With ISIS extremists within two kilometers of Palmyra, Syria, there are well-founded fears the remains of this great 1st-2nd-century AD Roman city and UNESCO World Heritage Site could be destroyed, just as sites in neighboring “Iraq [were] recently [flattened by ISIS members who] used heavy equipment and explosives to destroy antiquities at the Mosul Museum and the sites of Nineveh, Hatra and Nimrud,” according the Art Newspaper.
NBC News reports archaeologists and other specialists have gathered in Cairo, Egypt, for a conference to determine ways to prevent widespread destruction of archaeological sites and other cultural patrimony. But the reporting is sickening:
Syria is experiencing looting “on an industrial scale” in ISIS-controlled territory, according to Michael Danti, Boston University archaeology professor.
“They are really looting sites into oblivion,” said Danti, who is co-director of the ASOR Syrian Heritage Initiative, a team of scholars documenting destruction of Syrian and Iraqi sites with the U.S. Department of State.
Danti’s findings are based on high-resolution satellite imagery and information from experts and residents on the ground.
“The sites look like the surface of the moon… They’re coming in with bulldozers and actually removing entire chunks of archaeological mounds,” he said. “They take the antiquities out and use the soil as fertilizer or fill for new constructions.”
He said the destruction benefits ISIS — which makes money from selling licenses, imposing taxes and taking a cut of looting profits. The tax — normally of around 20 percent — is based on Islamic jurisprudence, which deems treasures found in the ground and spoils of war to be taxable items, Danti explained.
The illicit sale of antiquities is ISIS’ third-largest source of revenue, according to Danti’s fellow conference attendee Matthew Bogdanos, an assistant district attorney in Manhattan who specializes in antiquities trafficking and terror financing.
ISIS has also raided and destroyed priceless antiquities in the parts of neighboring Iraq that it controls. In March it laid waste to the 3,000-year-old city of Nimrud and smashed relics in a museum in Mosul.
“We call this cultural cleansing because unfortunately, we see an acceleration of this destruction of heritage as deliberate warfare,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova told The Associated Press at the time.
Danti said that while sites in areas controlled by the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad were also being looted and destroyed, the damage was dramatically worse in territory captured by ISIS. Twenty percent of the country’s archaeological sites have been looted or destroyed to some extent, he said.Some of the region’s stolen heritage may eventually end up in the hands of U.S. citizens and museums, conference attendees warned. The U.S. is the world’s biggest end purchaser of antiquities and has not, unlike Europe and Switzerland, enacted a ban on the the import of looted Syrian artifacts.
The warnings came amid reports that ISIS was advancing on the Syrian site of Palmyra, a UNESCO world heritages site and one of the most significant archaeological sites of the ancient world.
On Thursday, the country’s antiquities chief Maamoun Abdulkarim said the fighting was about a mile the city and warned that if the militants seized the area they would “destroy everything that exists there.”
UNESCO this week also expressed “deep concern” over the “imminent threat” to the site.
According to the Art Newspaper:
Maamoun Abdulkarim, head of the Syrian government antiquities service, says that the world “must mobilise before, not after, the destruction of the artefacts”. However, the international community is in a difficult situation. There is very little sympathy for the regime of Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad, but even less support for the IS militia. Outsiders can now do little to prevent the IS advance.
Palmyra lies in the desert 250 kilometres north-east of Damascus. During the first and second centuries AD it developed as an important Roman city with strong Persian ties and trading links with China and India. Its paved colonnaded street, just over one kilometre long, linked the Temple of Ba’al with Diocletian’s Camp. These ruins still survive, along with other important remains, including the agora (central assembly square) and theatre. The modern town of Tadmur abuts the site to the north east. Until the recent civil war Tadmur’s economy was dependent on tourism, since Palmyra is Syria’s main attraction outside Damascus and Aleppo.
Palmyra’s greatest artworks are sculpted limestone busts on funerary monuments. Although many have gone to international museums, others remain in tombs and in the local museum, which opened in 1961. It is unclear whether the underground tombs have been securely sealed and the museum objects removed to a secure store.
Old records tumbled and new records were established at Christie’s Looking Forward to the Past sale on Tuesday, May 11, including the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction, a 1954 Picasso painting that made $179,365,000 ($160 million plus fees) and a Giacometti that became the most expensive work of sculpture at $141,285,00 ($126 million plus fees). Christie’s global president Jussi Pylkkanen presided over the taut, curated, 35-lot sale, which lasted less than 90 minutes, but with impressive highlights including a Monet of London’s Houses of Parliament, an iconic Picasso (or two), a heroic Giacometti sculpture, a Warhol of Liz Taylor, and so much more. It raked in a combined hammer price of $623,850,000 – within the pre-sale estimate of $577.7-667.5 million (estimates do not include buyer’s premiums) or $705,858,000 with the buyer’s fees. Thirty-four of 35 lots sold, one failed and none withdrawn.
Lot 1a, Marcel Duchamp’s Feuille de vigne femelle, a cast from a set of small-scale “erotic objects” created by the artist in the early 1950s, opened at$280,000 and hammered for $650,000 ($785,000 with fees), against an estimate of $350,000-450,000, followed Egon Schiele’s Weiblicher Torso in Unterwäsche und schwarzen Strümpfen, a gouache, watercolor and black Conté crayon on paper estimated at $1-1.5 million gaveled below the low estimate at $850,000 to a telephone bidder ($1,025,000 with fees). Francis Picabia’s Sans titre (Visage de femme), estimated at $250,000-350,000, raced up to $580,000 ($701,000 with fees), and then Elizabeth Peyton’s Gavin on the Phone, a 1998 small oil portrait of NY gallerist Gavin Brown, estimated at $300,000-500,000 topped out at $600,000 ($725,000 with fees).
Lot 5a, the Peter Doig (above), the first eight figure work estimated at some $20 million, and carrying a third party guarantee opened at $16 million and saw just two minutes of bidding before hammering at $23 million ($25,925,000 with fees). Doig’s Swamped is based on a single frame from the 1980 cult horror film Friday, the 13th – as the catalogue entry notes:
Doig builds a shuddering tension in his painting. This atmosphere is only amplified by the artist’s rich assimilation of pictorial techniques and influences from across the history of art. InSwamped, Doig’s intricate and seamlessly woven tapestry of process-based and abstract techniques creates a special friction between figurative atmosphere, and dense abstract and painterly meaning.
In Swamped, the surface is riddled with small, button-like blobs of oil paint in bright primary colours and clear resin, protruding from the surface of the canvas to simulate the rich, textured environment of the lagoon. Across the canvas, Doig has flicked small specks of white paint, creating a painterly smoke screen, which, like static on a television screen, forces the viewer to explore negative space. Splashes and drips of wet paint circulate the landscape, recalling the kinetic action painting of Jackson Pollock. The effect is almost hallucinogenic, the artist’s hand and the viewer’s eye chasing across the surface of the canvas. As the artist has explained, ‘[for me] painting is about working your way across the surface, getting lost in it… [The size of paintings] is about the idea of getting absorbed into them, so you physically get lost’. (P. Doig, quoted in R. Shiff, ‘Incidents’ in J. Nesbitt (ed.), Peter Doig, exh. cat., Tate Britain, London, 2008, p. 33).
Lot 6a, Sigmar Polke’s 1993 painting Ohne Titel, carrying a $2-3 million estimate, gaveled at $2.4 million ($2,853,000 with fees), followed by Max Ernst’s 1924 Surrealist painting titled Le Couple (L’Accolade), estimated at $6-8 million and carrying a third party guarantee, which hit its tope estimate of $8 million ($9,125,000 with fees).
That paved the way for the first major $100 million-estimated work in the sale, Pablo Picasso’s Les femmes d’Alger (Version ‘O’) , (above) once part of the Victor and Sally Ganz collection (below), and sold by Christie’s in 1997 from the Ganz collection to the present owner for $31,902,500; more than twice its high estimate of $12 million. The painting, subject of a separate 85-page catalogue, carried a third party guarantee, so the only question was how much it would sell for. It opened at $100 million and proceeded in $5 million increments until $120 million, the point at which the auctioneer said it could be sold. It then proceeded in $1 million increments to $129 million, when it gained a little momentum with at least four bidders. At $151 million, the auctioneer said “we’re in new territory, ladies and gentlemen.” It finally made $160 million ($179,365,000 with fees) – a result met with considerable applause.
Bidding settled back into the seven digit range with Yves Klein’s UNTITLED BLUE SPONGE SCULPTURE (SE 181), a blue soaked sponge on a metal stem and plaster base from 1960-61 and estimated at $4-6 million, which made its $4 million low estimate ($4,645,000 with fees). Next up, lot 10a, Robert Delaunay’s 1910-11 Cubist depiction of the Eiffel Tower, La Tour simultanée, estimated at $2.5-3.5 million, hammered below estimate for $2 million($2,405,000 with fees). This was followed by Piet Mondrian’s modestly sized Komposition II, with Red, 1926 – estimate d at $7-9 million, it found a buyer at mid-estimate for $8.2 million ($9,349,000 with fees); and that led to On Kawara’s SEPT. 13, 2001, a work from his Today series (1966-2013), comprised of an acrylic on canvas painting, accompanied with artist-made box and corresponding newspaper clipping about the September 11, 2001 attacks in New York, Washington, DC and rural Pennsylvania. Estimated at $600,000-1,000,000, it brought $1 million ($1,205,000 with fees).
Mark Rothko’s No. 36 (Black Stripe) of 1958, brought the sale back into eight digit territory. Estimated at $30-50 million, and carrying a third party guarantee, it brought $36 million ($40,485,000 with fees). Urs Fischer’s amusing Untitled (next three images below), a figurative paraffin wax work with pigment, steel, wicks and lead weights that one could call “burning man” hammered for $2 million ($2,405,000 with fees), against a $1.2-1.8 million estimate.
Pablo Picasso’s Buste de femme (Femme à la résille), from 1938, is according to the sale catalogue “one of the best-known of his series of images of Dora, and crucially one of the best known remaining in private hands.” Bidding opened at $45 million and climbed steadily over to land at $60 million ($67,365,000 with fees).
Alexander Calder’s 1937 mobile Untitled, estimated at $5.5-7.5 million, opened at $4.5 million and stopped at $5.2 million, the only lot to bomb. It was followed by Lucio Fontana’s Concetto spaziale, Attese, of 1965, a bright red canvas with two rows of seven vertical slashes per row. It carried a $10-15 million estimate and made $14.5 million ($16,405,000 with fees). Lot 18a, Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise (Dora Maar), a gouache, gray wash, and brush and pen and India ink on Japan paper portrait executed on March 5, 1942, last sold at auction just two years ago in Paris, started at $3 million, against a $4-6 million estimate, and closed at $3.7 million ($4,309,000 with fees).
At this point, mid-way through the sale with some $325 million spent (combined hammer prices), it was time for some Warhol. And what better than a diptych of Liz Taylor. The work was also recently on the market, having been last auctioned just five years ago, but it was back, with a $25-35 million estimate, and carrying a third party guarantee. It opened at $18 and hammered for it’s low estimate of $25 million ($28,165,000 with fees). Martin Kippenberger’s Untitled (from the series Jacqueline: The Paintings Pablo Couldn’t Paint Anymore), painted a year before his death in 1997, depicts Picasso’s widow Jacqueline. Estimated at $8-12 million, the work opened at $5.5 million and gaveled to an Italian telephone bidder for $11 million ($12,485,000 with fees). Cady Noland’s Bluewald, a silkscreen on aluminum, as the catalogue notes, “excerpts the image of Lee Harvey Oswald—the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy—portraying him in graphic detail, moments after he was struck by the .38 caliber bullet from Dallas nightclub owner Jack Ruby’s revolver that would ultimately kill him. Visually isolated, truncated from the waist down and enlarged to roughly twice the figure’s real life size, Noland magnifies not only Oswald’s scale but also the emotional and visceral impact of the original image, which she appropriated from journalist Robert H. Jackson’s Pulitzer prize winning photograph.” It carried a third party guarantee and made $8.6 million ($ with fees), against a $6-8 million estimate.
An iconic chef-d’oeuvre of Jean Dubuffet’s most celebrated series, the Paris Circus, Paris Polka radiates with the artist’s unfettered application of vibrant hues and boisterous brushwork resulting in a dynamic interpretation, raw vitality, and joie de vivre that pulsated through the French capital in the 1960s. One of only four large-scaled canvases,Paris Polka is perhaps the most definitive masterpiece of the artist’s most influential series left in private hands. While many canvases belonging to the Paris Circus are housed in such reputable collections as the Tate, London; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., and the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, it is only Le Commerce Prospère (1961) at the Museum of Modern Art, New York that Paris Polka meets its match. Teeming with life and movement, Paris Polka offers a dynamic composition, executed in a particularly vibrant palette, that is filled with people, cars, storefronts and architecture. Each storefront and car appears to be a little world unto itself, and yet almost all of the characters face the viewer creating a strange and striking interaction. While loosely drawing from the aesthetic styles and subjects that launched his career, Paris Polka—through the boldly scrawledl’entourloupe—simultaneously announces Dubuffet’s departure into the Hourloupe style, which would occupy the artist from the summer of 1962 through the autumn of 1974.
It opened at $18 million and hammered for $22 million ($24,805,000 with fees).
