to have survived from antiquity. The schematic treatment of the human body, where the human form was reduced to its barest essentials, was brilliantly conceived by these unknown sculptors of the 3rd millennium B.C. Most excavated examples come from graves, but only comparatively few graves have yielded such figures, indicating the high status of their original owners. It is not known what meaning these marble figures had in antiquity or even if they ever served a function prior to their entombment.
From the lot notes:
The older Hermes on this janiform bust is based on the now-lost statue by the Greek sculptor Alkamenes, known as the Hermes Propylaios, which was set up at the entrance to the Athenian Acropolis. It was sculpted in the archaistic style, using deliberately old-fashioned features, such as the snail-curls, in order to give the statue the sanctity associated with that of a much older work of art. The type was frequently copied in Hellenistic and Roman times. That the original can be assigned to Alkamenes is confirmed from the shaft of a copy from the 2nd century B.C., excavated at Pergamon, which carries an inscription attributing the work to him (see p. 457 in R. Grüssinger, V. Kästner and A. Scholl,Pergamon, Panorama der antiken Metropole).
From the catalogue:
Augustus was portrayed with youthful features throughout his reign, even toward the end of his illustrious seventy-six years. As D.E.E. Kleiner explains (p. 62 in Roman Sculpture), “In life, Augustus grew old, but in his portraits he never aged. … The portraiture of Augustus is political portraiture that is comprised of calculated imperial images rather than likenesses of the individual.”
The three comma-shaped locks parted at the center of Augustus’ forehead, such as we have here, are characteristic of the Primaporta portrait type, recognized on the famous example found at the villa of his wife Livia at Primaporta, now in the Vatican Museums. Similar, too, are the furrowed and knitted brow on the present example. The Emperor is presented as a powerful and determined military man. For a discussion on the varying portrait types of Augustus see pp. 61-69 in Kleiner, op. cit.
From the catalogue:
Satyrs are frequently paired with panthers in Greek and Roman art, but only on occasion, as here, do they tease the feline. The pose of the Ophiuchus satyr is close to an example in the Villa Albani, Rome, where the satyr dangles a cluster of grapes above the frustrated panther. In both the satyr is raised up onto his toes, but the nebris of the Villa Albani satyr is worn over the right shoulder and is overflowing with grapes (see fig. 568 in M. Bieber, The Sculpture of the Hellenistic Age). For a satyr who likewise lifts the panther’s hind quarters off the ground by its tail see the example in the Musée Cinquantenaire, Brussels (fig. 37 in D. Brinkerhoff, A Collection of Sculpture in Classical and Early Christian Antioch). The Brussels satyr wears his nebris in similar fashion and holds a lagabolon in his raised right hand; however his feet are flat to the ground contrary to the Ophiuchus and Villa Albani examples, although this may be the result of later restoration. All are Roman in date, but must be based on a Hellenistic prototype.
UPDATE: No major fireworks, though lot 89, the Hubert Robert milkmaid (below) proved quite popular – as I expected – selling for a hammer price of $225,0000 ($275,000 with fees), against a high estimate of $120,000. Complete sale results.
ORIGINAL POST: Compared with Christie’s sale the day before, the offerings at the June 5, 2014 sale of Old Master Paintings at Sotheby’s in New York are a snooze. An overabundance of uninteresting “school of” “attributed to” and “circle of” works. The top two lots are allegorical images with putti by Boucher – still collectible in some corners, but of little appeal to me. From the catalogue notes:
Both this and the following lot are endearing examples of the small scale and brightly lit allegorical pictures which were created by Boucher to decorate the homes, and more specifically, overdoors within the intricately carved boiserie paneling that was installed in many mid-18th century Parisian hôtels. Boucher often employed similar allegorical yet light hearted themes for such multi-paneled projects, as they brought a visual cohesiveness to the physical spaces which they occupied.
This composition derives from a three-figure composition, also an Allegory ofPoetry, sold in the Mentmore sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, on 25 May 1977, lot 2443. A variant of that picture, generally ascribed to Boucher and Studio (signed and dated 1753), is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. no. 69.155.2). In the present picture, as in the Mentmore version, the central infant Apollo holds a lyre, a traditional symbol of lyric poetry, as he crowns the infant Cupid with a laurel wreath; beside Cupid is a pair of doves. Furthermore, as in the Mentmore version, Cupid writes the following in his scroll:
Qu’il triomphe & regne à jamais / Entre les beaux Arts & la Glorie. / Elevons ce Heros du char de la Victoire / Au Trône de la Paix
Of some minor interest is this work by a follower of the very obscure Jan Mandyn, who often depicted phantasmagorical scenes a la Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch. There are no lot notes for this work.
A few decades ago, Gottfredo Wals experienced a burst of interest and collecting activity – that seems to have abated. This serene and attractive work is half the size of the Bouchers and far more appealing – it should do well provided it’s not shopped out.
From the lot notes:
This landscape by Wals is a lovely example of his small circular paintings on copper, a format and medium that he seems to have favored. Anke Repp, in her 1986 catalogue of the artist’s work, lists only nineteen autograph paintings, although the 17th century Flemish collector Gaspard de Roomer, who lived in Naples, is said to have owned no fewer than sixty paintings by Wals.1 The use of copper as a support allowed for exceptionally fine brushstrokes, lending a luminosity and radiance to the painted surface and providing a perfect vehicle for his subtle gradations of light and dark. Wals’ landscape compositions were often laid out in distinct parallel planes incorporating simple naturalistic motifs such as farm buildings or overgrown ruins, with figures adding visual interest but never dominating.
The ruin depicted in this painting appears to be based on a drawing by Wals in the Cabinet des Dessins in the Musée du Louvre, although the artist has simplified two smaller arches in the drawing into a single larger one [left].
The attribution to Wals has been confirmed by Prof. Marcel Roethlisberger, following firsthand inspection (private communication to the owner). It is impossible to establish any kind of chronology for Wals’ paintings, as there are no dated examples. However, Prof. Roethlisberger is inclined to believe this is a later work, from the mid-1620s, given its very close relationship to, and even its debt to, the early output of the artist’s best student Claude Lorrain.
1. See A. Repp, Goffredo Wals. Zur Landschaftsmalerei zwischen Adam Elsheimer und Claude Lorrain, Cologne 1985, p. 19, pp. 55-84; (the present work was unknown to her).
