Batoni, Goya and a newly discovered Memling lead Sotheby’s January 2013 Old Masters Sale – UPDATED WITH SALE RESULTS
UPDATE: the Batoni and Memling did well, but the Goya tanked – in all 48 of 104 lots failed to sell.
Pompeo Batoni, the 18th century Italian painter popular with Grand Tourists, was known for his frothy realism, such as this soft core Old Testament Susanna and the Elders coming up at Sotheby’s January 2013 Old Master sales. It’s a trophy painting that will likely get trophy price. The sale also includes a late Goya portrait, several gold ground paintings of varying quality, a newly discovered Memling, a widely exhibited Caravaggesque still life, and numerous large scale Italian, German and French paintings of mythological subjects.
Though Sotheby’s didn’t produce a themed catalogue, they could have based on the number of gold ground paintings they’re offering, several mediocre examples of which are being off-loaded by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Among the more interesting (non-Met) works is a handsome and refined Master of the Pietà crucifixion from a “distinguished European collection.”
According to the lot notes:
This intimate Crucifixion was published by Millard Meiss in his 1946 article and was among the first paintings to be identified as by the Master of the Pietà. Meiss assembled a group of seven paintings, ascribing them to the same anonymous hand and giving an eighth to his workshop. The group included two panels portraying the Pietà: one in the Musée du Petit Palais, Avignon (inv. no. 20438) and the other in the Institute of Arts, Detroit (inv. no. 35.11-35.12); then the earliest known Sienese treatments of the subject, their author was thus christened the “Master of the Pietà.”
Meiss identified the present panel as forming the right hand wing of a diptych, uniting it with a Madonna and Child enthroned with saints, formerly in the Foresti collection, Milan.
A heretofore unknown Hans Memling Christ Blessing has recently emerged from a private New England collection and a much needed bath, and I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t exceed it’s $1.5 million high estimate. According to the lot notes:
The subject derives from Jan van Eyck’s portraits of The Holy Face and the closely related image of the Salvator Mundi that Rogier van der Weyden introduced in his Bracque triptych, of circa 1452, now in the Musée du Louvre, Paris. By the last quarter of the century it had become a popular theme. Memling himself painted two other versions of the subject, both of similar size, one in the Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, the other in the Museum of Fine Art, Boston.
The various scholars who have all examined the present work first hand believe it was made either shortly after the Boston painting, which is dated 1481 on its frame, or sometime between 1480 and 1485. It is difficult to establish a chronology for Memling’s paintings, because his style was relatively consistent throughout his career, however Maryan Ainsworth and de Vos note a greater freedom of handling appearing in his work after around 1484.
An early 17th century Caravaggesque Roman still life that has bounced from museum to museum for the better part of the past two decades is well worth watching. It was sold as “school of Caravaggio” in 1992 and has appeared in a some books and articles by art historian John T. Spike ascribed to Caravaggio himself. That, of course, remains to be seen, and the estimate reflects uncertainty about the authorship – should it be an autograph Caravaggio, it would be worth in excess of $50 million. With that said, it seems far more plausibly a Caravaggio than the “Caravaggio” Whitfield Fine Arts exhibited at Masterpiece London last year (one observer said that latter picture provoked disbelieving laughter from some fair goers).
The Goya is a late portrait painted a year before the artist’s death in 1828; it depicts his grandson Mariano. According to the lot notes:
From the ever popular Brueghel dynasty/factory comes a Seven Acts of Mercy by Pieter the Younger. It’s doesn’t seem a remarkable painting, so we’ll see if it can muster the $2-3 million estimate.
Goya adored his grandson. In September 1823 he had given him the Quinta del Sordo, his house on the outskirts of Madrid, which was decorated with the celebrated Black Paintings. In Bordeaux he set aside a large portion of his pension in order to provide for Mariano and in 1827, on his brief visit to Madrid, he painted the present work, showing a remarkably handsome young man not yet twenty-one years old. As depicted by his grandfather, Mariano looks frank and straightforward, but unfortunately he did not live up to his portrait. He was a reckless and wasteful young man, who bought an aristocratic title to prop himself up and squandered the money his grandfather left him. Eventually he sold all the works by Goya that belonged to the family, although how and when this portrait left the collection remains undocumented. Fortunately Goya died in 1828 and so did not witness any of this.
The winner of the “Surprise Reappearance at Auction Award” is lot 41, a Bernini Christ Mocked that first appeared September 2012 At Gallerie Koller (lot 3031) with an estimate of CHF 250,000-350,000 [€ 208,330-291,670].
Additional lots of interest:
The large Pietro Testa is accompanied by lot notes that begin with these hoary declarations (worthy of their own category in the annual Bulwer-Lytton bad prose contest) :
Aeneas on the Bank of the River Styx, one of Pietro Testa’s last works, is an awesome painting, in the true sense of the word. The subject and scale shake us, forcing us to look at the larger themes of existence: the definition of heroism, the purpose of life and the reality of death.