Immediately after the sale of a 1948 Alexander Calder mobile The New Ritou, that had once been in the collection of Klaus Perl, barely sold at $2.65 million ($3,113,000 with fees), against a $3-5 million estimate, the Monet Le Parlement, soleil couchant (The Houses of Parliament, at Sunset) came before the collected bidders. From the catalogue:
Depicting a beautiful sunset over the Houses of Parliament, Le Parlement, soleil couchant specifically belongs to a group of nineteen views which Monet started working on in 1900 and 1901. Of the series, only five—the present one included—are still in private collections. The remaining fourteen are part of the collections of some of the world’s most important museums, such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the Musée d’Orsay in Paris and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. Evoking an enveloping atmosphere that transforms the urban landscape into a fleeting vision verging towards abstraction, Le Parlement, soleil couchant is a testimony to the absorbing fascination and the impressive challenge that, at the dawn of the twentieth century, the leading figure of Impressionism found in London and the Thames.
Since the picture carried a third party guarantee, the only question was how much it sell for – it hammered for $36 million ($40,485,000 with fees), on the low end of its $35-45 million estimate.
It was followed by Jean-Michel Basquiat’s smallish Swiss House on Fire painted when the artist was 23 (five years before his death). Bidding opened at $1.4 million and the painting gaveled at $1.9 million ($2,285,000 with fees), against a $1.8-2.5 million estimate. Next up, Diane Arbus deliciously disturbing and dystopic Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C., 1962, hammered at $650,000 ($785,000 with fees) against a $500,000-700,000 estimate. Jean-Michel Basquiat’s Untitled from 1982, an oilstick and ink on paper image of a large-scale human head rendered in frenetic strokes. Unlike the marks Keith Haring would use to indicate movement, Basquiat’s draughtsmanship is vigorous to the point of violent. According to the catalogue: “During the pivotal year of 1982 that Basquiat rendered the present drawing, he was living at 151 Crosby Street in Soho, in an apartment that the gallerist Annina Nosei had provided for him. He kept a studio in the basement of her gallery where he churned out drawings and paintings marked by skeletal figures and mask-like faces at a frenzied pace.” The images are said to be somewhat autobiographical, but this one also has a halo – perhaps it’s also a saint in the final throes of martyrdom. Estimated at $9-12 million, it made $12 million ($13,605,000 with fees). Next on the turntable, René Magritte L’empire des lumières, a small gouache on paper (7 ½ x 10 ¼ in.), is according to the catalogue, “one of the artist’s most enduring and recognizable images: a dimly lit nocturnal street scene under a bright blue, sunlit sky filled with white clouds.” The notes continue: “Between 1949 and 1964, Magritte painted 17 oil paintings and 10 gouache versions of L’empire des lumières, each showing subtle compositional differences and variations, with many now residing in major museums and collections around the world. The present work, painted in 1955, is one of the earliest gouaches in the series.” Estimated at $3-4 million, it caught a wave and made $4.7 million ($ with fees), thanks in part to a third party guarantee.
The eagerly anticipated Giacometti, the second work to carry a nine figure estimate (approximately $130 million), took center stage. Would the nearly six-foot-tall 1947 L’homme au doigt dethrone the record-breaking Picasso from earlier in the evening. Bidding opened at an astonishing $100 million, before rolling to $125 million, when the only real bid came in and the hammer came down at $126 million ($141,285,000 with fees).
From heroic to slaughtered and the Soutine – from the sale catalogue: “Between 1923 and 1925, Soutine painted an extraordinary sequence of nine canvases that take as their starting point the newly slaughtered carcass of a steer, the vermillion-colored flesh and golden suet flayed and opened up for the artist’s penetrating inspection. Only three of these prized paintings remain today in private hands, of which the present is the largest.” What’s remarkable about the provenance is that this was once in the permanent collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC – an institution that does not deaccession work. How did this end up getting sold? A third party guarantee for $20-30 million estimated work led to a final hammer price of $25 million ($28,165,000 with fees).
This led to the final lot so of the evening beginning with a late career painting by Willem de Kooning, Untitled XVIII from 1982, which carried an $8-12 million estimate and gaveled for $8 ($9,125,000 with fees). Andy Warhol’s 1963 silkscreen Five Deaths on Turquoise, from his famous Death and Disaster series, which was last at auction some 18 months ago, came up with a third party guarantee and an $8-10 million estimate, and hammered for $8.6 million ($9,797,000 with fees). John Currin’s four-foot-tall painting of a female nude, The Collaborator, with a $3-4 million estimate (and a third party guarantee), pulled in $3 million ($ with fees), followed by Rene Magritte’s 1942 gouache, Le miroir invisible, which made $2.6 million ($3,525,000 with fees), against an estimate of $2-3 million. The evening’s final lot, Richard Prince’s Untitled (Girlfriend), closed at $690,000 ($833,000 with fees) against a $700,000-1,000,000 estimate.
The Cleveland Museum of Art, according to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, “announced early Monday that it voluntarily returned to Cambodia a much-beloved 10th-century statue of Hanuman, the Hindu monkey god, after uncovering evidence that it was probably looted during the country’s bloody civil war.”
The news was detailed in a museum press release.
The Plain Dealer article continues:
Xinhua, the Chinese news agency, reported that Cambodian officials held a Buddhist ceremony at the airport to welcome the arrival of the 800-pound sandstone sculpture, which stands roughly 3.5 feet high and depicts a kneeling human figure with the head of a monkey.
A favorite with generations of schoolchildren who imitated its distinctive, kneeling pose during tours with docents, the sculpture has been on nearly constant display at the museum since the museum acquired it in 1982. The work was still illustrated on the museum’s website early Monday.
The Cleveland museum said it uncovered evidence late last year that the work’s head and body were sold separately in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1968 and 1972, respectively, during the Vietnam War and the Cambodian civil war.
The Cleveland museum also learned in February, in talks that it initiated with Cambodian officials in Phnom Penh, that a government excavation showed the sculpture’s base matched a pedestal at the east gate of the Prasat Chen Temple, part of the Koh Ker archaeological site.
The excavation at the site, roughly 15 miles from the border of Thailand, uncovered fragments that match details on the Cleveland Hanuman, including the earring missing from the right side of its head, museum officials said.
Also from the article:
The restitution of the Hanuman is part of a rising trend in which “source countries” rich in antiquities are pressing for the return of allegedly looted objects, sometimes based on hard evidence, sometimes not.
Cleveland’s Hanuman is the sixth of the so-called “blood antiquities” returned to Cambodia by American institutions in recent years, including two from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, one from the Sotheby’s auction house, one from Christie’s auction house and one from the Norton Simon Museum in Los Angeles.
The restitution also follows the Cleveland Museum of Art’s decision in 2009 to hand over 14 works of art to Italy.
Italian authorities said that evidence from a 1995 police raid in Geneva, Switzerland, showed that 13 of the objects were looted from sites in Puglia and laundered through a smuggling operation. The 14th item was a Renaissance-era crucifix stolen from a church near Siena.
The Cleveland museum also faced pressure from Greece in 2007, without hard evidence, to return an ancient bronze statue of Apollo attributed to Praxiteles.
In 2012, Turkey pressed the museum to return 22 objects that it said were looted and illegally exported. When queried by The Plain Dealer, Turkish authorities did not provide any proof of looting and smuggling.
Additionally from the article:
Unnamed Cambodian officials were quoted by The New York Times in 2013 as saying that the Hanuman had been looted from Prasat Chen and that the country wanted it returned.
A year later, the museum reported that Sonya Quintanilla, its curator of Indian and Southeast Asian art, had traveled to Prasat Chen with a mold of the base of the Hanuman. She found that it did not match any excavated pedestals there, and concluded at the time that it had not been looted.
Her investigation, conducted with permission from the Cambodian government, focused on excavated portions of the west gate at the site, [Cleveland Museum director William] Griswold said.
At the time, Cambodian authorities had not excavated the east gate, where government archaeologists later found the matching pedestal and the missing earring, Griswold said.
The museum said it bought the Hanuman in 1982 from New York art dealer Robert H. Ellsworth, who died in 2014 at age 85.
Ellsworth, in turn, acquired the work from the estate of New York financier and collector Christian Humann, whose Pan-Asian Collection was widely exhibited.
The Hanuman was published in a 1977 catalog for the “Sensuous Immortals” exhibition, which traveled to four American museums.
After Quintanilla’s 2014 trip to Cambodia, she continued to research the sculpture’s provenance, or ownership history, Griswold said.
Her research uncovered the sale of the work’s head in 1968 in Bangkok, followed by the body in 1972. Griswold said that the pieces were sold in Bangkok by Douglas Latchford, a British art dealer.
U.S. federal authorities in 2012 accused Latchford of having knowingly purchased a looted 10th-century Khmer sculpture that was later returned to Cambodia by Sotheby’s. Latchford denied having owned the work, according to news reports.
Sotheby’s kicked off the May sales of Impressionist and Modern Art in New York with a auction that brought in a combined hammer price of $295,730,000 against an estimate in excess of $255 million (pre-sale estimates do NOT include the buyer’s premiums – the original estimate was in excess of $270, the revised number accounts for combined high estimates of withdrawn lots) – the total with buyer’s fees was $368,344,00. There were six Monets, including a waterlilies from 1905 that hammered for $48 million ($54,010,000 with the buyer’s premium) and a late van Gogh that drew a winning bid of $59 million ($66,330,000 with fees). Fifty of the 69 lots founds buyers, 14 failed and five were withdrawn (here’s the print version of the entire catalogue).
Lot 5 Pablo Picasso’s Le Hibou Noir, also from the Sarnoff estate, estimate $900,000-1,200,000, made an even $1 million ($1,210,000 with fees), while lot 6, Marc Chagall’s Crépuscule ou la maison rouge, estimated $2.5-3.5 million, saw healthy bidding that took it to $4.3 million ($5,066,000 with fees). The first of the Giacometti sculptures also caught bidders’ attention and zipped past its $8 million high estimate to sell for $11.2 million ($12,794,000 with fees). The first of the Legers moved every so slowly to finally hammer for $9.2 million ($10,554,000 with fees).
Lot 9, Juan Gris’ Guitare et compotier, estimated at $2-3 million, could only muster $1.8 million, but still sold ($2.17 million with fees), while the following lot by Miro (below) saw more vigorous bidding, finally making $8.5 million ($9.77 million with fees). Alberto Giacometti’s Pommes dans l’atelier, estimated at $3.5-5 million, saw determined bidding that carried it to $$6.1 million ($7,082,000 with fees).
Fernand Léger’s Les Pêcheurs, estimated at $2.5-3.5 million, sold on the low side for $2.8 million ($3,370,000 with fees) and lot 14, Fernand Léger’s Les Deux Pêcheurs, estimated at $4-6 million, also hammered on the low side at $4.5 million ($5,290,000 with fees).
The van Gogh opened at $28 million and climbed steadily to a hefty $50 million, when the pace slowed ultimately leading to a hammer of $59 million ($66,330,000 with fees), followed by the first of the night’s six Monets, which bombed at $2.5 million against a $3 million low estimate. The first of the Picassos opened (lot 21, below) opened at $9 million and had little trouble moving into the $20 million range, finally getting a winning bid of $26.5 million ($29,930,000 with fees).
Lot 22 Henri Matisse’s Anémones et grenades, estimated $5-7 million, the first work by the artist of the evening edged it’s way to make its way to $5.2 million ($6,074,00 with fees). Pablo Picasso’s Femme assise dans un fauteuil noir, estimated at $7-9 million, moved swiftly to its low estimate of $7 million ($8,090,000 with fees). The next of the Monets (lot 28, below) did far better than the first, easily going past its $8 million high estimate to gavel for $10 million ($11,450,00 with fees).
The marquis Monet, a waterlilies (lot 30, top), opened at $$26 million, but did not have the power bidding that the van Gogh saw. Nevertheless, determined bidding moved steadily past its $45 million high estimate to a winning bid of $48 million ($54,010,000 with fees), taken from a telephone bidder by George Wachter, Sotheby’s head of Old Master paintings.
Lot 32 Vincent van Gogh’s Femme dans un champ de blé, estimated at $5-7 million, remarkably hammered for $5.5 million ($6,410,000 with fees). According to the catalogue entry, this small work with a horribly drawn figure “painted in 1887 … exemplifies Van Gogh’s stylistic experimentation following his exposure to the French Impressionists and Post-Impressionists.” It’s just a terrible painting. The Gaugin (lot 33, below), from the same collection, sold in the middle of its estimate for $5 million ($5,850,000 with fees).
Lot 34 Alberto Giacometti’s Femme de Venise VI, a slender 51″ tall bronze figure created in 1956 and executed in the artist’s lifetime, estimated at $8-12 million, opened at $6.2 million and moved steadily to gavel for $14.2 million. The Monet of Venice (lot 40, below), opened at $12 million and moved slowly (at $19.6 million the auctioneer tried to move the bidding along, saying “we’re all hungry” and then pleading “put us out of our misery”) to a hammer price of $20,400,000 ($23,098,000 with fees). The next lot Henry Moore’s Working Model for Three Piece Reclining Figure: Draped, estimated at $2.5-3.5 million, a late work from 1975 in an edition of nine, sold just below the low end for $2.4 million ($2,890,000 with fees).
A small group of Old Master paintings that an American G.I. won during a poker game in World War II are being returned to the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie, a small museum in Dessau, Germany according to a report in the New York Times. Reporter Tom Mashberg writes the pictures were “won by an American tank commander, Maj. William S. Oftebro, who quietly mailed them home.”
In a ceremony at the State Department in Washington, the three works from Dessau and two other paintings taken by American G.I.’s were handed over by the soldiers’ heirs to the German ambassador to the United States, Peter Wittig, in an event organized by the Monuments Men Foundation, based in Dallas. “I just couldn’t keep them,” the major’s stepson, James Hetherington, 71, of Dallas, said. “Whether he won them in a poker game or not, they were stolen property.”
As Mashberg notes:
Though stories of art looting during World War II invariably focus on Nazi plunder, German and American officials say thousands of works, among them masterpieces by Dürer, Cranach and Hals, crossed the Atlantic in footlockers and mail parcels in the 1940s. Very few have trickled back.