This pleasant picture is ably painted and does not offend. From the lot notes:
Despois entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1807 as a pupil of both David and de Gros. He exhibited at Paris Salon from 1812-1834, and this painting was shown at the Salon in Douai in 1825.
The Île Barbe is an island in the middle of the Saône River in the 9th arrondissement of Lyon. It was first settled in the Neolithic era, but it was not until the Romans founded the city of Lugdunum in the first century B.C. that the island became a true settlement. An abbey was founded on the island in the 5th century, the first monastery established in the region.
This is the picture I find most appealing – the figuration is adequate, but the composition is quite wonderful. There is a palpable tension as the milkmaid strains to pass the bucket of milk to the outstretched arm of the prisoner (not quite Sistine Chapel ceiling tension, but good enough).
From the catalogue:
On October 29, 1793, Robert was arrested and jailed by the Revolutionary authorities for having failed to renew his citizen’s card, though the true motivation for his imprisonment was surely his ties to the French aristocracy. He was held initially at the convent of Sainte-Pélagie and transferred on January 30-31, 1794 to the seminary of Saint-Lazare, both of which had been converted from former leper houses for use as prisons. Today the site of the prison is occupied by the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Robert was released in August of 1794 after the fall of Robespierre.
While imprisoned, he consoled himself by painting and drawing. Materials on which to paint were scarce and in many cases he used the earthenware prison plates on which his food was served as his “canvases.” Many of the works executed during this time are signed with the artist’s initials followed by the letters “S.L.” for Saint-Lazare. While many of the pictures Robert executed in prison are landscapes, painted from memory or purely imaginative compositions, others, such as the present example, depict scenes of life from within the prison. Here, Robert depicts the daily task of distributing milk to the prison population with striking simplicity and modernity. A female distributor leans over a large stone staircase as a tightly packed group of prisoners reach for their daily ration. A single container occupies the very center of the composition, and serves as the focal point of not only the figures’ connecting arms, but of the entire composition. The composition is devoid of any outward emotion, a fact punctuated by the cold grey stone architecture. Robert paints this prison scene with Realistic honesty that requires no added sentiment.
A slightly larger variant of square format is located in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris (inv. P1580). That version features a landing and stone bannister rail at the bottom of the composition with an additional figure, a more fully articulated back wall, and a different figural arrangement along the hanging rail at right. The Musée Carnavalet canvas was commissioned by the Duc d’Audiffret-Pasquier, Robert’s prison mate, as a souvenir with which to remember the kind milk sellers who offered a small reprieve to the prisoners during their imprisonment.1
1. C. Sterling, Hubert Robert, exhibition catalogue, Paris 1933.
The Guggenheim Museum has going New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in posting more than 100 exhibition catalogues from the 1930s to the 1990s free, online.
The titles, most of which come from the 1960s to 1980s, include Alexander Calder: A Retrospective Exhibition; China: 5,000 Years, Innovation and Transformation in the Arts; Eva Hesse: A Memorial Exhibition; Futurism: A Modern Focus: The Lydia and Harry Lewis Winston Collection: Dr. and Mrs. Barnett Malbin and dozens of others. Unlike many of the Met catalogues, which can be downloaded, the Guggenheim catalogues can only be read online.
POST SALE UPDATE: Today’s sale brought in $17,932,000 (this total includes the buyer’s fees), with 83 of 111 lots selling. A decent opening for the group of paintings restituted to the heirs of Hans Ludwig Larsen with eight of the eleven selling – bidding in the room, the buyer of lot 6 (below) the van Goyen skating scene also picked up lot 3, a Wouvermann landscape, and lot 4, a Berchem landscape. The star lot, the Caspar Netscher, opened at $1 million, moved steadily to $3 million, then progressed at a slightly slower pace selling to an “Anonymous” bidder, as the sale results noted, for a hammer price of $4.4 million ($5,093,000), a world record for the artist. One telephone bidder (listed on the sale results as a “European Institution”) picked up lot 1, a Teniers peasant scene, lot 5, the small Brueghel (below), lot 8, the van Orley (below), lot 9, the Master of the Antwerp Adoration (below), lot 12, a Teniers Adam and Eve that soared past its $300,000 high estimate to hammer at $700,000 ($845,000 with the buyer’s premium), lot 13, another Teniers, lot 15, a Pieter Brueghel the Younger Payment of Tithes, that easily surpassed its $800,000 high estimate to hammer at $1.4 million ($1,685,000 with the buyer’s premium), and lot 22, a Studio of Rubens portrait.
Other notable sales include lot 38, a Ruisdael Dunes by the Sea, which sold for 2-1/2 times its $600,000 high estimate to hammer at $1.5 million ($1,805,000 with fees), and lot 69, a Frans Francken II Temptation of Saint Anthony that went for five times its $30,000 high estimate to hammer at $150,000 ($185,000 with fees).
ORIGINAL POST: This elegant “Woman feeding a parrot was, until recently, among the most celebrated treasures of the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal, recognized for decades as one of Caspar Netscher’s greatest paintings and one of the undisputed icons of Dutch genre painting of the Golden Age,” according to the catalogue notes for this lot in Christie’s June 4, 2014, sale of Old Master Paintings in NewYork. Restitution of works looted by the Nazis during World War II is an ongoing process and has brought to sale many works previously thought permanently off the market. No doubt there will be more. This work was restituted to the heirs of Hugo and Elisabeth Andriesse.
Of this lot, Christie’s notes:
Best-known today as a painter of exquisite, highly finished domestic interiors, Caspar Netscher in fact produced surprisingly few before abandoning the genre altogether around 1670 for the more lucrative field of portraiture. A Dutch painter of German origin, Netscher was probably born in Heidelberg in 1639. He trained first in Arnhem under Hendrik Coster, a little known still-life and portrait painter, before moving in 1654 to Deventer, where he entered the workshop of the greatest genre painter of the day, Gerard ter Borch. Netscher quickly learned Ter Borch’s technique of rendering the texture of costly materials, and he is known to have made very successful copies of his master’s most recent works: a signed copy of Ter Borch’s Parental Admonition (1654; Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam), dated 1655, is in Schloss Friedenstein, Gotha, for example. That such works were allowed to be fully signed by Netscher suggests the special place he held in his master’s studio.
