Restituted Dutch Old Master painting leads Christie’s June 2013 Sale – UPDATED with sale results.
UPDATE: The Christie’s sale is over and the restituted Honthorst sold for a hammer price of $2.9 million, within its $2-3 million estimate (estimates do not include the buyer’s premium) – $3,371,750 with the buyer’s premium. The other major lot in the sale, Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s Wedding Dance, which also carried a $2-3 million estimate, tanked at $1.5 million. Here are the complete results.
ORIGINAL POST: A recently restituted work by the Dutch Caravaggisti Gerrit van Honthorst leads Christie’s June 5, 2013 sale of Old Master paintings in New York. The work, which has been in the possession of the Montreal Museum of Art since 1969, was returned in April 2013 to the heirs of Bruno and Ellen Spiro from whom the painting was taken in 1931 by the Nazis.
The painting is characteristic of the artist’s interpretation of Caravaggio’s dramatic chiaroscuro style and dates to four years after his return to Utrecht after a sojourn that included five years in Rome where he first encountered what was then contemporary art by Caravaggio.
Musical subjects were popular in Utrecht painting of this period. Pictures of half-length musicians and singers illuminated by a concealed light source first appeared in the Netherlands in the works of Utrecht artists around 1620, such as Abraham Bloemaert’s innovative The flute player of 1621 now in the Centraal Museum, Utrecht (inv. 6083b; Judson 1999, op. cit., p. 16). From the 16th century, the subject of music-making had been commonly associated with love and harmony, and 17th-century Dutch artists embraced this trope with gusto (see E. Buijsen et al., The Hoogsteder exhibition of music & painting in the golden age, The Hague and Zwolle, 1994).
The estimate of $2-3 million seems a bit low.
The remainder of the top five works (be estimate) include two by Pieter Breughel the Younger and two French pictures.
As with many of Pieter II’s works, The Wedding Dance belongs to a tradition largely established by his father, Pieter Bruegel I (c. 1525-1569), of which a celebrated example is the Wedding Banquet in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna … Scholars have long debated how best to interpret such images, discussing them alternately as records of daily peasant life in the 16th-century Netherlands and as genre scenes rife with allegorical and symbolic meanings. While some view the present composition as a straightforward account of a contemporary celebratory event, others focus on its moralizing overtones, which some believe warn against drinking, overindulgence, and lust. Do the figures surrounding the bride, eagerly observing and recording her wedding gifts, provide a realistic glimpse into an outdoor wedding in 16th-century Antwerp? Or are their hunched backs and frowning visages meant to warn against the ugliness of avarice? And are the boisterous dancers, whose raucous activities engage our eyes and bring a smile to our faces, intended only to communicate the cheerful mood of the occasion? Or do their suggestive stances and expressions reflect a darker message about human nature? These questions have been asked for generations, and continue to provoke lively debate. They certainly apply to this scene, described by Marlier as “one of the most popular of all subjects in Flemish painting at the beginning of the 17th century,” and a high point of Pieter Brueghel II’s oeuvre (G. Marlier,op. cit., p. 188).
The round format of the panel reflects its original purpose as a painted plate. It is an example of a tradition that was well-known in the Netherlands at the time and in which specialists, called teljoorschilders, were recorded among the members of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke from 1570 to 1610. Approximately 70 survive from the 16th century, of which 20 are discussed by De Coo (‘Die bemalten Holzteller, bekannten und neuentdeckte ihr Schmuck und seine Herkunft’, Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch, XXXVII, 1975, pp. 103-104).
Simultaneously a charming vignette of peasant life and a humorous illustration of a Flemish proverb, the composition was popularized through engravings by or after Jan Wierix (1549-1618), as well as through painted versions by Pieter Brueghel II’s workshop and his circle. Wierix’s engraving … which dates from 1568, seems to have been made directly from the original painting by Pieter I, which was sold at Christie’s, London, 10 July 2002, lot 37 (£3,306,650/$5,125,308) and is now in a private collection. The popularity of the composition can be judged from the number of publishers’ names found on the engraving’s various states. First issued by Merten Peeters van Ghelle (b. c. 1500), called Martinus Peri, versions are also recorded by C.J. Visscher and P. Goos. There is also a rectangular engraving, in reverse, with the addition of a landscape background and the inscription ‘P. Breughel invent: C. Visscher excudebat’ … the absence of Wierix’s monogram suggests that this latter engraving dates from after his death in 1618.
Rather saccharine and cloying to my taste. From the lot notes:
The genesis of this spirited, life-sized, full-length portrait of the celebrated dancer and courtesan Marie-Madeleine Guimard (1743-1816) involved two of the greatest painters in the history of French art, Jean-Honoré Fragonard and Jacques-Louis David, although the precise nature and extent of their participation in its creation has long been the subject of confusion. The sitter, Mlle Guimard, made her debut at the Comédie Française, but soon thereafter joined the Paris Opéra, where she remained a star for several decades, acquiring well-placed lovers and considerable wealth along the way.
Again, not exactly my taste, but more appealing than the David. The works are characteristic of Boucher and his studio and were created as ornamental overdoor decoration and depict traditional allegorical settings. For the money, there are many other works I’d prefer to own, but they are amusing.
More about other works in the sale from Christie’s press release.