The thefts from German castles and storage vaults in no way match the scale of Nazi looting, and were undertaken by men who had witnessed the bloody toll of German aggression. But few suggest American soldiers were confused about the rules of war. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower had issued strict directives forbidding such thefts.
“Yes, they were suffering and losing buddies,” said Robert M. Edsel, chairman of the board of the foundation, which chronicles and promotes the return of art stolen during World War II. “But they knew what they did was wrong.”
Mr. Edsel has spent much of his life researching the work of a small group of American troops who were assigned to safeguard European treasures against the retreating Germans and the advancing Soviets, events portrayed in the 2014 George Clooney film, “The Monuments Men.” He believes the return of artworks to Germany on Tuesday might prompt the families of other American veterans who defied Eisenhower and took illicit trophies to come forward with any items hanging on dining room walls or taking up space in the attic.
“We just have to hope the heirs will come forward now that they’re discovering these things as the veterans die off,” he said.
The report continues:
In the past, returns have been scarce. In 1992, rarities from the eighth century, including a gold-and-jewel-studded Bible cover, a hand-carved ivory and gold chest, and a rock-crystal silver reliquary, went back to a Lutheran church in Germany after a group there paid $3 million to the heirs of the Texas soldier who had them.
Seven years later, a 16th-century painting of Christ by Jacopo de’ Barbari was recovered by a museum in Weimar, Germany, after a Long Island man tried to negotiate a $40,000 reward for the work, stolen in 1945, saying it had mysteriously turned up in his wood shop. Instead, he was arrested and charged with selling stolen property.
Two years ago, eight antique manuscripts from 1533 to 1789, taken from shell-damaged Naples by an Army radio operator, were handed back to Italian officials by the operator’s grandson.
The three works obtained by Major Oftebro, whose 750th tank battalion had landed at Normandy, France, were among hundreds that the Anhaltische Gemäldegalerie, a small museum in Dessau, had crated and hidden in the Solvayhall mine, about 30 miles east. But when officers from the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section arrived at the mine a few weeks later, they found that some hidden items had been taken.
Among those missing were “The Prodigal Son,” a 17th-century Flemish work by Frans Francken III; a landscape by the German artist Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich; and “Landscape With Staffage,” by an Austrian, Franz de Paula Ferg. Experts said they would fetch between $25,000 and $50,000 each if sold today.
Early July in London means Old Master sales at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and the former has just announced they’re selling a fine collection of pictures from The Alfred Beit Foundation to benefit Russborough House, “one of the greatest Georgian houses in Ireland, which was gifted by the Beit family to The Alfred Beit Foundation in 1976.”
According to the Christie’s release: “Built almost 300 years ago, Russborough is in continuing need of restoration and improvements to the main house, wings & colonnades; outbuildings; estate grounds; walkways; water features; historical features; and visitors facilities.” Death, divorce, disease, and in the case of stately homes, roof repairs, often force works on to the market. Some years back, Chatsworth off-loaded a Raphael for some home repairs. That’s the way it goes.
The sale is not without controversy, reports the Independent:
Owners of Russborough House, the Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF), have been criticised by board members for auctioning the nine old master paintings from the Alfred Beit collection, with the Irish Georgian Society (IGS) removing its member from the board in protest.
The IGS, the Royal Dublin Society and an Táisce have called on the Government to intervene in order to prevent the sale of the paintings, which are to be auctioned at Christie’s in London on July 9.
“As it has supported Russborough in the past through the central involvement of the National Gallery of Ireland, and through grant aid from the Heritage Council and from Fáilte Ireland, the State has a stake in the future of the house and its magnificent collection,” read a joint statement.
The IGS, the Royal Dublin Society and an Táisce have called on the Government to intervene in order to prevent the sale of the paintings, which are to be auctioned at Christie’s in London on July 9.
“As it has supported Russborough in the past through the central involvement of the National Gallery of Ireland, and through grant aid from the Heritage Council and from Fáilte Ireland, the State has a stake in the future of the house and its magnificent collection,” read a joint statement.
The paintings, some of which have been the subject of infamous heists, are expected to raise up to €12m for the upkeep of Russborough House.
Arts Minister Heather Humphreys was not informed of the decision to auction the works until after the export licence was granted by the National Gallery of Ireland, according to her spokesperson.
However, even if they were consulted, the department does not have the funds to buy the old masters.
“The department does not have the discretionary funding which would be required to buy the paintings,” said the spokesperson.
For collectors, connoisseurs, art market watchers and Old Masters fans, this will be an opportunity to see choice Dutch, Flemish and Italian pictures, including a richly detailed and very pleasing Teniers village festival scene (above). The works will be on view at Christie’s New York office May 2-12.
From the announcement:
The Beit Kermesse by David Teniers the Younger has long been heralded as one of the jewels in his oeuvre (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million, illustrated left). Dating to the 1640s, when he was at the peak of his fame, it is one of the most successful treatments of the artist’s most popular subject, and the only one to be painted on copper. Populated with a great array of characters, it excels in its depiction of anecdotal detail and incident. Its enormous appeal is evident in its stellar provenance, passing successively through some of the greatest French Old Master collections of the 18th and early 19th century, from the Marquis de Brunoy, to Antoine Dutarte, Lucien Bonaparte and the Comte de Pourtales, prior to being acquired by Alfred Beit (1853-1906) in 1895.
The remaining works include a pair of Guardis, a pair of Reubens oil sketches and an Adriaen van Ostade.
From the press release:
Dating to Francesco Guardi’s full maturity, the pair of Venetian views are a spirited and characteristically atmospheric treatment of one of Guardi’s most popular and enduring pairings, showing two of the most celebrated sights of Venice: the Piazza San Marco looking towards the Basilica, and the Piazzetta, flanked by two of the great secular buildings of the city, the medieval Doges’ Palace on the left and Sansovino’s Libreria on the right … Painted in afternoon light, on a small format, they are fine examples of Guardi’s late work.
From the announcement:
The works being offered are led by two superb studies by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, one of the greatest geniuses of the Baroque. Executed with exceptional verve and sensitivity, the Head of a bearded man, in three-quarter-profile, is an outstanding example of Rubens’s ad vivum portraits (estimate: £2-3 million, illustrated left). Painted circa 1620 on a composite panel, which was typical for studies of this type, it shows the artist’s remarkable skill in modelling features and expressing character with a singular spontaneity and bravura.
From the announcement:
The second of the studies, painted on a similar scale but completed at a slightly earlier date, is a beautiful modello for Venus and Jupiter, demonstrating Rubens’s masterful delicacy of touch and fluency in execution (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million, illustrated right). Illustrating a story from the first book of the Aeneid, it forms part of a series on the story of Aeneas that Rubens began at some point after 1602. The picture has a particularly distinguished provenance prior to entering the Beit Collection: it formed part of the collection of Sir Joshua Reynolds, before being sold in the Reynolds sale at Christie’s in March 1795, and later passing to the Earls of Darnley at Cobham Hall, who owned masterpieces by Titian and Veronese.
From the press release:
Adriaen van Ostade’s small scale and wonderfully intimate Adoration of the Shepherds was executed at the very height of his career in 1667 (estimate: £600,000-800,000, illustrated right). It is exceptional in the oeuvre of the artist, being a rare staging of a religious subject, where genre scenes otherwise dominate. It was exhibited in the renowned Art Treasures exhibition in Manchester in 1857, and it too has fine provenance, having once been part of the collection of the Hesse-Kassels, one of Germany’s most prominent families, before being owned by Empress Josephine. This work, like that by Teniers the Younger, was purchased by Alfred Beit (1853- 1906) in 1895.
The Glyptotek in Copenhagen, Denmark, has acquired an Edgar Degas painting from a series the artist did about horse racing. This theme was explored in the 1998 National Gallery of Art exhibition Degas at the Races and the accompanying exhibition catalogue by Jean Sutherland Boggs.
According to the museum’s press Web site:
A major donation from the Ny Carlsberg Foundation and the Augustinus Foundation has enabled the Glyptotek to acquire a very important painting by the French artist Edgar Degas. This donation – of the paintingJockeys avant course – is one of the largest gifts ever made in the recent history of the Glyptotek, and the work constitutes a major addition to the already highly distinguished collection of French Impressionist art found at the museum.
The Ny Carlsberg Foundation and the Augustinus Foundation have jointly given the Glyptotek the gift of a small, but important painting by Edgar Degas (1834–1917). Not only does this donation further enhance the museum’s world-class collection of works by Degas; it also introduces a key aspect of the French master’s oeuvre to a Danish audience. Jockeys avant course (painted between 1886 and 1890) is the first painting in any Danish museum to depict one of Degas’s favourite – and most challenging – subjects: racehorses.
DIRECTOR FLEMMING FRIBORG SAYS:
“It is virtually impossible to find Degas paintings of this type and depicting this particular subject matter on the art market today. The two foundations not only acted with great celerity; they also generously secured a real gem of a Degas for the Glyptotek, a piece without peer on the Danish museum scene. At the same time the work features many of the elements that make Degas one of the most exciting innovators in the realm of painting – and one of the greatest figures in art history as such.”
CHAIRMAN OF NY CARLSBERG FOUNDATION, KARSTEN OHRT, SAYS:
“It gives the Ny Carlsberg Foundation great pleasure that we, together with the Augustinus Foundation, have been able to secure this unique Degas for Denmark and the Glyptotek. Here, it will further strengthen the museum’s splendid collection, and it will be permanently on display for present and future generations of museumgoers to enjoy.”
SMALL IN SCALE, VAST IN SCOPE
Here, as in his famous depictions of young ballet dancers, Degas is mainly interested in the point just before the main action commences. He often portrayed dancers warming up or rehearsing, and in Jockeys avant coursehe has conjured up a particular sense of intensity by capturing horses and their riders just before the race begins. In this small format (26.1 x 38.5 cm) Degas has condensed a narrative of frantic excitement and nerves, almost reaching a psychological snapping point.
Jockeys avant course is filled to the brim with those characteristic features that make Degas a pioneering figure within modern painting: bold cropping of his chosen subject matter, vibrantly quivering tactile brushstrokes and an almost electric palette. Horse shapes have been turned and turned around like pieces of a puzzle until they form a dynamic outline across the surface, allowing the subject matter and the material properties of painting to merge in splendid synthesis.
THE MISFIT IMPRESSIONIST
The Glyptotek’s collection of Degas’s works now numbers five paintings and pastels by the artist as well as one of only four complete sets of his 74 sculptures in the world today – including his seminal La Petite Danseuse de Quatorze Ans (1880–81).
The new acquisition serves to accentuate Degas’s unique position within the Impressionist circle – an issue that was also one of the major themes of the ambitious, internationally acclaimed special exhibition Degas’s Method staged by the Glyptotek in 2013. Whereas fellow artists – and rivals – such as Monet and Renoir worked intensively with plein air painting and with depicting light and movement captured in a fleeting moment, Degas is interested in evoking a distinctive ‘now’ in his paintings, a moment where time has been suspended; these paintings merely use nature and what the artist sees as excuses. His subject matter was found in the outside world, true, but back at his studio an almost laboratory-like process began as Degas made extensive use of his own wax models to create exactly the right composition and narrative in his paintings. As he said: “You cannot turn live horses around to get the proper effects of light.”
Degas’s practice makes him a unique figure within the circle of Impressionists, and this painting is an excellent testament to his complicated experiments with colour, matter and compositions. Jockeys avant course encapsulates the full scope of the mature Degas’s endeavours in a single, scintillating moment – and demonstrates the range and reach of modern painting. Here, we are witnessing the point where Impressionism borders on Matisse, Picasso and the modern.
UPDATE: The results confirm my interest and expectations – this panel nearly quadrupled it’s high estimate and hammered for a hefty £235,000 (£287,000 or $423,239 with the buyer’s premium), making it the second most expensive work in the sale.
ORIGINAL POST: Sotheby’s April 29 Old Masters sale in London is a jumble of low to mid-priced works, “school of” and “follower of” paintings, and career mishaps by some better know artists. And, the estimates reflect that – the low estimates range from £1,000 to £100,000.
Early in the sale, however, is Lot 305, an unframed and terrifically appealing panel given to Bartolo di Fredi, an artist of considerable import in Siena during the latter half of the 14th century. Saint Anthony Abbott is depicted with a furrowed brow and a delightful almost symmetrical bushy beard [the centerline like a sequence of tops of grey peacock feathers}.
The saint stares intently and with great determination. His roiling hair is a comic foil to his solemnity, and the punch work of the halo, exquisitely detailed and rich in ornamentation, adds to his ennobled aura.
The single line catalogue entry states: “Traditionally ascribed to Bartolo di Fredi, Professor Federico Zeri attributed the picture to Francesco di Vannuccio in 1969.” I’m curious about this attribution to Francesco di Vannuccio, who was active in Siena at the same time as Bartolo and an intriguing artist whose works an extremely scarce. Francesco’s only known signed and dated work, a double-sided processional from 1380 in the Gemäldegalerie, which is the basis for all other attributions. A reliquary by him, which had been on long-term loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, was sold at Sotheby’s in New York on January 28, 2010. A Crucifixion with the two afflicted, St. Francis and St. Guy was on offer from the Paris-based Galerie Giovanni Sarti at TEFAF in Maastricht in 2004 for slight more than €1 million.
Both Bartolo and Francesco reflect the legacy of Simone Martini in their refinement and ornamentation, but I know only one work by Francesco with figuration of this scale that would suggest this attribution, a Crucifixion at Bob Jones University from 1370. If this is by Francesco, it would be a significant addition to his known oeuvre, which is comprised mostly of small scale works. It would also point to an unknown and significant commission, given the scale of the figure (in the catalogue essay for the Francesco owned by the Philadephia Museum of Art, the catalogue Italian Paintings 1250-1450, says of the artist: “In 1388 he was paid for painting an altarpiece for the company of Sant’Antonio Abate. Panels from this work might be identified with the Virgin and Child now in the church of San Giovannino in Pantaneto in Siena, and a fragmentary Saint Anthony Abbot in a private German collection” [the present lot at Sotheby’s]).