As [Marjorie] Wieseman [author of the catalogue raisonné of the artist's paintings] observes, the birds were often associated with luxury and sensuality, and “their central role in scenes of women holding or feeding parrots hints at amorous or erotic elements.” Moreover, she adds, “a bird freed from its cage – in Netscher’s painting, lured away with a bit of sweet – was often a symbol of lost virginity, and was associated with an invitation to amorous dalliance,” a reading that seems hard to dispute in light of our young lady’s coquettish but bold and inviting gaze. Interestingly, Wayne Franits has cited instances in which “the presence of parrots…signifies the proper training of their mistresses.”
A superb preparatory drawing for the painting, in pen and bistre wash over black chalk underdrawing, is in the British Museum … The drawing, which was in the collection of Gabriel Huquier in Paris in the 18th century, is fully signed and dated 1666. Like his teacher Ter Borch, Netscher was an active draftsman and about 45 sheets from his hand survive. As with the study for Woman feeding a parrot, most of his drawings are modelli or compositional designs.
This delightful rendering of a raucous carriage ride was also recently restituted, in this case to the heirs of Hans Ludwig Larsen, having been in the Stichting Nederlandsch Kunstbezit, The Netherlands, since January 15, 1946. From the lot notes:
This charming scene, showing a group of rowdy peasants en route to a wedding celebration, exemplifies the lighthearted and often humorous observations of everyday life for which Pieter Brueghel II was – and remains – renowned. Even in its small size, this vignette reveals a wealth of anecdotal detail: seven peasants have crowded into the rickety carriage, pressed together so that one at the front has to wrap his arms around his knees to fit inside, while the two nearest the viewer seem poised to fall backwards over the edge. At center, a particularly boisterous woman raises a wine jug high in the air, perhaps to keep it away from her obviously eager companion, who may have already had too much. Stumbling around the back of the cart, a man in a red cap with his back to the viewer rearranges the bridal gifts, aided by another fellow who moves a three-legged stool – a common motif in Brueghel’s paintings – out of the way. The cart, which might more usually have been drawn by a driver in an enclosed cab, is pulled by two sturdy horses that seem just to have felt the sting of their rider’s whip.
As with the previous lot, this work too was recently restituted to the heirs of Hans Ludwig Larsen, having also been in the collection of the the Stichting Nederlandsch Kunstbezit, The Netherlands, since July 8, 1946. From the catalogue:
Beginning in the mid-14th century and lasting through the mid-19th century, Northern Europe experienced extraordinarily cold and long winters, and relatively cool summers, a period of climatic change known as the “Little Ice Age”. The resulting snows and frozen waterways had a significant effect on everyday life. The Dutch quickly adapted, inventing a variety of winter activities which could provide outdoor amusement despite the bitter cold. By the 17th century, winter landscapes filled with frolicking figures such as the present panel had become a beloved staple of Dutch Golden Age painting.
Here, Van Goyen represents villagers skating on a frozen river beside a group of thatched houses. The town church is visible in the background, and charming vignettes abound. At far left, two children chase one another behind an elegantly dressed couple who may be their parents. Just to their right, four passengers huddle together for warmth inside a sleigh while the driver sits on the edge, watching his horse delicately negotiate its way across the ice. At right, another man bends over to adjust the straps on his skates, while at center, four men skate toward the viewer with varying levels of grace and skill. One of them rests a long, thin poll on his shoulder, which he could use both to keep his balance and to help himself out of the water if he should fall through the ice, a relatively common occurrence.
This, too, was restituted to the Larsen heirs, having been in the Stichting Nederlandsch Kunstbezit, The Netherlands, since January 15, 1946; it was confiscated by the German authorities following the occupation of The Netherlands, after May 1940.
The painting’s authorship is in dispute, Max Friedländer considers it autograph, as did Ludwig Baldass in 1930. However, JD Farmer:
considered this painting to be the work of a clearly identifiable hand distinct from Van Orley, yet very close to him. This artist, whom he christened “The Brussels Master of 1520,” tends to paint his figures with idiosyncratic, at times awkward poses and may have led a small, independent workshop that produced paintings most reminiscent of Van Orley’s style of the late teens, while demonstrating a familiarity with the master’s work through the thirties. Farmer hypothesized that The Brussels Master of 1520 may have even been related to Van Orley, suggesting the artist’s brother, Evrard, as a plausible candidate.
Raphael’s Spasimo di Sicilia (Prado, Madrid) serves as the chief form of inspiration:
Indeed, there are strong parallels between this painting and Raphael’s design, which Van Orley would have encountered when its cartoon was sent to Brussels to be woven as a tapestry for Cardinal Bibbiana between 1516 and 1520. The most immediate source for the present painting, however, was surely Van Orley’s own interpretation of Raphael’s design as it appears in the Northern artist’s Christ Carrying the Cross cartoon, which he created for Margaret of Austria’s “square” Passion tapestries of c. 1520-1522 (Patrimonio Nacional, Madrid), and which was later rewoven for the Alba Passion tapestries of c. 1525-1528 (Museé Jacquemart-André, Paris). Van Orley also took inspiration from the work of Albrecht Dürer, with whom he was personally acquainted: in 1520, Van Orley hosted a dinner party with Dürer as his guest. As in Dürer’s Christ Carrying the Cross from the Large Passion prints of c. 1497-1500, in the present panel the main focus is not Christ’s interaction with the swooning Virgin, but rather the miracle of the Sudarium, the holy cloth held by St. Veronica.
Yet another work restituted to the Larsen heirs, having entered the Stichting Nederlandsch Kunstbezit, The Netherlands, on the same day as the previous lot, this painting was originally part of an altarpiece that was divided, with this panel cut down from it original rectangular format.
When conceiving this composition, The Master of the Antwerp Adoration was likely inspired by Albrecht Dürer’s print of The Sojourn of the Holy Family in Egypt … from the Life of the Virgin series, begun in 1500. As in Dürer’s woodcut, the Virgin sits in the foreground attended by angels and embroidering a garment on her lap. Also similar is the bearded Saint Joseph at her left, carving out a long piece of wood. In Dürer’s print, Joseph is surrounded by jovial putti who frolic about, picking up the shavings and placing them into a basket. In the Larsen painting, it is the Christ Child himself who assumes this role.
