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Brueghel – the Warhol of the Old Master market – UPDATED with sale results

June 14, 2012

Christie’s Lot 41. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp), Summer: The Harvesters, signed and dated ‘P·BREVGHEL·1623·’ (lower left), oil on panel, 28¾ x 40½ in. (73 x 104.1 cm.) Estimate: £2,000,000 – £3,000,000 ($3,092,000 – $4,638,000) HAMMER PRICE £2,100,000 FINAL PRICE INCLUDING BUYER’S PREMIUM £2,393,250 ($3,745,436)

Brueghel – the name is ubiquitous at Old Master painting sales, and works by Pieter the Younger, Jan the Elder and the Younger, are common currency, much like Andy Warhol’s works are in Post War and Contemporary sales.   The prototypes for many of Pieter the Younger’s works are paintings by his father, Pieter the Elder who died when Younger was five years old. As noted in earlier posts, Younger, like Warhol, repeated compositions throughout his career, most notably the Winter Landscape with Birdtrap. Two major dealers who regularly offer Brueghel works are London-based Johnny van Haeften and Paris-based De Jonckheere (which currently lists 23 works in their inventory by the various members of the Brueghel clan). Size and quality vary, with some works exquisite in their handling of paint and treatment of subject, while others are brusque and cartoonish.  While none of the Brueghel works ever attain the eye-popping, bank account emptying auction prices of a major Warhol, they are like Warhol’s works consistent performers.  The July evening sales in London at Christie’s and Sotheby’s feature nine autograph Brueghels – eight by Pieter the Younger.

Pieter Bruegel I, The Harvesters, 1565, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Summer: The Harvesters (above) is one of twenty versions based on the Elder’s painting of the same name in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (left). The Younger’s version is significantly less panoramic in scope and more broadly painted. From the lot notes: “While the majority of Pieter the Younger’s versions rely heavily on the Hieronymous Cock print, featuring the two large figures in the foreground – one drinking and the other wielding his scythe, the present work looks more closely at the New York painting, most notably in the group seated in a circle in the right foreground, who are modelled directly on the figures in his father’s painting.”

Christie’s Lot 39. Jan Breughel II (Antwerp 1601-1678) and Frans Francken II (Antwerp 1581-1642), An Allegory of Water and Earth, oil on panel 23 5/8 x 34¾ in. (60 x 88.2 cm.) Estimate: £250,000 – £350,000 ($386,500 – $541,100) HAMMER PRICE £300,000 FINAL PRICE INCLUDING BUYER’S PREMIUM £361,250 ($565,356)

According to the lot notes:

Breughel and Francken came from two major artistic families in Antwerp, both of which were celebrated for implementing new and innovative systems of artistic production. In their inventive milieu, collaboration was a common working method. This picture is composed of a landscape contributed by Breughel and figures by Francken, in a composition which was painted on several occasions.

Christie’s Lot 40. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp), The Wedding Dance, signed and dated ‘P·Breughel·1625·’ (lower left), oil on panel 16½ x 22 5/8 in. (41.2 x 57.5 cm.) Estimate: £1,000,000 – £1,500,000 ($1,546,000 – $2,319,000) HAMMER PRICE £1,350,000 FINAL PRICE INCLUDING BUYER’S PREMIUM £1,553,250 ($2,430,836)

Partial lots notes:

The present composition derives from a different, untraced, drawing or painting by Bruegel the Elder, known from an engraving by Pieter van der Heyden, published by Hieronymus Cock; a derivation from the same source is also known by Jan Breughel the Elder (Bordeaux, Musée des beaux-arts).

Christie’s Lot 42. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp), Mealtime in the country, signed ‘P·BREVGHEL·’ (lower left), oil on panel, transferred onto canvas 15¼ x 21 in. (38.7 x 53.3 cm.) Estimate: £300,000 – £500,000 ($463,800 – $773,000) HAMMER PRICE £580,000 FINAL PRICE INCLUDING BUYER’S PREMIUM £690,850 ($1,081,180)

Christie’s Lot 45. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564-1637/8 Antwerp), A winter landscape with the Massacre of the Innocents, signed ‘.BRVEGEL.’ (lower right), oil on panel, transferred onto canvas 46 1/8 x 64¼ in. (117.5 x 163.3 cm.), inscribed ‘XXXXX 1911′ (on the reverse) Estimate: £1,500,000 – £2,500,000 ($2,319,000 – $3,865,000) HAMMER PRICE £1,600,000 FINAL PRICE INCLUDING BUYER’S PREMIUM £1,833,250 ($2,869,036)

Partial lot notes:

The subject, drawn from Matthew 2:16-18, has often been interpreted as containing a political subtext, an indictment of the excesses of Habsburg soldiers in the war-torn Low Countries during the second half of the sixteenth century. The menacing, bearded knight in dark armour who leads the cavalry, looming threateningly over the foreground action from the background, bunched together like a bristling forest of spears, has been interpreted as alluding to the Duke of Alba, who led Spanish Habsburg troops in their mid-sixteenth-century incursion of the Southern Netherlands at about the time that Pieter Bruegel the Elder invented this composition. The flag which flies above this company, with its five crosses, is that of the crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, at once a reference to the men of King Herod, who oversaw the Biblical Massacre of the Innocents, and to King Philip II of Spain, who claimed the title of King of Jerusalem as a hereditary right.