The panel, likely part of a polyptych and a cut down version of a full scale figure, does not appear in Patricia Harping’s The Sienese Trecento Painter Bartolo di Fredi and there are no other scholarly references listed in the catalogue entry. It is, nevertheless, a wonderful picture deserving of more attention and study.
According to the condition report:
The panel is uncradled. It has a convex bow. The paint surface is dirty. There are small scattered retouchings, some of which have discoloured. The paint surface is not too worn. The decorative detail stamped into the gold around the border and halo is in good condition. There are tiny areas of exposed red bolus. Inspection under ultraviolet light shows the aforementioned small retouchings, particularly in the face, the back of the head and in the coat. There is also a circa. 2 cm. wide band of repair all along the upper margin, presumably over-painting to an area of exposed panel, incurred when the fragment was separated from its original context. this lot is offered without a frame.
UPDATE: Ouch. After a promising start, which saw a small Averkamp winter scene hit it’s $1.5 million top estimate ($1,810,000 with fees), the rest of the sale was punctuated with torpor-inducing speed bumps. The top estimated lot by Sir Peter Paul Rubens Jan Breughel the Young failed to make it’s low estimate, hammering for $2.6 million ($3,130,000 with fees), a price matched by a Ludger tom Ring the Younger still life, and the Coorte shot up to $1.7 million ($2,050,000 with fees), but there was a fair bit of carnage, too. The sale’s low estimate was $23,309,000 (which does not include the buyer’s fees) – the sale netted $18,218,000 – even with the addition of the buyer’s fees, the sale grossed $22,271,25. The buy in rate was significant – 27 of 74 lots bombed, including a Frans Post Brazilian landscape (bidding stopped at $1.1 million, against an estimate of $1.5-2 million), while other lots sold well below estimate including a Jacob van Ruisdael Low Waterfall, which hammered at $750,000 (against an estimate of $1-1.5 million)
ORIGINAL POST: There are numerous gems in Sotheby’s April 22 single owner sale of mostly 17th Dutch and Flemish paintings from the Weldon Collection. According to a Sotheby’s press announcement, the late Henry and June “Jimmy” Weldon built their collection over a period of several decades starting in the 1950s with the purchase of an early Willem van painting, Peaches, a Plum, and Grapes on a Ledge. They paid $16 dollars for it at a small auction in New York in 1951, today it’s estimated at $60,000-80,000. The collection also includes works by Balthasar Van der Ast, Rachel Ruysch, Salomon van Ruysdael, Hendrick Avercamp and a joint work by Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Breughel the Younger. In a videotaped interview, George Wachter, Sotheby’s Co-Chairman, Old Master Paintings, discusses the Weldons and specific works, such as the Coorte still life (above) and the joint Rubens/Breughel the Younger painting (below).
One of the remarkable aspects of the collection is the diminutive size of several works, which nevertheless have great wall power. Here’s a sampling:
UPDATE: Despite the bluster and hype, the Hopper failed to sell – a big disappointment that cut the results for Christie’s May 21 American Art sale be nearly 50% if not more.
ORIGINAL POST: Christie’s has just announced the star lot in their May 21 sale of American Art is Edward Hopper’s Two Puritans from 1945, which carries a $20-30 million estimate.
According to their release:
Painted in 1945 at the height of Hopper’s career, Two Puritans, one of only three canvases by the artist of that year and the only one in private hands, is estimated to bring in excess of $20 million when it appears at auction for the first time this spring. The painting has been included in nearly every major exhibition and publication on the artist and, most recently was on view in Paris at the Grand Palais, where the Hopper exhibition broke attendance records, proving that the artist has arrived on an international stage.
Edward Hopper’s choice and earnest representation of commonplace subject matter in works such as Two Puritans set the artist apart from his contemporaries and allowed him to create a new and uniquely American iconography. In Two Puritans and throughout his career, Hopper painted aspects of America that few other artists addressed. He portrayed unromantic visions of life in a broad and increasingly modern style. While Hopper’s paintings have formal qualities in common with other Modernists, his art remained steadfastly realist.
In recent seasons, prices for Hopper’s paintings have soared at auction, driven by renewed demand for masterpiece-quality works. In October 2013, East Wind Over Weehawken sold for $40,485,000 setting a new world auction record for the artist and in November of 2012, October on Cape Cod sold via Christie’s LIVE™ for $9.6 million, setting the world record for an item sold online at any international auction house.
The European Fine Art Fair, also known as TEFAF, kicked off March 13 in Maastricht, the Netherlands, which last year drew more than 72,000 attendees to see a mix of Old and Modern Masters, antiquities, furniture, jewels and other art and artifacts. It’s considered one the world’s finest art fairs and this year it features some 275 dealers from 20 countries.
TEFAF is known as the place art dealers bring their best material, and while the offerings cover a wide range of material, the fair is at its heart centered on Old Master paintings; it’s also the place where recently auctioned masterpieces show up following a fresh cleaning (and a bump in price).
Jan Asselijn’s The Breach of the Sint Antionisdijk on the Night of 5-6 March 1651, was sold at Sotheby’s December 3, 2014 Old Masters sale in London for £602,500 (£500,000 hammer price plus the buyer’s premium or $942,431), against an estimate of £300,000-400,000. According to de Volkskrant, it was purchased by the Rijksmuseum at TEFAF from dealer Bob Habolt for €1.2 million, “an amount that was raised through the support of sponsor ING Turing Foundation, the Scato Gokkingafonds and a private benefactor.”
“It is a topical theme, depicted in dramatic fashion,” says museum director Wim Pijbes, “it makes the situation clear at once that we have always lived and Dutch still life under the sea.”
According to the Sotheby’s sale catalogue:
In the late winter of 1651, stormy weather and tidal surges caused extensive flooding in the Dutch province of North Holland, the areas exposed to the Diemerdijk east of Amsterdam being particularly affected. Finally, on the night of 5–6 March, strong north-westerly winds and a high spring tide caused the Sint Anthonisdijk to rupture in two places, flooding much of the city of Amsterdam. There were numerous eye-witness accounts of the tragedy, and as soon as the waters had subsided sufficiently, artists flooded out of Amsterdam and beyond to record the event. … Asselijn also painted the reconstruction of the Sint Anthonisdijk which took place in the summer of 1652, in a work in Berlin, although the two pictures are of different proportions and were probably not conceived as pendants. The Reconstruction is a rather more conventional painting by Asselijn, being bathed in a warm almost Italianate light and peopled by peasants familiar from his Bambocciate, although billowing clouds to the left allude to the disaster of the year before.
The images are nauseating and the news beyond belief. The destruction by ISIS of antiquities, artifacts, archaeological sites and monuments that collectively represent thousands of years of human history and civilization was accurately described by the Cairo-based Al-Azhar, Sunni Islam’s leading religious institution, as “a major crime against the entire world.”
Today’s New York Times has news of the destruction and the international outrage:
The top cultural official at the United Nations called the destruction a war crime that should be taken up by the International Criminal Court, and she vowed to do “whatever is needed” to stop the plundering by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and ISIL.
“This is yet another attack against the Iraqi people, reminding us that nothing is safe from the cultural cleansing underway in the country,” said the official, Irina Bokova, who is director general of Unesco, the United Nations organization for education, science and culture.
Iraq’s Ministry of Tourism and Antiquitiesconfirmed on Thursday that Islamic State militants had used bulldozers and other heavy vehicles to vandalize an important archaeological site at Nimrud, about 18 miles southeast of Mosul, the northern Iraqi city seized by the group in June.
Nimrud was founded more than 3,300 years ago as a central city of the Assyrian empire, and today is considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the world. Its remaining statues, frescos and other works are widely revered.
“Every person on the planet should pause after yesterday’s violent attack on humanity’s heritage and understand ISIS’ intent not only to control the future of humankind but also to erase and rewrite our past,” said Deborah M. Lehr, chairwoman and co-founder of the Antiquities Coalition, a Washington-based archaeological advocacy group.
“We must unite with global intention to preserve our common heritage and resist ISIS’ effort to steal not only our future freedom but also our history, the very roots of our civilization,” she said in a statement on its website.
The Nimrud destruction came a week after Islamic State militants videotaped themselves marauding through Mosul’s museum, using sledgehammers and torches to destroy statues, artifacts and books. “They’re taking us back to the dark ages, those people,” said Mohamed Alhakim, Iraq’s ambassador to the United Nations. “They are thugs.”
An oil sketch by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo stolen from a private home in Turin, Italy, in or about August 1982, and an ancient Etruscan statuette stolen from the Oliveriano Archeological Museum in Pesaro, Italy, in January 1964, were returned today to Italian officials by the FBI, according to a bureau press release: “Each artwork was returned to Warrant Officer Angelo Ragusa of the Rome Office of the Archaeological Section of the Carabinieri Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, today at a repatriation ceremony at the United States Attorney’s Office in Manhattan.”
According to the release:
Following the theft, the painting’s whereabouts were unknown until it appeared for auction [at Christie’s Old Master Painting Sale] in New York in January 2014 [with an estimate of $500,000-700,000]. After being provided with evidence that the painting was the same piece previously reported stolen in 1982, the Tiepolo’s consignor agreed to its seizure by the FBI and its return to Italy. The United States Attorney’s Office submitted a proposed stipulation and order providing for the Tiepolo’s seizure and return, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered that order on January 23, 2015. Italian authorities continue to investigate the circumstances surrounding the theft of the painting, including the circumstances of its importation into the United States.
[The bronze statuette of Herakles dating from the 6th or 5th BC was stolen] along with several other items, including ivory tablets of the 9th and 13th centuries, early Christian glass artifacts from the Catacombs of Rome, and Italic and Roman statuettes. After its theft from the museum, the Statuette passed through several hands, and was eventually discovered by Italian and U.S. authorities when it was offered for sale by an auction house in Manhattan. After being provided with evidence that the Statuette was the same piece stolen from the museum, the consignor agreed to the FBI’s seizure of the Statuette for repatriation to Italy. The United States Attorney’s Office submitted a proposed stipulation and order providing for the Statuette’s seizure and return, and the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered that order on October 2, 2014.
The centerpiece of London-based Old Masters dealer Jean-Luc Baroni’s January 2014 exhibition/sale in New York was a massive painting by Jacopo Ligozzi, The Allegory of Virtue, Love Defending Virtue against Ignorance and Prejudice, which had originally been commissioned by Francesco I de’ Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany around 1580-85. The painting had last been recorded in 1865 – Baroni purchased it from a private German collection. At more than 11 feet tall, it overwhelmed and overpowered the ornate setting in which it was shown. According to the Art Tribune, Baroni has recently donated the painting to the Uffizi in Florence, Italy – the bequest made in honor of his father.
The Ligozzi is the subject of an exceptional catalogue available free, online that outlines the artist’s biography, along with the painting’s dating, provenance and rich iconography – it begins with this delightful teaser:
Jacopo Ligozzi was one of the most original artistic personalities of the late 16th and early 17th century Florence. He was of an anxious disposition and, tormented by a piety typical of the Counter-Reformation, he was obsessed with sin and death.
My kind of guy.
A report out from Scott Reyburn and Doreen Carvajal at the New York Times says an 1892 oil painting by Paul Gauguin, “Nafea Faa Ipoipo (When Will You Marry?),” has been sold to the Qatar Museums in Doha for nearly $300 million, which would make it one of the most expensive works of art ever sold (rumor of the sale was reported on Tuesday, February 3, by The Baer Faxt art newsletter).
According to the article:
The sale … was confirmed by the seller, Rudolf Staechelin, 62, a retired Sotheby’s executive living in Basel, Switzerland, who owns more than 20 works in a valuable collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, including the Gauguin, which has been on loan to the Kunstmuseum in Basel for nearly a half-century.
Two dealers with knowledge of the matter, who declined to be named because of concerns over client confidentiality, identified Qatar Museums, the emirate’s museum authority, as the buyer of the painting, but Mr. Staechelin declined to say whether the new owner was from that tiny, oil-rich country. “I don’t deny it and I don’t confirm it,” Mr. Staechelin said, also declining to disclose the price.
Qatar Museums in Doha did not respond to telephone calls and emails seeking comment.
Guy Morin, the mayor of Basel, was one of those who acknowledged news of the sale of the Gauguin, bemoaning its loss. On Tuesday, The Baer Faxt, an art world insiders’ newsletter, said Qatar was rumored to be the buyer of the Gauguin at $300 million, which would exceed the more than $250 million the emirate reportedly paid for Paul Cézanne’s “Card Players” in 2011. Todd Levin, a New York art adviser said, “I heard that this painting was in play late last year.” He added, “The price quoted to me at that time was in the high $200 millions, close to $300 million.”
In recent years the royal family of Qatar and Qatar Museums have been reported to be expansive buyers of trophy quality Western modern and contemporary art. The Art Newspaper said in May 2008 that Qatari buyers secured Mark Rothko’s “White Center (Yellow, Pink and Lavender on Rose)” for $72.8 million at Sotheby’s New York in May 2007, and Damien Hirst’s 2002 pill cabinet, “Lullaby Spring,” for about $19 million at Sotheby’s in London in June 2007. Dealers have also identified Qatar as the buyer of the 1904 Cézanne landscape “La Montagne Sainte-Victoire vue du Bosquet du Château Noir,” sold in a private transaction for $100 million by the Edsel and Eleanor Ford House in Detroit in 2013.