The Master of the Antwerp Adoration has incorporated symbolic imagery in the painting in a manner typical of Netherlandish art of this period. The fanciful architecture in the background, together with the dense wood and columned structure on the right, suggest that the Holy Family resides within a hortus conclusus, that is, an enclosed, sacred precinct dedicated to the Virgin. Two angels fill silver pitchers with water from an elegant fountain in the courtyard, which together with the garden itself symbolize the immaculate purity of the Virgin. This imagery derives from the Song of Solomon as interpreted by Saint Bernard, who read the biblical love poem as an ode to the Virgin as the Bride of Christ. By the time panel was painted, the juxtaposition of the fountain, or “well of living waters”, the enclosed garden, and the Virgin was well-established in Netherlandish art. Indeed, it appears in Jan van Eyck’s famousMadonna at the Fountain of 1439 (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp). In the present Holy Family in a garden, a peacock appears in front of the fountain. An exotic bird of paradise, it would have been understood in the artist’s time as a symbol of Christ’s immortality and the Resurrection. The cross formed by Saint Joseph’s plank and the wooden board beneath it is in no way accidental, but rather deliberately refers to Christ’s Passion. Likewise, the pincer in the foreground alludes to the tool that was used to remove the nails from the Cross after Christ’s death. Thus, within this everyday scene of familial tranquility and harmony, The Master of the Antwerp Adoration subtly alludes to Christ’s future sacrifice, creating a beautiful composition that rewards prolonged contemplation.
From the lot notes:
The anonymous artist known as the Master of the Dominican Effigies is named for a panel showing Christ and the Virgin with seventeen Dominican saints and beati, or “blessed ones”, now in the Archivio di Santa Maria Novella, Florence. Recent scholarship has improved our understanding of this previously understudied painter, who appears to have been one of the most important figures in Florentine manuscript illumination in the second quarter of the 14th century. The Master’s style, which blends the influences of artists from the prior generation – such as Lippo di Benivieni and the Master of San Martino alla Palma – also looks to the work of some of his slightly older contemporaries, such as Bernardo Daddi and Jacopo del Casentino, resulting in what Professor Laurence Kanter describes as “an animated and highly personal expression of his own” (see L. Kanter et al., Painting and Illumination in Early Renaissance Florence, New York, 1994, pp. 56-57).
The Master’s eponymous work can be dated to just after 1336 based on its inclusion of Maurice of Hungary, who had died that year, though the artist was certainly active well before then, probably from c. 1310. His last securely dated work is inscribed 1345, but a double-sided altarpiece in the Accademia, Florence (inv. 4633/4) may date to somewhat later. The present intimately-sized, portable triptych is a marvelous example of the miniaturist precision and narrative expression that characterizes the Master’s style. Datable to c. 1330, the triptych is a remarkable survival from an important phase of the artist’s career, showcasing his understanding of the achievements of Giotto and the founders of Tuscan painting.
This is a very entertaining genre picture is by the talented Gerard ter Borch. From the catalogue:
Likely originating in the work of Jacob Duck, the theme of a soldier being tickled awake was treated once more by Ter Borch in a composition dated to around 1656-1657 and now in the Taft Museum, Cincinnati … although in that instance the culprit takes the form of an attractive young woman. While such amusing scenes were intended to delight viewers, they were probably also meant as cautionary reminders of the importance of maintaining military vigilance. Indeed, despite the peace with Spain, the Netherlands remained vulnerable in the 1650s, especially along the German border, where forces spreading Counter-Reformation doctrine needed to be kept in check.
If you don’t follow Chasing Aphrodite, let me strongly recommend doing so … here’s an example of the consistently excellent reporting to be found at the site.
Originally posted on CHASING APHRODITE:
Singapore’s Asian Civilizations Museum bought more than $1 million of art from disgraced Manhattan antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor, according to business records from Kapoor’s Art of the Past gallery.
Invoices that Kapoor sent to the ACM between 1997 and 2010 detail more than two dozen objects he sold, including nine antiquities of unclear provenance. (Kapoor also sold Indian manuscripts and paintings that to date have not be the subject of law enforcement investigations. Our complete Kapoor coverage here.) Most of the invoices were directed to the ACM’s former senior curator for South Asia, Dr. Gauri Krishnan. Krishnan is now director of the Indian Heritage Centre at Singapore’s National Heritage Board. The ACM did not respond to a request for comment.
Last December we reported that the ACM’s sculpture of Uma Parameshvari was stolen from the Sivan Temple in India’s Ariyalur District in 2005 or 2006, according to the court records filed with the guilty plea of Kapoor’s gallery manager Aaron Freedman.
View original 884 more words
National Gallery of Art Acquires works by Vincent van Gogh, Winslow Homer, Claude Monet, Georges Seurat and others
According to a press announcement, the National Gallery of Art has acquired more than five dozen French and American works of art from the estate of long time benefactor Paul Mellon, following the death of his widow Rachel “Bunny” Mellon on March 17, 2014.
From the announcement:
A highlight of the bequest is another major painting by Van Gogh: Still Life of Oranges and Lemons with Blue Gloves (1889). Currently undergoing conservation treatment, the painting will be on view June 7 in the Gallery’s West Building, French Galleries, with Van Gogh’s renownedThe Postman Joseph Roulin (1889), on loan from the Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands.
Still Life with Bottle, Carafe, Bread, and Wine (c. 1862–1863) by Claude Monet is an intimate painting of a subject not usually associated with the artist. One of Monet’s earliest known paintings, the Mellons’ purchase of this work reflects their thoughtful and deeply personal approach to collecting art.
The Riders (c. 1885) by Edgar Degas depicts a group of jockeys on horseback, a subject favored by both Degas and Paul Mellon, a renowned racing enthusiast. This large, vibrantly colored canvas is an extraordinary complement to the many Degas waxes and drawings on the same subject, donated by Paul Mellon in his lifetime. The Gallery has the world’s third largest collection of works by Degas and, thanks to Mellon, the world’s greatest collection of this artist’s sculpture made during his lifetime.
Twelve exquisite oil sketches by Georges Seurat join four paintings and one drawing in the Gallery’s permanent collection. “Seurat died young and his body of work is relatively small compared to his impressionist and post-impressionist counterparts,” said Kimberly A. Jones, associate curator of French paintings. “These new works vastly enhance our holdings and position the Gallery as one of the strongest collections of his work in the United States.”