Christie’s Lot 46. Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp), The Seven Acts of Mercy, signed ‘P.BREVGHEL.’ (lower right), oil on panel 16 5/8 x 23 in. (42.3 x 58.4 cm.) Estimate: £700,000 – £900,000 ($1,082,200 – $1,391,400) HAMMER PRICE £700,000 FINAL PRICE INCLUDING BUYER’S PREMIUM £825,250 ($1,291,516)

There are eight autograph versions of this composition, which derive “from an engraving, probably by Philip Galle, which in turn is based on the 1559 drawing by Pieter Brueghel the Elder (Rotterdam, Museum Boymans-van Beuningen).”

Sotheby’s Lot 11. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER, BRUSSELS 1564 – 1637/8 ANTWERP, THE BATTLE BETWEEN CARNIVAL AND LENT, oil on oak panel 117 by 165 cm.; 46 by 65 in. Estimate: £4,000,000-£6,000,000 HAMMER PRICE £4,000,000 FINAL PRICE INCLUDING BUYER’S PREMIUM £4,521,250.

Pieter Breugel the Elder, The Battle between Carnival and Lent © Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.

According to the lot notes: “The composition of the present work is derived from the celebrated painting of 1559 by Pieter Breugel the Elder today in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna” (left). The notes go on: “The subject of this painting provides us with an all-encompassing overview of the customs and rituals taking place at one of the great social events in the late medieval calendar, Shrovetide. Here the last excesses and sensual indulgences of Carnival give way to the enforced abstinence and spiritual observances of Lent, the period in the Christian calendar that commemorated the forty days and nights spent by Jesus in the desert. The symbolic combat itself that takes place between Carnival and Lent is taken from a Shrovetide play which would have been performed by a carnival brotherhood of mummers or players. Such a tradition had its roots way back in thirteenth-century Burgundy, but the nature of its representation and interpretation were to be dramatically changed by the Brueghels.”

Sotheby’s Lot 12. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER, BRUSSELS 1564 – 1637/8 ANTWERP, THE TOWER OF BABEL, oil on oak panel 145 by 176.5 cm.; 57 by 69 1/2 in. Estimate: £2,000,000-£3,000,000 BIDDING ON THIS LOT STOPPED AT £1,900,000 AND IT FAILED TO SELL.

From the lots notes: “This is … one of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s rarest subjects, known only in this painting and one other. Pieter Bruegel’s [the Elder] original, painted in 1563, one year before the birth of his son, forms part of the great collection of works by Bruegel in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.”

The subject of this work is taken from the Book of Genesis (II, 1-9), when, in a plain in the land of Shinar: “And they said to one another, go to, let us make brick and burn them thoroughly. And they had brick for stone and slime for mortar. And they said, Go to, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven; and let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth”. God came, and did indeed scatter them upon the face of the whole earth, naming the unfinished tower Babel. Nimrod, the mighty hunter, a legendary conqueror of Babylon in the 2nd millennium B.C., was traditionally held to have supervised the construction of the tower; he is seen here dressed as a ruler, with his entourage, in the lower left corner. Clearly, this subject would have been seen as an image of human pride and presumption in the face of God, but it may also have been in the 16th-century as a symbol of the disunity of Christianity following the Reformation.”

Sotheby’s Lot 15. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER, BRUSSELS 1564 – 1637/8 ANTWERP, SAINT JOHN THE BAPTIST PREACHING TO THE MASSES IN THE WILDERNESS, oil on oak panel 91.1 by 140.5 cm.; 35 7/8 by 55 1/4 in. Estimate: £1,000,000-£1,500,000 HAMMER PRICE £1,000,000 FINAL PRICE INCLUDING BUYER’S PREMIUM £1,161,250.

From the lots notes:

[Pieter Bruegel the Elder's] original has long been considered to be a comment on the religious debates that raged in the Low Countries at the time, the inspiration being the secret meetings and sermons attended en masse by Protestant reformers out in the countryside. The banning of such heathen activities as palm-reading is defied here by the figure dressed in black, kneeling, in the very centre of the composition. This figure has often been thought to be a portrait, either of the artist himself, the patron, or, as has been suggested, Thomas Armenteros, advisor to Margaret of Parma.

Of the fifteen versions that [Brueghel scholar Klaus] Ertz accepts as fully autograph, this is the smallest and the only one known that omits the figures standing behind the tree trunk to the left.

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