In a move that jolted Basel as news of the sale trickled out, Mr. Staechelin said that his family’s trust was ending its loan to the Kunstmuseum as a result of a dispute with the local canton. He said he was searching for a top museum to accept the Staechelin collection — which also includes works by van Gogh, Picasso and Pissarro — on loan, without a lending fee, with a promise to integrate those works into permanent exhibitions.
The paintings were amassed by his grandfather, a Swiss merchant also named Rudolf Staechelin, who befriended artists and purchased most of the works during and after World War I. In the postwar years, he advised the Kunstmuseum, which accepted the loan of his collection after his death in 1946.
His grandson, Mr. Staechelin, said the works had never been hung in his family’s home because they were too precious and that he saw them in a museum along with everyone else. Now, he added, he has decided to sell because it is the time in his life to diversify his assets. “In a way it’s sad,” he said, “but on the other hand it’s a fact of life. Private collections are like private persons. They don’t live forever.”
On the last few days before closing last weekend for renovations through 2016, the Kunstmuseum opened its doors for free and drew a record crowd of 7,500, many of whom caught the last glimpse of the Gauguin work in its longtime home.
The artist’s Tahiti-period paintings are among the most admired and coveted artworks of the Post-Impressionist period. This particular work, focusing on the enigmatic interplay between two young women in a Polynesian landscape, had been painted by the artist during the first of his two spells living in Tahiti.
The painting will still be on public display at a special Gauguin exhibition opening this month in Basel at the Beyeler Foundation and then will head with the rest of the collection for shows at the Reina Sofía museum in Madrid and the Phillips Collection in Washington through the rest of this year. The buyers will take ownership of the painting in January 2016, Mr. Staechelin said.
Local institutions in Basel, which learned definitively about the loss of the collection on Thursday morning, were still trying to come to grips with the news. The Kunstmuseum issued a brief statement about how the works would be sorely missed. “We are painfully reminded that permanent loans are still loans. The people of Basel do not own these, and they can be taken away at any moment,” the statement added.
Mr. Morin, the mayor, acknowledged that the Staechelin collection “will not return.” In his statement, he said the canton sought to persuade Mr. Staechelin to bring back the collection when the museum reopens in April 2016 with the construction of a new site linked to its existing building.
But for months, behind the scenes, the canton and the family trust squabbled over an existing loan contract for the works. Mr. Staechelin said that he had sought a new contract after the museum announced plans to shut down. He wanted to send the works on a tour to other countries. When canton officials failed to budge on a new contract, he said, he canceled the existing one because of a provision that requires that the artworks must be on public display.
“The real question is why only now?” Mr. Staechelin said of the Gauguin sale. “It’s mainly because we got a good offer. The market is very high and who knows what it will be in 10 years. I always tried to keep as much together as I could. There is no financial need to sell, but it is about diversification. Over 90 percent of our assets are paintings hanging for free in the museum. It’s not a healthy financial risk distribution.”
James Roundell, a director at the London dealership Simon Dickinson Fine Art, said, “A new category of ‘super trophy’ is emerging.” He added: “These items are generally in museums and they’re being sold privately, which explains the very high prices. If they were offered at auction, would there be competition at that level?”
With the passing of new generations, the family sold some paintings, including two Picasso works in 1967 that were purchased by the canton of Basel after voters agreed in a special referendum to pay for them. Picasso was so touched that he donated four more artworks to the canton.
In recent months, Mr. Staechelin said he fielded an offer from one museum that proposed to exhibit part of the collection. But he added that he preferred to find a new home for all the works. Buyers, he said, also contact him periodically about purchasing more works in the collection, but he is fending them off — for now.
“I have a lot of paintings and a little money,” Mr. Staechelin said. “I never saw these paintings as pure investments. It’s difficult if you look at a work and only see money because then something has gone terribly wrong. For me they are family history and art. But they are also security and investments.”
If confirmed, this would be a major discovery – the only know surviving bronzes by the great Italian Renaissance master Michelangelo. According to the Guardian, the two meter-high male nudes astride panthers (take that Katy Perry), which will be on view at Cambridge’s FitzWilliam Museum, have been the subject of years of investigation and testing.
According to the Guardian:
Crucial to the attribution of the bronzes, which belong to a private British owner, has been a tiny detail from a drawing by an apprentice of Michelangelo, now in the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France. The drawing shows in one corner a muscular youth riding a panther in a similar pose.
Last autumn, Paul Joannides, professor of art history at Cambridge University, connected the sculptures to the drawing.
Further research included a neutron scan at a research institute in Switzerland, which placed the bronzes in the first decade of the 16th century. Investigations by clinical anatomist Professor Peter Abrahams, from the University of Warwick, suggested every detail in the bronzes was textbook perfect Michelangelo – from the six packs to the belly buttons, which are as artist portrayed them on his marble statue of David.
“Even a peroneal tendon is visible, as is the transverse arch of the foot,” Abrahams writes in the book that accompanies the discovery.
The history of the sculptures is as fascinating as they are beautiful. They are named after their first recorded owner, Baron Adolphe de Rothschild, a grandson of Mayer Amschel Rothschild, who founded the banking dynasty. It is possible that Rothschild bought them from one of the Bourbon kings of Naples and if so they may have come from the Villa Reale at Caserta where the Bourbon art treasures were displayed. After Rothschild’s death in 1900 the bronzes were inherited by Maurice de Rothschild. When he died in 1957 they went into a private French collection and were effectively forgotten about until they came to auction in 2002 and were bought by the current unnamed British owner.
They were sold at Sotheby’s where experts loosely associated them with the Florentine sculptor Cellini.
They began to interest academics once more and featured in an exhibition on Willem van Tetrode at the Frick Collection and then at the Royal Academy’s big Bronze show in 2012, where they were attributed to the circle of Michelangelo and dated towards the middle of the 16th century. Experts who saw them at the RA recognised them as Michelangelesque but were reluctant to assign them directly to the man himself.
The attribution is particular exciting because no other Michelangelo bronzes survive. A two-thirds size bronze David, known to have been made for a French grandee’s chateau, was lost during the French Revolution and a spectacular statue of Pope Julius II was melted down for artillery by rebellious Bolognese.
Frankfurt’s Städel Museum has acquired an early oil on copper by the Bolognese painter Guido Reni from the London-based Old Master paintings dealer Jean-Luc Baroni, according to the Art Tribune. The painting appeared at Koller auction house’s Old Master sale in Zurich March 22, 2013 having been tucked away in a private Swiss collection for more than 40 years. Estimated at 80,000-120,000 Swiss Francs, it sold to Baroni for 1,227,500 Swiss Francs. The painting was purchased from Baroni with assistance from the Friends of the Museum.
For more on the painting, it’s history and iconography, here’s the Koller catalogue entry:
This Assumption of Mary with its vibrant colours and numerous figures is a distinctive and powerful example of Bolognese artist Guido Reni’s early work, which emerged recently in a Swiss private collection where it had remained undiscovered for over forty years.
Besides the artistic execution, the historically significant and impressive provenance is espe- cially noteworthy. Around 1795 to 1812 the painting was in the Sampieri Collection in Bologna. When in 1812 it was purchased in Milan by Eugène de Beauharnais (1781-1824), the son of Alexandre, Vicomte de Beauharnais (1760-1794) and Joséphine de Beauharnais (1763-1814), it entered the highest aristocratic circle of the period: the family of Napoleon Bonaparte. The label on the back of the copper plate (see fig. 2) and an engraving in a catalogue of the collection published in 1852 confirm this aristocratic provenance (see fig. 1).
In fact, it was due to Eugène’s mother, Joséphine de Beauharnais, who regained her footing in society after the revolutionary turmoil and death of her husband at the guillotine, and married General Napoleon Bonaparte in 1796. At Napoleon’s side in 1804 Joséphine de Beauharnais became Empress of France and Napoleon adopted her son Eugène de Beauharnais in 1806. Eugène married shortly thereafter Princess Auguste Amalie of Bavaria (1788-1851) and as Napoleon’s reign came to a close in 1814, the pair withdrew to the Bavarian court in Munich. There in 1817 Eugène’s father- in-law, the first king of the Kingdom of Bavaria, Maximilian I Joseph, granted him the titles of Duke of Leuchtenberg and Prince of Eichstätt, as well as their coats of arms. The prince from then on led a quiet life and died in his Munich palace in 1824. His youngest son, Maximilian III, Duke of Leuchtenberg (1817-1852), married in 1839 Grand Duchess Maria Nikolaevna Romanova (1819-1876), the eldest daughter of the Russian Tsar Nicholas I, in Saint Petersburg and presumably our painting in this way entered the collection of the Hermitage, where the art historian Gustav Friedrich Waagen (1794-1868) later inspected it, publishing it in his “Gemälde- Sammlung der Ermitage zu St. Petersburg” of 1864 (see Literature).
The Bolognese art historian Carlo Cesare Malvasia (1616-1693) mentioned the painting as early as 1678 in his collection of the biographies of eminent Baroque painters in Bologna, “Felsina Pittrice.” Based on Malvasia’s chronolo- gical sequence of Reni’s work, Stephen Pepper dates our painting to 1596-97 (see Literature). In the pose of Maria, Pepper notes particularly the influence of Annibale (1560-1609) and Agostino (1557-1602) Carracci and their altarpieces on the same subject, both in the Pinacoteca Bologna today. Annibale’s Assumption is dated 1592 and was once in the Bolognese church of San Francesco. Agostino’s Assumption, formerly in San Salvatore, also in Bologna, is dated to 1592- Abb. 294 (see Pepper, 1969, p. 476). Reni, after his artistic apprenticeship under Denys Calvaert (around 1540-1619), joined the workshop of the Carracci brothers around 1595. There he came particularly under the influence of Agostino in the years 1596-97, after Annibale moved to Rome in the autumn of 1595. However, the respective representations of the Assumption theme by Agostino and Reni are each wholly individual. Agostino accentuates the floating character of the pose and expresses through the upward reaching arms and striding movement of the Virgin’s left foot the subject of the Assumption. Guido Reni instead gives the pose of his Mary a certain gravity, which is intensified by the outstretched arms and the upward facing palms. In the angels who support her from the side and below, a sense of effort can be seen clearly. A remarkable feature of Reni’s work is the individualised and varied arrangement of the angelic host, depicted playing music with various instruments. Pepper also recognises, particularly in their faces, the influence of his first teacher Denys Calvaert.
UPDATE: The so-called Caravaggio bombed – bidding stopped at $2.7 million.
Indeed, it was barley worth the effort to trudge through the ten inches of snow that hit New York for the morning sale at Christie’s as one lot after another failed to sell – a total of 31 of 55 were bought in and one was withdrawn. It was a bigger mess than the streets of New York.
The afternoon saw some improvement (in reality, it could not had gotten much worse). The Bronzino received one actual bid and sold for the low estimate of $8 million ($9,125,000 with the buyer’s premium).
ORIGINAL POST: Christie’s January 28, 2015 sale of Old Master paintings has more than a few familiar faces – works that were featured in recent auctions and failed to sell. Notable among them is the Bronzino portrait (above) that showed up two years ago with an estimate of $12-18 million, only to crash and burn at $11.5 million. There’s also a strange Cranach (which is saying something considering his oeuvre is characteristically strange) that appeared in July 2013 at Christie’s in London with an estimate of £1,500,000 – £2,000,000 ($2,328,000 – $3,104,000), but tanked at £950K. And, there’s the Guido Reni Martyrdom of Saint Apollonia that sold at Sotheby’s, London, 9 July 2008 Sale for £1,833,250 or $3,614,986, was featured among a group of Italian paintings offered for private sale in conjunction with last January’s Old Master’s sale in New York, and is now appearing with a severely devalued estimate of $1.2-1.8 million.
The January 28 sale is divide into two sections – a morning section with 55 lots, including what is purportedly the earliest Caravaggio, and a themed afternoon sale called Renaissance with 54 lots, which includes the Bronzino.
The sale also includes some fine Dutch and Flemish pictures, a wonderful pair of Hubert Roberts that I first saw at Wildenstein in 1988 and a respectable pair of Canalettos.
Winter skating scenes had been a popular subject in Netherlandish painting for nearly a century by the time this work was painted in 1653, made popular by Pieter Brughel the Elder, Hendrick Averkamp, and others. The genre is unusual for Salomon van Ruysdael as there are only some 20 works of this theme. The artist spent much of his career in Haarlem, but did travel throughout the country and had a penchant for carefully depicting the cities and towns he visited. According to the catalogue:
The city depicted here is Vianen in the province of Utrecht. The skyline is distinguished by Batestein castle, a residence of the Brederode family on the river Lek. During the Eighty Years War, the castle served as a meeting place for leaders of the Dutch revolt, while later it was known for its ornamental gardens built by Johan Wolfert Brederode in 1630. Vianen was a popular site for artists. Ruysdael painted the city in milder weather in a River Landscape now in the New Walk Museum and Art Gallery, Leicester (inv. L.F74.1955.0.0). Hendrick Vroom had depicted the river and castle with its gardens around 1620-1625 (Stedelijk Museum Vianen, inv. 1250), while a more direct precedent for Van Ruysdael’s work is a skating scene with Batestein castle by Jan van Goyen from 1624 in the collection of Baron van Dedem … Rather than mimic the gray skies and muted light of Van Goyen, however, Ruysdael preferred to depict the bright blue sky and vibrant color of a crisp winter day.
From the sale catalogue:
This is one of Balthasar van der Ast’s largest works on panel, and was likely painted as a showpiece: a virtuoso demonstration of his talents that would have been set up in his studio to demonstrate the range of his artistic repertoire. Visiting clients would have had the option of selecting one or more elements from the composition, which thus functioned as a visual menu of sorts. The price of their acquisition would have been determined by the number of still-life details included, as well as by the painting’s scale. Van der Ast’s choice of subjects for this masterpiece reflects the popular fascination with exoticism, fueled by Holland’s thriving trade with far-reaching lands, particularly through the newly formed Dutch East India Company.