Among the nine American paintings in the bequest, two works by Winslow Homer—The Flirt(1874), a study for the Gallery’s Breezing Up, and School Time (c. 1874)—constitute especially important additions to the collection. A significant group of still lifes—two remarkable works by Raphaelle Peale and three by John Frederick Peto—strengthen the Gallery’s holdings in that genre. The bequest also included a major group of seven Homer drawings and watercolors, the most notable being Rustic Courtship (1874) and The Berry Pickers (1873), as well as a rare pastel on canvas by William Merritt Chase, Gathering Flowers, Shinnecock, Long Island (c. 1897).
According to a press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, a new Web program allows free download of 400,000 digital images for non-commercial use. This is in addition to the hundreds of Met exhibition catalogues that can be downloaded for free:
Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, announced today that more than 400,000 high-resolution digital images of public domain works in the Museum’s world-renowned collection may be downloaded directly from the Museum’s website for non-commercial use—including in scholarly publications in any media—without permission from the Museum and without a fee. The number of available images will increase as new digital files are added on a regular basis.
In making the announcement, Mr. Campbell said: “Through this new, open-access policy, we join a growing number of museums that provide free access to images of art in the public domain. I am delighted that digital technology can open the doors to this trove of images from our encyclopedic collection.”
The Metropolitan Museum’s initiative—called Open Access for Scholarly Content (OASC)—provides access to images of art in its collection that the Museum believes to be in the public domain and free of other known restrictions; these images are now available for scholarly use in any media. Works that are covered by the new policy are identified on the Museum’s [Web site] with the acronym OASC.
At their Evening Sale of Contemporary Art March 14, 2014, Sotheby’s had no hope of matching or exceeding Christie’s record breakjing $745 million haul of the night before, but they did manage to bring in $364,379,000 – of the evening’s 79 lots (following the withdrawal of two works), 12 failed to sell. The sale was stuffed with blue chip works by bankable names – Warhol, Basquiat, Rothko, De Kooning, Diebenkorn, Calder, Twombly, Koons, Grotjahn, Richter and …
The first 19 lots came from the collection of Adam Sender, of whom Bloomberg News says was “one of the first hedge-fund managers to get serious about contemporary art … [and has now put] much of his collection on the auction block after shutting his firm Exis Capital Management Inc. … Todd Levin, director of New York-based Levin Art Group, said he helped Sender assemble the bulk of the collection from 1998 to 2008.”
The sale, delayed some 20 minutes (allegedly because of Obama’s motorcade), opened with Raymond Pettibone’s No Title (Mimicked In Its …) estimated at $500,000-700,000, shot to $1.1 million ($1,325,000 with the buyer’s premium), followed by Glenn Ligon’s The Period, which saw aggressive bidding to a hammer of $520,000 ($629,000 with the buyer’s premium), against an estimate of $300,000-400,000. Richard Prince, whose market had been in a slump, recovered some of his market momentum, which continued with Untitled (Cowboy) – the work shot past its $1.5 million high estimate to make $2.6 million ($3,077,000 with the buyer’s premium).
Rosemarie Trockel’s Untitled, a knitted work that included Playboy Bunny heads, established a new record for the artist at $4.3 million ($4,981,000 with the buyer’s premium), more than doubling the $2 million high estimate. Richard Prince’s Driving Me Crazy “joke painting” from 1988, estimated at $1.5-2 million, continued the artist’s market redemption by hammering form$2.2 million ($2,629,000 with the buyer’s premium). Lot 8, Martin Kippenberger’s Untitled, beat it’s $4 million high estimate during fevered bidding to make $4.8 million ($5,541,000 with fees), while John Baldessari’s Commissioned Painting: A Painting by Edgar Transue from 1969, jet crept over it’s $2 million low estimate to make $2.1 million ($2,517,000 with fees).
An early Dan Flavin, Alternate Diagonals of March 2, 1964 (to Don Judd), established a new artist’s record at $2.6 million ($3,077,00 with fees) – past the $1.2 million reserve price and the $2 million high estimate, and underbid David Zwirner, according to The Art Newspaper’s Charlotte Burns. Sarah Lucas’ installation, Ace in the Hole (below), made $750,000 ($905,00 with fees), while Chris Ofili’s Afrodizzia struggled to make $1.3 million ($1,565,000 with fees), against a $2 million low estimate.
The Basquiat Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta (below), opened at $19 million and hammered for only $21 million ($23,685,000 with fees), which seemed anticlimactic. Lot 23, the six Warhol self portraits (below) – the “first time on the market” according to the auctioneer – came with an irrevocable bid (a guaranteed sale). It opened at $23 million and crept ever so slowly to $26,750,000 ($30,125,000 with fees), becoming the most expensive lot of the evening, while the Mark Rothko’s very dark Untitled, the first of the evening tanked at $5 million against a $6 million low estimate – the Willem De Kooning’s Large Torso sculpture fared similarly, failing at $2.8 million versus a $3.5 million low estimate. Willem de Kooning’s Untitled, estimated at $18-25 million, bombed at $16.5 million.
Mark Rothko’s Untitled, estimated at $8-12 million, buoyant in reds, oranges and yellows, from 1950, was decidedly more appealing and went for $10,750,000 ($12,205,000 with fees). It was followed by lot 30, the early Ryman (below), which made $2.4 million ($2,853,000 with fees), continuing to solidify the artist’s market bona fides. Andy Warhol’s 12 Mona Lisas (Reversal Series), estimated at $10-15 million, just made its low estimate ($11,365,000 with fees), followed by the Prince Nurse painting below, which hammered just under the $3 million low estimate at $2.8 million (3,301,000 with fees). The Koons Popeye was met with little auction room drama, opening at $23 million and going for $25 million ($28,165,000 with fees).
Richard Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park #20 of 1969, for which there is a dedicated video, was estimated at $9-12 million. It opened at $7 million and sold for the low estimate ($10,245,000 with fees).Robert Rauschenberg’s Combine from 1954, a mix of oil, charcoal, newspaper, canvas and fabric collage, lightbulb and two glass radiometers on nailed wooden structure, being sold by the Paul Taylor Dance Company (which has owned the work since 1964), estimated at $5-7 million, also just made the low estimate, selling to Larry Gagosian ($5,765,000 with fees).