Paintings by the Master of the Legend of Saint Barbara are rare – art historian Max Friedländer lists only twelve (including this panel). According to the lot notes: ”[The artist] was evidently a follower of Rogier van der Weyden, though was also influenced by Dieric Bouts, and almost certainly worked in Brussels, since he collaborated on at least two occasions with other masters working there, namely The Master of the View of Saint Gudule and The Master of the Legend of Saint Catherine.”
The scene depicts Saint Ursula and her ill-fated followers, the eleven thousand virgins:
The tightly spaced scene depicts St. Ursula Protecting the Eleven Thousand Virgins with Her Cloak. Born Ursula of Brittany, she was the daughter of the Christian King Dionotus of Dumnonia. At her father’s insistence she agreed to marry the pagan Conan Meriadoc of Armorica (who has been credited with founding Brittany), but not before a religious pilgrimage to Rome, circa 383, so that her suitor could be baptized. Upon their return from Rome, the couple stopped in Cologne, where they, along with her eleven thousand virgin attendants, were intercepted by the Huns, then in control of the German city. The pagan Hunnish prince asked Ursula to be his bride, but he was rejected. As retribution, Ursula was put to death by arrows, along with her attendants, all of whom were beheaded. Here the Master of the Legend of St. Barbara depicts St. Ursula punctured by a single arrow, her identifying symbol, as she protects her attendants with her finely rendered robe.
This panel of the Infant Saint John and Christ Embracing by Joos van Cleve is remarkably similar to a panel sold September 2012 At Gallerie Koller (lot 3016, Estimate: CHF 220,000-280,000 [€ 183,330-233,330] Hammer price was CHF 910,000). According to the lots notes: “The design for the composition is derived from a lost work by Leonardo da Vinci, and is known through numerous copies and variants.” The present lot is slightly larger than the Koller version and contains several minor composition differences. The Koller painting had two finches and a fly on the parapet in the foreground, while this version has a butterfly. And the arrangement of the foreground foliage is different in each work.
This is big, histrionic and hilarious. According to the lot notes:
The scene represented is described both in the Odyssey (VIII: 166-365) and in Ovid’sMetamorphoses (IV: 171-189). The god Helios, spying Venus and Mars secretly in bed together, informed the god Vulcan of his wife’s faithlessness. In order to catch the lovers in an act of infidelity, Vulcan forged a net of bronze so fine that it was invisible to the naked eye. This he placed over his wife’s couch so as to entrap her with Mars at their next tryst. Sure enough, they were thus ensnared, and Vulcan called upon all of the other Olympians to witness in his favor. Heiss has chosen this most dramatic moment to represent the cuckholded god as he makes his case before his peers. In order, however, to cut the tension of the scene with a dash of charming humor, Heiss has added the god Chronos (Time) seated at the back getting a better view with a magnifying loupe.
Though somewhat clunky in execution, this Longhi in entertaining nonetheless. The catalogue entry begins with this passage:
Pietro Longhi’s intriguing and humouros painting documents a specific and memorable event in 1774 when an Indian elephant was brought to Venice for public exhibition. The heavy, fur-lined cloaks, muffs and hats worn by the figures and the white mask hiding the face of the man in black suggest this occured during the cold period of Carnivale. Given the prominence of the inscription, upper left, we can deduce that this work is not only a vero ritratto (true portrait) of the elephant but indeed of Signor Sebestiano Rizzo himself, most likely the figure in the elegant red coat and tricorn hat.
This Panini is one of two unusual (and somewhat awkward paintings). According to the catalogue entry:
These extraordinary paintings, this and the following lot, constitute the only known examples of a collaboration between Gian Paolo Panini, the most celebrated view-painter in 18th-century Rome, and Paolo Anesi, arguably the most accomplished landscapist of his time.
This exceptional painting, together with its pendant showing the same protagonists in a different environment (see following lot), are unique in Panini’s oeuvre; not only for their unusual subject matter but also because they constitute the only known example of Panini’s collaboration with another artist.
It is unclear whether these extensive views represent specific locations outside Rome or are entirely the product of the artists’ imagination. The landscape certainly appears realistic and is reminiscent of the Roman campagna; in particular the area around Frascati.
The next four lots offer just the sort of sudsy salaciousness perfect for that genteel chateau or palazzo. Boucher and Fragonard have long been associated with titillating mythological images and these two are thoroughly characteristic. The pair of Amigoni’s also do not disappoint.
Of the Vernet, the catalogue entry begins:
This serene harbor scene was commissioned by Claude-Joseph Vernet’s venerated patron and friend, Mr. Pope, and completed in 1788, along with its pendant, The Storm with a Shipwrecked Boat (the location of which is currently unknown). Vernet included a portrait of himself and his family in the painting, promenading on the quay and watching the fishermen as they pull in their boats at sunset. A Parisian textile dealer, Mr. Pope (or Paupe) was a keen collector of Flemish, Dutch and French pictures. The two met around 1778 and Pope soon became a great admirer of Vernet’s work, acquiring some twenty paintings by the artist in the following decade.