This interest in international commerce and exploration was complimented at home by a growing obsession with horticulture, resulting in the creation of gardens showcasing a variety of rare specimens and so serving as a kind of living Kunstkammer. Among the most desirable of buds was the tulip, and accordingly Van der Ast often included them in his paintings. Here, four stems with variegated petals appear in the vase at right. An example of highly coveted Wan-Li porcelain, the vessel also contains roses, lily of the valley and a single blue iris, with a French marigold set behind it on the table. This floral arrangement could easily stand on its own as a ‘flower pot’ still-life (blompot), as revealed by several similar compositions produced by Van der Ast, such as his nearly contemporary Flowers in a Vase with Shells and Insects in the National Gallery, London (inv. NG6593).
For at least the past 30 years, this work, purportedly the earliest know composition by Caravaggio, has appeared in exhibitions globally and has been labelled as autograph. There are at least two other known examples, each with it supporters and detractors. In the late 1790’s it was given to Murillo, and in the 1920s it was attributed to Le Nain. The present attribution was first made in the early 1950s, though doubts persist as the sale catalogue acknowledges: “While its autograph status has been questioned by some over the past several decades, many scholars support the attribution to Caravaggio, including Sir Denis Mahon, Barry Nicolson, John Gash, Luigi Salerno, Mina Gregori, and Beverly Louise Brown.”
As for the picture itself, the catalogue provides some background and context:
Painted just after his arrival in Rome, Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio’s Boy peeling a fruit may be the artist’s earliest known work. Already, we see in it many of the hallmarks that would revolutionize the art world, both in Italy and abroad, and would make him one of the most innovative and recognizable artists in history. A young boy, seemingly painted from life, sits at a table peeling a Seville or Bergamot orange that he has selected from a bunch of fruit and shafts of wheat laid out before him. The composition is conceived with the dramatic chiaroscuro that is one of the defining characteristics of Caravaggio’s style, which would fascinate and inspire generations of painters from Giuseppe Ribera, Artemisia Gentileschi and Gerard van Honthorst to contemporary artists such as Frank Stella, Cindy Sherman and Vik Muniz. Lit from the left, the boy’s brilliant white shirt and pale flesh leaps out against the dark, almost monochromatic background. Caravaggio presents the viewer with an intimate scene of contemplation. Lyrical in its simplicity and elegance, this painting also stands as one of the earliest examples of a new genre, combining a half-length figure with a still life of fruit.
Caravaggio’s biographer Giulio Mancini (1559-1630) records that the young artist painted this composition while he was living in the house of Monsignor Pandolfo Pucci da Recanati, whom the artist contemptuously dubbed “Monsignor Insalata” due to his miserly habit of serving the young artist meals consisting entirely of salad. Mancini writes that during this time, Caravaggio painted copies of devotional images and works intended to be sold on the open market, including “a boy who cries at being bitten by a lizard that he holds in his hand, and afterwards a boy who peels a pear with a knife” (“e per vendere, un putto che piange per essere stato morso da un racano che tiene in mano, e dopo pur un putto che mondava una pera con il cortello”; Considerazioni sulla puttura, c. 1617-21, quoted in The Age of Caravaggio, op. cit., p. 220). There must have been some uncertainty on Mancini’s part about the latter of these paintings, as in one of the two manuscripts of the Considerazioni, he refers to the fruit as an apple (“una mela”). A plausible explanation for this discrepancy is that, having found a successful composition, Caravaggio painted multiple versions to meet the market demand, a practice that he would abandon later in his career.
As noted above, this work has been around the block and then some in recent years, and is now estimated to bring no more than one-half of the $3.6 million it made in July 2008.
This small oil on copper was likely painted in Prague in 1612. The catalogue contains decent accounting of the artist, his career and significance:
Famed for the miniaturist precision which characterizes his paintings, drawings, and etchings, Roelandt Savery was active in the Netherlands from the turn of the 17th century. From as early as 1604 he is documented in Prague, where he had been summoned to the court of Rudolf II and worked alongside the painters Bartholomeus Spranger and Hans von Aachen, the silversmith Paulus van Vianen, and the sculptor Adriaen de Vries, among many other great artists, scientists, and thinkers.
Still-life pictures depicting elaborate bouquets of flowers in stone niches figure among Savery’s earliest works; two pictures which date to 1600 have in fact been identified as the earliest dated, independent flower paintings in Netherlandish art. It is possible, in fact, that it was Savery’s work in this genre which caught the attention of Rudolf II, a renowned collector and admirer of flower-pieces who needed a successor to the great Joris Hoefnagel – famed for the scientific naturalism which characterized his depictions of flowers, insects, and animals – who had died in 1600. In 1606-1607 Savery was sent by Rudolf into Bohemia and the Alps, where he drew mountain peaks, waterfalls, and other natural wonders that figure in some of his most brilliant landscapes and inform his sparkling depictions of insects and reptiles in later flower-pieces (an album of drawings made during this trip was later owned by Rembrandt). Other works from this period, such as the Flowers in a Niche of 1611 (England, private collection, Müllenmeister no. 272) were clearly inspired not from life but from marvelous works available for study in Rudolf’s collection, such as the watercolor and gouache drawings in Joris Hoefnagel’s emblematic natural history compendium The Four Elements(National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.). Towards the end of his life, after settling in Utrecht in 1619, Savery turned increasingly towards flower-pieces, which culminated in the extravagant Bouquet in a Niche of 1624 (Utrecht, Centraal Museum), whose allusions to the brevity of life give the painting a vanitas character.
The influence of Caravaggio on Dutch and Flemish painting informed the careers of many 17th century painters, among them Rombouts. According to the catalogue:
Born in Antwerp, Rombouts studied with Abraham Janssen before embarking on a prolonged sojourn to Italy, where, like the Utrecht painters Hendrick ter Brugghen, Gerrit van Honthorst and Dirck van Barburen, he spent a considerable period of time, living principally in Rome (though perhaps in Florence, too) between 1616 and 1625. His style was transformed by his study of contemporary Roman painting – especially that of Caravaggio and his followers, in particular Bartolomeo Manfredi – and after returning to Antwerp in 1625 and joining the Guild of Saint Luke, he enjoyed a successful career producing genre scenes such as the present painting. Unlike other Northern Caravaggisti, however, the Flemish origins of his style remained as important as the Italian influences that acted upon it.
Rombouts often painted several versions of his compositions – for example, there are two autograph versions of The Tooth-Puller (Prado, Madrid and Galerie Narodni, Prague), and at least three versions of The Card Players (Antwerp, Saint-Petersburg and Madrid) – so it is not surprising that a second version of A Merry Company is known, in the Karlsen Collection in California (formerly Weiss Gallery, London); it is somewhat smaller in size (155 x 223.5 cm.) and unsigned.
These two imposing canvases from 1774 are emblematic of Robert’s appealingly histrionic compositional style. As the catalogue notes:
Few painters in the history of European art were as capable of presenting the grandeur and sublimity of nature as was Robert, while also conveying its charms and less exalted delights, and the present pair of paintings displays his gifts at their most impressive and appealing. Remarkably, this spectacular, monumental pair of paintings seems to have gone unrecorded in the artist’s lifetime. However, the inventiveness of the paintings’ complementary compositions, the boldness and variety of their handling, their subtle and poetic recreation of the effects of light and atmosphere, as well as the towering scale and ambition of the two canvases indicates that they were made for a wealthy and prominent collector, yet to be identified. The two vast canvases ingeniously contrast differing effects of water – the violent force of nature that is the powerful falls of the cascade, balanced by the gentle, placid waters lapping against the sides of the canal – as well as the differing effects of light – the hot blaze of a summer sun in Italy, in The Cascade; the cool light of northern France as the day comes to a close and the sun begins to set, in The Canal.
This pair of small canvases by Canaletto comes with a daunting estimate and is apparently rare – the catalogue notes that it’s “one of only two such pairs on this scale to be recorded.” The picture were among ten Canalettos once owned by the Neave family, acquired by “Richard Neave (1731-1814), who was created a baronet in 1795. Neave, whose father and grandfather were both London merchants, greatly enhanced the fortune of his family. He was a director of the Bank of England for nearly half a century, served as Governor of this from 1783, and was Chairman of the Society of West Indian Merchants, which had considerable political influence and representing the interests of the sugar trade.”
The catalogue also includes the following:
The view of the Piazza San Marco shows, from the left, the eight eastern-most bays of the Procuratie Vecchie, begun in 1513, the Torre dell’ Orologio, designed by Mauro Codussi and finished in 1499 but with the additions completed in 1755, the houses on the northern side of the Campo di San Basso, with a campanile (San Zulian?) behind, the left half of the façade of the Basilica, and, framing the composition, the north-west corner of the Campanile. In the companion picture, the lateral (west) façade of the Doge’s Palace, begun in 1422, is shown, with, to the left, the south-west corner of the Tesoro of the Basilica, and, in shadow, the Porta della Carta of 1438 by the Bon brothers, and to the right, in steep perspective, buildings lining the Riva degli Schiavone, and on the extreme right the Column of Saint Mark. As so often with pairs of Venetian views by the artist the view points are in a sense complementary, as parts of each composition could be seen at different angles from the viewpoints of the other, respectively on a diagonal two thirds of the way across the Piazza and immediately in front of Sansovino’s Libreria. The fall of the shadows indicates that the San Marco view is shown in late morning light, while that of the Doge’s Palace is seen in the afternoon.
I’m a fan of Herri met de Bles and his idiosyncratic tableau, hence the inclusion of this work. As the catalogue notes:
Only a few details are know about the life of Herri met de Bles, who is generally identified as the “Henry de Patinir” registered as a Master in the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke in 1535. Some scholars have suggested he was the nephew of the great Joachim Painir, in whose footsteps Herri helped established the vast, rocky, blue-green landscapes which swiftly gained popularity in the southern Netherlands. After Patinir’s death in 1524, Herri became the genre’s leading and most prolific practitioner, apparently even gaining great popularity in Italy where he became known as “Civetta” due to the little owls which frequently appear in his paintings. These birds do not, however, figure in all his compositions, and even when present cannot always be a sure sign of his authorship.
The present work is an excellent example of Herri’s distinctive style: eschewing the grey, craggy rock formations which in Patinir’s landscapes protrude suddenly and improbably from their surroundings, Herri has sought a more cohesive effect, depicting his fantastical mountains in more realistic browns and mossy greens and arranging them such that they seem more integrated with their surroundings and the blue-green plains beyond. This tendency towards a more naturalistic vista – even if his views are entirely imagined – is typical of Herri’s work, and perhaps explains why his pictures also teem with details of everyday life, from dogs dashing across patches of grass to little swans resting in the reeds along the riverbank.
According to the provenance, this was “[p]ainted for the funerary monument of the painter Pieter Goedkint the Elder (d. 1583), Onze-Lieve-Vrouwbroeders.” Sure is better than a bundt cake or a casserole for the grieving family. The biography in the catalogue is intriguing:
Jacob de Backer is among the most mysterious artists of the 16th century Antwerp School. A precocious talent, he was short-lived, dying, according to Karel van Mander, at the age of 30. Despite his brief career, he seems to have been prodigiously industrious and prolific; and although he was well-regarded, neither his date of birth nor his date of death were recorded, and his lifespan is usually given as either c. 1555-1585 or c. 1560-1590. He therefore occupies a key moment in the development of Antwerp painting, between the generation of Frans Floris (1519/20-1570) and that of Rubens (1577-1640). According to van Mander, Jacob (or Jacques) de Backer was born in Antwerp, the son of a “very good painter” who emigrated to France and died there. Jacob was apprenticed to a painter and picture dealer of Italian origin but Protestant confession known as Antonio da Palermo (d. 1588/9). Van Mander tells us that Jacob’s works “are very sought after and wanted everywhere and enrich the cabinets or galleries of art lovers in many places… In short, he is easily one of the best colorists that Antwerp has known: he had a fleshy manner of painting because he highlighted not just with white but with flesh color, so that he earned eternal fame among painters” (K. van Mander, Schilder-boeck, Haarlem, 1603-1604, ff. 231v-232r, ed. and trans. H. Miedema, The Lives of the Illustrious Netherlandish and German Painters, Doornspijk, 1994, I, pp. 185-6).
Such an odd painting.
The brief catalogue entry is worth reading:
The Master of the Misericordia, named in 1958 by Richard Offner after the impressive altarpiece in the Accademia at Florence, was one of the most effective and productive painters active in Florence in the period from c. 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.
This characteristically incisive panel was in 1987 accompanied by a letter from Roberto Longhi assigning it to the Maestro di Sant’Eligio, whose oeuvre has since been subsumed into that of the Misericordia Master. As Chiodo noted, the punch employed for the borders is apparently the same as that used in pictures by the artist at Bern and Cambridge, Massachusetts (op. cit., pls. XXII and XXXV) (cf M. Frinta, Punched decoration: on late medieval panel and miniature painting, I, Prague, 1998, p. 399).