Jackson Pollock’s 1952 Black and White Painting, estimated at $8-12 million, struggled to make a hammer price of $7.5 million ($8,565,000 with fees). Willem de Kooning’s Montauk III from 1969, last at auction in November 2010 and estimated at $10-15 million, hammered at $9 million ($10,245,000), while Cy Twombly’s Untitled from 2003, a white acrylic, oil and wax crayon on a buff handmade paper, estimated at $600,000-800,000, made the high estimate ($965,000 with fees). From Koon’s Equilibrium series comes Three Ball 50/50 Tank (Spalding Dr. JK Silver Series, Wilson Home Court, Wilson Final Four), estimated at $4-6 million – unlike to version that sold at Christie’s earlier this week, this one went unsold at $3.75 million.
Mark Grotjahn’s Untitled (Red Orange Brown Black Butterfly 560) from 2005, a colored pencil on paper work estimated at $800,000-1,200,000, made $1.1 million ($1,325,000 with fees). More results below.
From the catalogue notes:
Ace in the Holecomes from Lucas’ renowned series of “Bunny” assemblages that she began in 1997: sculptural tableaux that incorporate stockings stuffed with cotton and wire, and shaped into the lower torso and legs of the female anatomy … Affixed to their chair supports by clamps, the mannequins sit lifelessly in sexually suggestive positions; they are framed in a pyramidal configuration by the fourth figure whose chair rests atop a felt card table at the center of the scene.
The symmetry of the models’ arrangement recalls the face of a playing card, their red and black tights mirroring the standard color palette of a loaded deck.
From the lot notes:
Beyond the complexity of its unnerving formal harmony lies a multivalent chronicle of African-American history, archetypal of Basquiat’s exploration into the psychology of the collective diaspora. Just as the most significant History Paintings depicted rapt moments of intense unrest, Undiscovered Genius of the Mississippi Delta records the historical struggles permeating Basquiat’s African-American roots, communicated through the particular lens of his own biography. Drawing from an encyclopedic breadth of iconographic inspirations such as literature, music, science and anatomy, the present work possesses an intricate multiplicity that instantly arrests but rewards persistent re-evaluation.
From the catalogue:
This acclaimed series of final portraits was first unveiled by Anthony d’Offay at his London gallery in July 1986, the first and only show in Warhol’s career dedicated to the theme of self-portraiture. The gallerist recalls the genesis of the series: “I realised two things: first that Warhol was without question the greatest portrait painter of the 20th century, and secondly that it was many years since he had made an iconic self-portrait. A week later I visited Warhol in New York and suggested to him an exhibition of new self-portraits. A month later he had a series of images to show me in all of which he was wearing the now famous ‘fright wig’. One of the images not only had a demonic aspect but reminded me more of a death mask. I felt it was tempting fate to choose this image, so we settled instead on a self-portrait with a hypnotic intensity.” (Anthony d’Offay cited in Exh. Cat., Andy Warhol, Self Portraits, Kunstverein St. Gallen, Kunstmuseum, 2004, p. 131)
From the catalogue:
The unconventional and highly rare aluminum support of Untitled has a metallic quality that glints through the ridges and recesses of the thickly applied pigment. As opposed to a canvas ground, the metal presents an impenetrable surface for the paint to rest upon, thereby actively encouraging the accumulation of dense impasto. Reflecting the light ever so subtly, this metallic underlayer presents the perfect coloristic counterbalance to the striking and impressive vibrancy of Ryman’s red and the cool elegance of his much beloved white. The pronounced texture of each swathe of pigment conveys the narrative of the painting’s creation, and while the swirling quality of the white pigment formally recalls the impassioned outbursts of artistic energy so distinctive to masters of Abstract Expressionism such as Willem de Kooning, there is no agenda of self-expression here. Instead of communicating emotion, Untitled communicates a pure materiality that affords the viewer the opportunity to experience it as both painting and sculpture.
From the catalogue:
The source image for the present work was the cover of the eponymous 1965 novel by Katherine Foreman, which Prince first scanned, and then enlarged and transferred onto canvas using an ink jet print, leaving a vestige of the anonymous facture that was the hallmark of his earlier oeuvre. After this initial act, however, Prince abandoned any notion of authorial anonymity and instead lavished the background of his canvas with the kind of unadulterated painterly release associated with his famed Abstract Expressionist forebears. Keeping the garish palette, yet radically altering the narrative of the book’s cover, Prince creates an entirely new and unique image in Millionaire Nurse. Through his layers of applied paint, all pictorial content aside from the body of the nurse and the blazing neon title are almost entirely erased, with only faint traces of the author’s name and the strap-line “Would her riches destroy her? – An exciting romance of medicine and high society” enigmatically remaining.
The image above embodies the intertwining of art, money and celebrity that is revolting to so many – the backdrop suggests this stainless steel cartoon character is on the red carpet at an awards ceremony, on a fashion show catwalk, and/or in a boxing ring. Fatuous, silly and self-absorbed. And then there’s the catalogue entry that includes contextualizing photos meant to indicate the significance of the Koons’ work – images of Michelangelo’s statue of David, the famous first century AD Laocoon, Constantin Brancusi’s 1927 Bird in Space and a 1960 Alberto Giacometti Walking Man. To hone that point, there’s also a video about Popeye.
Oh, come on!
From the catalogue:
Jeff Koons has an eye for Pop. Heir to Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein, Koons is the unmitigated twenty-first century successor to the Pop revolution of the 1960s. Celebrities, cartoon characters, paradigms of popular taste and archetypes of kitsch sentimentality all articulated in saccharine candy colors, faux-lux materials and high gloss comprise the quintessential Koonsian universe. This supreme eye for Pop, or indeed Pop-eye, is the very concept (and Duchampian linguistic pun) that underlines the powerful metaphoric significance of his most accomplished and major work of recent years – an immaculate and gleaming six and-a-half foot tall heroic statue depicting the swarthy cartoon sailor of the very same name.
From the catalogue:
Untitled is a vibrant response to Rome’s exuberance, and the rapture of the Mediterranean land and seascape. Compared to some of his earlier works executed during the first half of the 1950s, the present painting is lighter; the marks are more dispersed, allowing for a better appreciation of each individual element. Untitled also demonstrates an advanced level of lyricism, while presenting a more aggressive release of explicitly defiling disorder. To decipher Twombly’s idiosyncratic forms through a framework of conventional aesthetic values, however, is to ignore the intentionality behind their decisive ambiguity. Despite a residual yearning to decipher these written marks, Twombly’s visual language has neither syntax nor logic.