From the catalogue:
While no direct prototype for this intact triptych is known, the fantastic and monstrous creatures in the foreground, as well as the stylized figures with exaggerated facial features, closely recall the works of the great Netherlandish painter Hieronymus Bosch. An immensely popular subject in medieval and Renaissance art, the story of Christ’s descent to Limbo, known as the Harrowing of Hell, has no direct Biblical source although it had already become part of Christian dogma by the 4th century. The earliest accounts of this episode are found in one of Saint Augustine’s sermons and the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, but the most important source for the Netherlandish artist who painted the present triptych would have been Jacobus de Voragine’s immensely popular Golden Legend. The 13th-century text relates that immediately following the Crucifixion, “as soon as Christ yielded up his spirit, his soul, united to his deity, went down to the depths of hell. When he came to the edge of darkness like some splendid, terrible raider, the impious infernal legions, terrified as they gazed on him, began to ask ‘Whence is he, so strong, so terrible, so splendid, so noble? [… ] Who then is this, who comes to our gates so boldly, and not only has no fear of our torments but also frees others from our chains?’”(J. de Voragine, The Golden Legend, trans. by W.G. Ryan, Princeton, 1993, I, p. 222). The bound souls whom Christ liberates are the Old Testament saints and prophets, along with John the Baptist, all of whom had died without being able to receive Christian Sacraments and thus were forced wait in Limbo until the coming of the Messiah. The episode concludes with Christ entrusting the souls to Saint Michael, who leads them up into Heaven, where they will spend the rest of eternity.
It’s amazing to find works by Nicolás Francés in the sale here and at Sotheby’s considering their scarcity. As the catalogue notes:
This exquisite, jewel-like panel is a rare and well-preserved example of early 15th-century painting from León, an important city in northwest Spain, then part of the powerful Kingdom of Castile. León was the seat of an active artistic center, which formulated its own, sophisticated version of the International Gothic Style then spreading throughout Europe, blending Italianate elements with naturalistic details betraying the influence of early Netherlandish painting.
The foremost exponent of that style, Nicolás Francés is documented as early as 1434 as having painted the ‘Retablo Mayor’, an immense altarpiece for main altar of the Cathedral of León (dismantled in 1740 but some panels of which are still visible in the cathedral today). Francés’ name strongly suggests he was of French origin, and his refined style is indeed reminiscent of the courtly art developed in Paris and Burgundy in the early 15th-century (compare for instance the precious tondo of The Virgin and Child on the Crescent Moon, c. 1410-20; The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore). That a foreigner would be entrusted with such a prestigious commission as the León cathedral altarpiece is a testament to the Francés’ importance and reputation at the time, and while he remained on the cathedral’s payroll for most of his life, he also attracted the patronage of such prestigious individuals as Fernando López Saldaña, treasurer to King John II of Castile, for whom he painted a triptych showing scenes from the Life of the Virgin intended for his private chapel in the convent of Santa Clara de Tordesillas in Valladolid. Another altarpiece, dedicated to the Lives of the Virgin and Saint Francis, is now visible at the Prado in Madrid (these two latter works being undisputedly attributed to the artist by P.J. Sánchez Cantón, Maestro Nicolás Francés, Madrid, 1964, on stylistic grounds).
I’m always intrigued by regional schools of art, particularly those of Germanic origin and from Bohemia, and how their artists interpret and massage pictorial norms and orthodoxies. One need only go to the fine art museums in Prague and Brno to see the inventiveness of these practitioners, and the brilliance/violence of their compositions. From the sale catalogue:
This remarkably well-preserved triptych was almost certainly painted for the Spanish poet, historian and diplomat Don Pedro López de Ayala of Castile (1332-1407), in whose funerary chapel it was displayed for centuries. Brilliantly colored and ornamented with refined, calligraphic goldwork, the triptych is an exceptional example of devotional artwork from early-15th-century Thuringia. Most celebrated for its ceramic production, this southeast region of lower Germany enjoyed a rich educational and artistic renaissance in the late 14th and early 15th centuries, centered upon the medieval town of Erfurt. Located at the commercial crossroads of highways between the Rhine and the Slavic lands, Erfurt and its artisans employed the styles and techniques brought to the town by merchants ranging from Gaul to Byzantium, synthesizing the Gothic linearism and Byzantine richness of surface to create a local style fully on display in the present work.
Tradition holds that the present altarpiece was a gift from Charles VI, the fourth king in the House of Valois, to Chancellor Ayala. Although no documentary evidence survives to support the tradition, the Spaniard’s service to the French court as an ambassador for the King of Castile rendered him an indispensable political figure – one surely worthy of such a donation. Primarily a poet and historian, Ayala’s diplomatic duties expanded when Charles VI officially named him to the Royal Court, and then as one of his ‘gentlemen’ bodyguards during the Battle of Roosebeke in 1382. The unusual golden fleur-de-lis pattern stenciled on the rouged verso of the triptych’s wings (see flap), has been read as further evidence of a royal commission. Though an unusual incarnation of this motif, this pattern evokes the crest of King Charles VI of France, which incorporates three fleurs-de-lis in a triangular composition. Certainly, the triptych has an air of nobility in its conception: the vibrant colors and rich textures of the figures’ dress, such as Saint Longinus’s robe, with its elaborately patterned gold embroidery, reflect the styles that were popular in the French court at this time.
The Ayala triptych illustrates scenes from The Passion of Christ as the following seven Stations of the Cross (from upper left to lower right): the Betrayal of Judas; the Flagellation; Christ on the Road to Calvary; the Crucifixion; theDescent from the Cross; the Entombment; and Christ’s Descent into Limbo. The bright and beautifully preserved palette employed throughout these scenes is an unusual feature of this Northern European triptych; vivid reds and foliate greens distinguish this panel from more somber contemporary devotionals. Gentle gradations in these colors, found in the folds of the antagonist figures’ robes, the translucent quality of Christ’s loincloth and the linen entombment cloth evince a glazed quality reminiscent of the Thuringian ceramic tradition. Further, the delicate craftsmanship of the punched gilt work haloing Christ, the Virgin Mary, Joseph, Mary Magdalene and Mary, wife of Cleopas, suggests that the creator of this triptych was familiar with the work of Conrad von Soest (c. 1360-after 1422), one of the foremost German painters of his time. Conrad traveled throughout Westphalia, disseminating the undulating forms and folds and ornately stenciled patterns associated with the International Courtly style. Indeed, Conrad von Soest is generally credited with introducing the multi-figural Calvary scene to Germany, and his designs may have served as inspiration for the present work.
A record haul of rare antiquities illegally looted from Italy and discovered during raids on the Swiss warehouses of an accused Sicilian art dealer was unveiled by authorities on Wednesday.
Police estimated the value of the 5,361 vases, bronze statues and frescoes at about €50m (£38m).
The works, dating from the eighth century BC to the third century, were laid out at the Terme di Diocleziano National Roman Museum and may go on public display before being returned to museums in southern Italy.
“This is by a long shot the biggest recovery in history in terms of the quantity and quality of the archaeological treasures,” the Carabineri general Mariano Mossa said.
The items were found during an investigation into Basel-based art dealer Gianfranco Becchina and his wife, Ursula Juraschek, also known as Rosie, who were accused by prosecutors of being part of an antiquities trafficking network that involved “tombaroli” tomb raiders in southern Italy, dealers and buyers around the globe.
Becchina remained free because the charges against him had expired, police said.
The investigation showed how dealers would forge provenance papers for the antiquities and create fictitious histories for them, so that museums and private collectors could in theory buy them in good faith, police said.
Police said that as a result, Italian authorities now had detailed documentation of Becchina’s inventory, including photos and receipts, that were also found in the warehouses.
David Gill, professor of archaeological heritage at University Campus Suffolk and author of the Lootingmatters blog, said the documentation will likely point to objects that were now in top museums and would certainly be on the Italians’ list for repatriation.
For over a decade, Italy has been on a campaign to reclaim treasures that were looted from its soil and sold to top museums and private collectors.
Two works by the great Netherlandish sculptor Willem Danielsz. van Tetrode from the Abbott Guggenheim Collection are up for auction at Christie’s on January 27, 2015. The artist, subject of a landmark monographic exhibition at the Frick in 2003, worked, according to the museum’s press release of the time, in Italy for some two decades where he “studied and restored antique marble sculpture and worked for such celebrated artists as Benvenuto Cellini (1500–1571). From these experiences, he created expressive small bronzes showing the muscular male nude in poised or violent motion.” The sale catalogue notes, “He would later move to Rome and Vasari tells us that he worked for Guglielmo della Porta, although no known work from this period survives. In circa 1558 he executed what was perhaps his first independent commission, an architectural cabinet adorned with numerous bronzes after antique subjects for Gianfrancesco Orsini, Count of Pitigliano. Known as the Pitigliano Cabinet, it was eventually presented as a gift to Cosimo I de’ Medici. The bronzes – which were separated from the cabinet but survive (apart from one) in the Bargello, Florence – serve as the touchstone for much of Tetrode’s early work.” Upon his return to Delft, Tetrode initiated a passion for collecting small bronzes in the North and inspired the muscular classicism in the work of younger artists, such as Hendrick Goltzius.”
The Hercules Pomarius and Écorché of a Man are two remarkable examinations of the male nude – the one heroic and defiant, the other tortured. According to the sale catalogue, “[t]here are four versions ofHercules Pomarius: one in the Rijksmuseum, one in the Robert H. Smith Collection (promised to the National Gallery, Washington), one owned by the Hearn Family Trust, New York and the Abbott Guggenheim model.”
About the Hercules, the Frick release states:
In Rome, exciting discoveries of monumental antique marbles, like the Farnese Hercules in 1545, placed renewed emphasis on the dramatic muscular force of Hellenistic sculpture. Tetrode’s response to this powerful strain of Hellenistic classicism was both immediate and long lasting. One of his first documented small bronzes, finished in 1559, is a much-reduced reproduction of the giant marble hero at rest. About five years later Tetrode would inventively energize this subject in one of his mature compositions, the Hercules Pomarius. Although as heavily muscled as his classical forebear, Tetrode’s Hercules is, instead, poised for action. Edgily balanced on the balls of his feet, Hercules gazes sharply to the right and wields his heavy club as lightly as if it were a Roman short sword.
According to the sale catalogue, “[t]he present bronze écorché is known in one other closely similar bronze example (private collection, New York), a variant bronze example (with bronze support; Palazzo Venezia, Rome, inv. no. PV 10822) and a variant lead example (formerly Castiglione Collection, now Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, inv. no. KK. 10141).”
The Frick release adds:
Tetrode returned to his native Delft in 1567, bringing with him the models he had produced after almost twenty years in Italy. To Netherlandish artists, collectors, and humanists, it was as if Italy’s glorious classical and modern artistic achievements had been presented to them, in breathtaking combination, by a single hand. Tetrode’s work inspired the great interest in small bronzes in the Italian manner that was to last for well over a century in the Netherlands. His aggressively muscular nudes helped inspire the younger Hendrick Goltzius’s powerful brand of classicism. In all his sculptures, Tetrode memorably expressed the emotional power of the human figure as it was captured in muscular motion. But this ability is, perhaps, most movingly evinced in a late bronze that was intended as an anatomical model for his fellow artists. The Écorché unforgettably depicts a flayed man rearing back on his heels, each revealed muscle poised in tension, as he is almost miraculously suspended by the motion of his upswept arm.
UPDATE: The sale at Sotheby’s was considerably more successful than the catastrophe that was the Christie’s sale. The first part grossed slightly more than $57 million, while the “Moretti” sale pulled in nearly $6.5 million.
ORIGINAL POST: There are several things that standout in Sotheby’s Old Masters sale in New York January 29, 2015, including the $5,000 Constable that’s now estimated at $2-3 million, a large selection of “gold ground” paintings, an intriguing and small 16th century Italian oil on copper of unknown attribution, a decent selection of Dutch and Flemish works and what’s happening with Clara Peeters’ market? A still-life by her labeled “important” when sold at auction on 2001 is estimated below its sale price of fourteen years ago.
Sotheby’s also has 32 “Selected Renaissance and Mannerist Works of Art Assembled by Fabrizio Moretti”, the Florence-based dealer, including two panels by Lorenzo Veneziano.
This large panel by Sano di Pietro, about there is speculation that he may also be the so-far unidentified Master of the Osservanza (I don’t buy it), is according to the sale catalogue “well preserved and newly-discovered” (despite the evident vertical and horizontal cracks in the panel’s lower register). This is apparently the central panel from a dismembered polyptych – and while Sano may be “one of the most successful artists in Siena in the fifteenth century,” I’ve always found his egg-shaped heads and tendency to cloying rather off putting.
The Massys has had an on-again-off-again attribution history and last sold at Christie’s New York October 17, 2006 as “Attributed to Quinten Massys,” where it made $744,000 against a $150,000-200,000 estimate. The sale catalogue states: “The Madonna of the Cherries was recently examined firsthand by Maximiliaan P.J. Martens and Peter van den Brink, who both agree that this is an autograph work by Quinten Massys, and Prof. dr. Martens will be including it in the catalogue raisonné of the artist that he is preparing in collaboration with Dr. Annick Born.”
This elegant and enigmatic gothic panel requires some TLC. The sale catalogue says this “is closest to the work of Nicolás Francés,” an obscure but talented artist.
While his name implies French origin, Francés lived and worked in León in the northwest of Spain, where he was regularly commissioned to paint for the León Cathedral. He completed a series of wall paintings depicting the Passion for the Cathedral’s cloister between 1451 and 1461, though very few other works by the artist have survived.
The detailing and punch work are beautiful, and compositionally I find it compelling.
This panel combines the nascent naturalism of pictorial depiction emerging in late 13th century Italy (with the works of Cimabue and Duccio) with its Byzantine antecedents from Constantinople. According to the sale catalogue:
Roberto Longhi was first to publish the panel in 1947, believing it at the time to be the work of an anonymous Byzantine master of exceptional skill … It was not until 1966 … that the scholar recognized the hand as that of a Bolognese miniaturist, whose illuminations appear in a bible created for Pope Clement VII, now in the Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris (BN Ms Lat. 18). Longhi compared the present composition with a crucifixion scene illustrating a leaf of the Gospel of Saint Matthew (left). The two scenes are unmistakably the same hand. Not only is the Christ figure surprisingly similar, but the cross is treated in the same manner, planed into six facets to create a geometric effect.