From the catalogue:
Klein’s meteoric career—ended barely before it had truly begun—was devoted to a relentless search for an immaterial world beyond our own. To this end he developed modes of expression that fused together a sweeping array of profoundly held interests in aesthetics, nature and mysticism. Among these artistic dialects the Rélief épongesissue the most effective manifestation of the complex mysteries that filled the artist’s life. Forging the kernel of Klein’s epoch of immateriality, these unreal masterworks deliver the crescendo promised by the IKB, gold and roseMonochromes; and bring to life the enigmatic shadows of the Anthropométries. While the Monochromes invite the viewer into Klein’s world, this Rélief éponge advances out into the world of the viewer; whereas the Anthropométriesnarrate the trace of transient human presence, RE 51absorbs ancient creatures into the depths of its fathomless and immaterial blue. Although it may be indicative of some alien planetary landscape or the deepest ocean bed, the topography of RE 51 encapsulates the artist’s pure concept of an ethereal and intangible state.
From the catalogue:
Richter’s creation of Blau necessitated a conscious suspension of the artist’s artistic will and assertion of judgment. Over a protracted period of execution, the painting underwent multiple variations in which each new sweeping accretion of paint brought new color and textural juxtaposition that were reworked until the optimum threshold of harmonious articulation was reached. Within this process, grounds of arresting pigment were applied only to be effaced and drawn out by large track-like strokes. Although spontaneous in their lyrical grandeur, these overlaid marks were in fact cerebrally labored. Yet Richter holds no presuppositions in the devising of his abstract paintings: in his own words it is by “letting a thing come, rather than creating it – no assertions, constructions, formulations, inventions, ideologies” that Richter looks “to gain access to all that is genuine, richer, more alive: to what is beyond my understanding.” (Gerhard Richter, ‘Notes 1985’ in Hans-Ulrich Obrist ed., Gerhard Richter: The Daily Practice of Painting, Writings 1962-1993, p. 119)
From the catalogue:
Twombly began to investigate the possibilities of his sweeping signature lasso loops in 1952 after a series of trips with Robert Rauschenberg to Northern Africa, Spain, Italy and France. There he became fascinated by the ancient forms of graffiti he found scrawled on historic monuments, making him question the connection between man’s place in the world and the physical records he leaves behind. On his return to America, Twombly was drafted into the army where he trained as a cryptographer, constantly examining and deciphering codes. Immersed in this cryptic, lexical sphere, at night Twombly would make drawings in the dark echoing the surrealist technique of automatic writing articulated in the drawings of Andre Masson, the ‘dream pictures’ of Joan Miró and the frottages of Max Ernst.
From the catalogue:
Nowhere else in Andy Warhol’s prodigious output does he more affectingly capture the metaphysical terror of living in the Technicolor Sixties than in Big Electric Chair. For the artist who singlehandedly defined the intense prismatic palette of Pop art, Big Electric Chair from 1967-1968 embodies the most daring and sophisticated deployment of color across all of Warhol’s most critically lauded Death and Disaster paintings. Exceptionally rare, it is one of only fourteen large-format depictions of the subject, of which the majority reside in major international collections such as the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, and the Menil Collection in Houston. The present work is the sole Big Electric Chair that saw Warhol divide the canvas into three discrete fields of uniform color and silkscreen the surface twice—once in a dark purple and subsequently in a velvet green.
From the catalogue:
Microsoft Word is Guyton’s palette; the keyboard is his paintbrush. Guyton types, enlarges and duplicates the letter U in various attractive hues, positioning the resulting forms on his screen atop a JPEG of flames scanned from the dust-jacket of a book he can no longer recall. Treating these computer-generated shapes and digitally scanned found images as Duchampian readymades—forms unique for their minimalist, visual appeal—Guyton then prints the files on monumental swathes of primed canvas, folded in half to fit through the machine.
RECORD BREAKER: $84.1 Million Barnett Newman Leads $745 Million Christie’s May 13, 2014 Evening Sale of Post War and Contemporary Art in NY
UPDATE: The big surprise of the evening was the record breaking $84.1 million for the Barnett Newman ($75 million plus the buyer’s fees, which edged out the $80.8 million Francis Bacon’s Three Studies for a Portrait of John Edwards as the evening’s top lot. Auctioneer Jussi Pylkkanen maintained his stamina for a sale the lasted a good two-and-one half hours. Out of 72 lots, none were withdrawn and four failed to sell – the sale totaled a record $745 million (inclusive of buyers’ premiums). This followed on the heels of the last night’s very successful If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday sale. Of the first 14 lots from Chicago-based collectors Lindy and Edwin Bergman, all but one sold, bringing in a collective hammer price of $52.2 million.
Quote of the Night: “I don’t know what money means anymore” – according to Bloomberg News’ Katya Kazakina, this was said by Asher Edelman, “an art dealer and founder of ArtAssure, an art financing company, as he exited the Rockefeller Center salesroom halfway through the auction.”
The night kicked off with Lucas Samaras’ Box #102, estimated at $80,000-120,000, it hammered for $230,000 ($281,000 with the buyer’s premium), a new world record for the artist and an auspicious start for the evening, followed by the first of the evening’s seven works by Joseph Cornell, Untitled [Snow Maiden], which hammered at $1.4 million ($1,685,000 with the buyer’s premium). The Joseph Cornell Medici Slot Machine nearly doubled its $3.5 million high estimate to hammer at $6.8 million, ($7,781,000 with the buyer’s premium), a new world record for the artist. The Calder Poisson volant (Flying Fish) was the subject of protracted bidding to finally sell for $23 million ($25,925,000 with the buyer’s premium), purchased by a Chinese buyer bidding by phone with Larry Gagosian as the underbidder – the price a new record for the artist.
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 carried a hefty $22-28 million estimate – it sold for a hammer price of $26 million ($29,285,000 with the buyers premium). Robert Gober’s The Silent Sink, easily surpassed its$3 million high estimate to hammer at $3.6 million ($4,197,000 with the buyer’s premium), a new record for the artist.
Warhol’s Race Riot drew several bidders, opening at $38 million and hammering for $56 million ($62,885,000 with the buyer’s premium), after careful nudging from the auctioneer. This winning bidder was Larry Gagosian who also dropped $23,685,000 for the Christopher Wool If You. Warhol’s White Marilyn progressed steadily from an opening bid of $10 million and multiple bidders before more than doubling its $18 million high estimate after ten minutes of bidding to hit $36.5 million ($41,045,000 with the buyer’s premium).
The Koons Jim Beam opened at $24 million, thought the auctioneer initially said $24,000 to some laughter, hammering for $30 million ($33,765,000 with the buyer’s premium), bourbon included. At 8:20PM Gallerist tweeted: “Eli Broad heads for the door at 8:20 p.m., as Koons hammers at $30 million, Mr. Gagosian two minutes later. Still more than 40 lots to go.”
The Rothko progressed in million dollar increments to a hammer price of $59 million ($66,245,000 with the buyer’s premium), going to a Chinese buyer bidding by phone. The Barnett Newman Black Fire I opened at $40 million and climbed to a record breaking $75 million ($ The 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 – carried a $15-20 million estimate, and sold for a hammer price of $25.5 million, so this owner took a loss.
ORIGINAL POST: 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.
Record Breaking $18.6 Million Kippenberger Leads “If I Live I’ll See You Tuesday” – Evening Sale May 12, 2014 at Christie’s New York of Contemporary Art
UPDATE: The sale, attended by more than 800 people, featured 35 lots (following the withdrawal of a Llyn Foulkes painting), was a resounding success with only one lot unsold and several artists’ new record prices. The sale brought in $116,325, within the $92,960,000-124,080,00 estimate (the final tally inclusive of the buyers’ premiums was $134,630,000 – however, the presale estimate does not include the premiums).
It got off to a brisk start with a Cady Nolan assemblage that blew past it’s $120,000 high estimate to hammer at $420,000 ($509,000 with the buyer’s premium). The Christopher Wool, a work on paper version of the enamel on aluminum in the Museum of Modern Art landed in the middle of its presale estimate, hammering at $1.2 million ($1,445,000 with the buyer’s premium). Alex Israel’s massive (83 7/8 x 166¾ in.) and recent (2012) Sky Backdrop shot past the $300,000 high estimate to hammer at $850,000 ($1,025,000 with the buyer’s premium). The Richard Prince that gave the sale its name sold for $4 million ($4,645,000 with the buyer’s premium), to the same buyer of Rudolf Stingel’s Untitled, followed immediately by Jeff Koons’ Two Ball Total Equilibrium Tank (Spalding Dr. J Silver Series), which made a hammer price of $6 million ($6,885,000 with the buyer’s premium). The Richard Prince Nurse of Greenmeadow sold for a hammer price of $7.5 million ($8,565,000 with the buyer’s premium), a new record for the artist.
The Kippenberger saw a sustained bidding war that yielded a winning and record breaking hammer price of $16.5 million ($18,645,000 with the buyer’s premium) from a Chinese idler by telephone, followed by Koons’ Aqualung at a hammer price of $10.2 million ($11,589,000 with the buyer’s premium), “consigned by Christie’s owner Francois Pinault … [and sold to] to international dealer David Namhad,” according to Judd Tully at Artinfo.com, then a record-breaking $3 million for Wade Guyton’s Untitled ($3,525,000 with the buyer’s premium). Andy Warhol’s 1965 yellow Little Electric Chair fell within its $7.5-9.5 million estimate to hammer for $9.2 million ($10,469,000 with the buyer’s premium). LA-based collector Eli Broad picked John Baldessari’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales: The Frog King and Damien Hirst’s flies and resin on canvas work Fear. A dozen bidder chased after R.H. Quaytman’s Spine, Chapter 20 (Silberkuppe), which zipped past its $80,000 high estimate to hammer at $220,000 ($269,00 with the buyer’s premium), a new record for the artist.
ORIGINAL POST: 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
UPDATE: A more animated evening at Sotheby’s with the auctioneer gamely moving the bidding along until lot 8, the Matisse (above) came up. It carried a third party guarantee, but still only managed to sell for a hammer price of $17 million ($19,205,000 with the buyer’s premium), well below the presage estimate of $20-30 million. The Picasso swimmers (lot 24 – below), provoked a bidding war – it crept along at $100,000 increments (and the infrequent $200,000 increment) from an opening bid of $10 million, then at $17 million is moved at $250,000 increments to finally hammer for $28 million ($31,525,000 with the buyer’s premium). However, after that performance, the sale was a bit more rocky – of 72 lots offered, one was withdrawn and 21 failed to sell (complete results), with the last part of the auction a buzz saw through unsold works. The allure of Picasso following the sale of Le Sauvetage was not sustained as five of the next seven subsequent works by the artist failed to sell.
ORIGINAL POST: 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.
UPDATE: At a not quite lethargic, but certainly workmanlike sale, with multimillion dollar works often creeping along at $50,00 and $100,000 increments, Christie’s did manage to sell 47 lots of 53 lots offered (one was withdrawn) – to reach a total of $285,879,000 – but it took a lot of effort. A star lot, a Monet water lilies painting, scraped by at a hammer price of $24 million, just under the $25 million low estimate (the final price was $27,045,000 with the buyer’s premium), going to an Asian buyer. The Braque (lot 14), crawled to it’s low estimate of $8 million, while the Kandinsky fell short of it’s $16 million low estimate, hammering for$15.2 million ($17,189,000 with the buyer’s premium). The very large Bronfman Picasso also just made its low estimate hammering for $7 million ($8,005,000 with the buyer’s premium). The Picasso Dora Maar portrait (lot 29) opened at $14 million and got one legitimate bid of $20 million (or $22,656,000 with the buyer’s premium) from Paul Gray of Richard Gray Galleries (he also purchased the Giacometti sculpture, lot 33 – below).
ORIGINAL POST: 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.
This is a worthwhile read.
Originally posted on CHASING APHRODITE:
Last month the Boston Museum of Fine Arts voluntarily returned to Nigeria eight works of art — ranging from a terra-cotta Nok head dating to 500 B.C. to a wooden Kalabari memorial screen from the late 19th century — that the museum concluded had been stolen or looted.
The returns were not the result of a claim made by Nigeria but proactive research by the museum’s staff and curator of provenance Victoria Reed, who spent 18 months researching more than 300 objects bequeathed to the museum by William Teel, a wealthy benefactor and MFA overseer until his death in 2012.
As part of the review, Reed also checked the provenance of 108 objects previously donated by the Teels and the rest of the museum’s African and Oceania collection. Most objects had clear title, Reed said. About five objects remain under review, including a terra-cotta sculpture of a Pregnant Ewe from Mali that has been described as a looted…
View original 1,658 more words