The present Crucifixion is a rare example of panel painting from this period in Bologna. As Longhi recognized, this was not the work of a Byzantine master inspired by Western painting, but rather a Bolognese artist enthralled by influences of the Orient. As Massimo Medica asserts, this Crucifixion is an exceptionally rare example of the pictorial productivity of the Master of the Bible Lat. 18 who, alongside the Master of the Gerona Bible, pioneered the so-called “second style” of Bolognese manuscript decoration in the latter part of the 1200s. Much like in Venice and Siena, the circulation of Byzantine devotional images would have been diffuse in Bologna at this time. Byzantine tendencies therefore bled into traditional Bolognese painting, with local artists creating a hybrid style visible in literary illuminations, devotional pictures and even monumental decoration. The result was a rich and intricate synthesis of highly decorative oriental models with the pathos and complexity injected by the Florentine and Bolognese masters. Here, the Greek inscription on the lateral bar of the cross is an overt reference to the Eastern world. The sharp, geometricized folds in the drapery, the elongated, stylized limbs, all recall Byzantine paradigms. Yet the treatment of the Christ figure is testament to the influence of Cimabue and Duccio and, similarly, the poignancy of Saint Francis’ emotion as he clings to the base of the cross is entirely Emilian.
From the catalogue:
In 1984, Robert Gibbs recognized this impressive panel as the work of [Emilian brothers] Bartolomeo and Jacopino da Reggio, citing its affinity with a triptych signed, HANC TABULA(M) FECERU(N)T BA(R)TOLOMEU(S) ET JACOPINU(S) D(E) REGIO, in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (inv. no. 6019). The present painting is very close in style to the Brera to complex, particularly in the treatment of the Christ figure and the positioning of the attending angels. The centurion in armor, here shown minus his helmet, is almost identical to that in the signed painting, turning slightly to the right, his right arm crooked and his left hand grasping the long curved dagger with its curiously forked bolster.
The catalogue essay starts out on a triumphant note: “When this picture reemerged on the art market in 2001 (see Provenance), it was one of the most important additions in recent years to the limited corpus of Clara Peeters, among the greatest still life specialists of the seventeenth century.” But look at the provenance and you’ll find the old Clara’s renown seems to have dimmed. The painting sold at Christie’s in London on December 12, 2001, for $715,258, presumably to London-based dealer Richard Green who in turn sold it to Bernard Palitz, from whose estate this is being sold. Now it’s estimated at $500,000-700,000. It would probably have to sell for at least $1 million for the Palitz estate to recoup its investment.
The van de Velde is one of a handful of Dutch and Flemish works highlighted in a short pre-sale video produced by Sotheby’s. “This composition in black and white, a remarkable fusion of painting and drawing, is usually described as a pen-painting (after the Dutch penschilderij).” This work is one of about 30 “pen-paintings” from the 1640s. According to the catalogue:
The technique probably derives from the work of Hendrick Goltzius … Over the course of his long career [van de Velde] made relatively few traditional oil paintings in color, preferring instead the pen-painting, and he viewed himself primarily as a draftsman, signing his letters “Scheepsteickenaer” (literally ship’s draftsman). He spent most of his professional life aboard ships, recording on paper the events that passed before his eyes. His pen-paintings were in a sense translations of those shipboard drawings into more permanent works of remarkable clarity and directness, which were sought after and highly valued by his contemporaries.
According to the sale catalogue:
Aert van der Neer painted the Frozen River at Sunset in or shortly after 1660, a period that was a high point for Dutch landscape painting and for the artist himself. It embodies his fascination with the people and the world around him and most notably the effect of light on a winter landscape and how it can transform the content and mood of a composition. Wolfgang Schulz, in his monograph on Van der Neer, describes it as a masterpiece and compares its remarkable coloristic effects to the Winter Scene at Sunset with a Beacon to the Left in the Wallace Collection, London (inv. no. P-127).
We know little about Van der Neer’s early life or even his place of birth, but his earliest dated painting is a genre scene from 1632. His first dated landscape is from the following year and by the mid-1640s he had established himself as a landscape painter and was beginning to specialize in the subjects for which he became best known: moonlight subjects, twilight landscapes and winter scenes. In the last category, his debt to Hendrick Avercamp is clear. Moving away from the tonal landscapes and more focused depictions of his more immediate predecessors, Van der Neer returned instead to the broader views and compositional motifs that Avercamp had made famous earlier in the century. He even included the depiction of snow itself – bright white on the ground, buildings and tree limbs, which had largely disappeared in the more monochromatic landscapes of the intervening years.
But it is Van der Neer’s treatment of light, both ambient and reflected, that is most extraordinary and what lifts him far above his contemporaries. Although the sky is blue and pink, lit by the setting sun, a range of cumulus clouds boiling on the horizon, these colors are barely reflected by the icy surface of the river. It is leaden in color, touched with shades of yellow and green, and chills us to look at. The details of the foreground are set crisply before us, but in the distance a mist seems to rise from the ice, blurring the windmill and the buildings around it, and finally disappearing into the cloud bank. It is a cold day and although the people skate and walk about, there is a certain restraint and inwardness about them as if in response to the frigid surroundings.
This is a fascinating little oil on copper whose authorship has yet to be determined. The palette is deciding Venetian and the feel Northern so the painting has been attributed to Paolo Veronese, Pietro Candido, Lambert Sustris and Johann Rottenhammer. Compositionally, according to the catalogue, the painting “ultimately derives from a Pietà designed by Michelangelo Buonarotti for his friend, Vittoria Colonna, marchioness of Pescara. It is not known whether Michelangelo executed the eventual painting but his drawing, dated to circa 1546, survives today in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (inv. no. 1.2.o.16). The design for the Virgin’s pose, with her raised arms outstretched and face turned upward toward heaven, enjoyed great popularity, and was employed by Alessandro Allori, Marcello Venusti and Battista del Moro, among others.”
This is the sort of work that was designed to dazzle – within its small confines, Brueghel has created a fantastical world crowded with exotic animals amidst a verdant landscape. In the right background a contemporary festival is in progress. The painting comes from a group of the artist’s Paradise landscapes – “Brueghel painted the present work only two years after his very first Paradise Landscape, now in the Doria Pamphilij, Rome.” From the catalogue:
The present work is, in fact, Brueghel’s first known painting in which he sets the scene from Genesis 7:1-4, in which the animals are called to Noah’s ark in an Eden-like paradise. It is dated 1596, so he either painted it while in Milan with his patron Cardinal Federico Borromeo, or shortly after on his return to Antwerp in October of that year. As the work comes from a Milanese collection, it is most likely that Brueghel painted it in Italy and left it there when he returned to the Netherlands. In depicting the plenitude and beauty of God’s creation with such evident delight, he marries the Cardinal’s religious views to his own artistic preferences and in doing so creaties a painting of beguiling charm and beauty.
He lovingly depicts the variety of creatures waiting to enter the ark, though contrary to the Biblical story in only a few cases are they in pairs. He is mainly concerned with presenting the animals from a characteristic viewpoint so as to be easily identified; thus two delightful peacock-like birds float in the sky as if the wind under their exotic tails were keeping them aloft rather than their wings. The lion and leopard are each in profile, perhaps to clearly distinguish one from another, and a doe and stag are pictured with their heads turned in so that the male’s antlers can be clearly seen. In the lower left corner, closest to the viewer, is a lovely dapple grey horse who, for some reason, has his tongue sticking out.
From the catalogue:
In the first half of his career Salomon van Ruysdael was primarily a painter of tonal landscapes, much in the style of Jan van Goyen. However, in about 1640, he began to compose what came to be called more classicizing landscapes, consisting of more centralized compositions, brighter colors and a new emphasis on cloud-filled skies. At the same time he also began to paint marines. The name may suggest stormy seascapes, but in fact Ruysdael’s marines are generally restricted to calm, inland waters. A few sailboats are set against a high sky, often at dawn or dusk, and in the far distance is a town. In the mid-1650s, Ruysdael further refined this genre, painting a group of small panels in upright rather than horizontal format. The result was a still greater emphasis on the sky, which now took up more than three-quarters of the composition, and the billowing clouds, which provided the dramatic element in an otherwise peaceful scene. Today we know of about a dozen panels of roughly the same dimensions as this one and with similar compositions.
From the catalogue:
The present work, which was previously known only from an engraving by Gérard Edelinck … is an important addition to Coypel’s oeuvre, in terms of both its artistic conception and for its connection to Louis XIV and the French court. Dating from the artist’s early period, it is one of only two or three remaining paintings from a project commissioned by Charles Perrault, a great literary figure and art theorist as well as an aide to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s chief minister. Although ostensibly an Allegory of Music, elements in the composition itself, as well as literary and external pictorial evidence, allow us to identify it as a Portrait of Mme. de Maintenon with the Natural Children of Louis XIV.
The picture was originally part of a complex ceiling design depicting the Arts and Sciences commissioned by Perrault for his house in the rue Neuve des Bon-Enfants, Paris. The program was intended for the Cabinet des Beaux-Arts, a relatively modest sized room, about 8.5 by 4.5 meters, within the house. There were eleven separate compositions executed by some of the most popular painters in France in the 1680s, mainly pupils of Charles Le Brun, including, among others Charles de la Fosse, Jean-Baptiste Corneille, Louis de Boulogne, Claude Audran II and Antoine Coypel, and must have been executed between 1681 and 1684 given the activities of the various artists involved. Although Coypel was still at the beginning of his career, he had already completed a number of important commissions and had been received in the Académie Royale for his painting of Louis XIV Reposing in Glory after the Peace of Nijmegen, now in the Musée Fabre, Montpelier.
According to the sale catalogue:
This is the earliest dated view by Panini of the interior of the Pantheon in Rome. The work is in excellent condition and is a wonderful snapshot of figures marvelling at the spectacular construction around them, in much the same way as they do today. Panini offers us a broad spectrum of the social tapestry of Rome in 1732: the spirited figures include soldiers, clergymen, mendicants and other people at prayer, all dwarfed by the ancient Roman temple. As is typical of Panini’s great works, the meticulously observed architecture, particularly the Corinthian capitals, is bathed in the warm and inviting glow of Rome’s afternoon light.
This work last sold at auction at Christie’s in London on July 10, 2013 as by a “Follower of John Constable” for $5,212 (against an estimate of $760-1,200). Clearly, someone got lucky: “This Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is a rediscovered preparatory work for one of John Constable’s most celebrated masterpieces, now in the Tate, London.”
From the sale catalogue:
This tranquil London scene, looking eastward across Saint James’s Park toward the Horse Guards building and the Banqueting House, Whitehall, beyond, is an exquisite example of views from Canaletto’s English period. In May of 1746, Canaletto transferred his studio to London, perhaps in pursuit of fresh challenges, following two decades of prolific Venetian vedute painting. The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740 had discouraged English visitors from undertaking the Grand Tour, and these had made up the majority of Canaletto’s patrons and this lack of clientele may have been a further factor in his decision to move. The artist must have found success in Britain, however, as he remained there long after the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that brought an end to the hostilities in October 1748. The painting is presumed to date to 1749, when the old, red brick Horse Guards had been condemned. This perhaps captured the imagination of the artist, compelling him to record the architecture in painted form for posterity. Given the lush foliage, it is likely this painting was executed in May or June of 1749, prior to the building’s demolition which began late that same year.
A featured lot in the Moretti part of the sale is this pair of panels by Lorenzo Veneziano that would have been among a series that flanked a central panel of the Madonna and Child. The sale catalogue notes:
Intensely naturalistic, these graceful figures are of exceptional quality and are entirely in keeping with Lorenzo Veneziano’s mature period. An artist of remarkable talent, Lorenzo was unequivocally the leading painter in Venice in the second half of the 14th century. His work was desired as much on the terrafirma as in Venice and, returning from trips beyond the city, he brought with him inspiration from the mainland. Lorenzo’s influence was as significant as it was diffuse, he introduced a naturalism, a fluency of draftmanship and a vitality of figure pose that had never before been seen in Venetian art. Here, for example, the demure and languid figure of Saint Catherine appears almost to sway before the viewer, while Saint Sigismund’s pose is direct, his spurred feet planted firmly and his gaze determined. The lyricism of the cascading drapery lines, the naturalism of the yawning folds and the impeccable transitions of shimmering tones are all telling of Lorenzo’s hand. Great care has been taken in the representation of detail, from the arrangement of folds at Saint Catherine’s feet, to the individual pelts of fur lining Saint Sigismund’s mantel and the tiny buttons fastening it at his shoulder.
This is a very refined work and the extensive and lyrical use of decorative punch work makes the celestial gold ground space even more exquisite. The figuration is less impressive, thought he Magdelene at the base of the cross is especially dramatic. The catalogue’s discussion of attribution is worth reading:
This intimate scene of the Crucifixion, previously unpublished, was almost certainly intended for private devotion within the domestic sphere. The marks along the left edge may be traces left by hinges, suggesting the panel once formed the right wing of a portable diptych. This Crucifixion scene would likely have been accompanied by a Madonna and Child at left. Despite the distinctive brushwork and punch decoration, details of the painting’s authorship remain somewhat elusive, and scholarly opinion regarding its city of origin is divided.
In a private communication with the present owner, Everett Fahy proposed an attribution to Naddo Ceccarelli, a Sienese painter active circa 1330 to 1360. Once considered a retardataire follower of Simone Martini, Ceccarelli is now recognized as playing a more formative role in the development of Sienese painting in the second half of the 14th century. The elaborately decorated border certainly recalls Ceccarelli’s ornamental style, as does the impressive tempera coloration in the drapery, particularly the rose hues in the mantle of Saint John the Evangelist. Andrea De Marchi also judges this panel to be Sienese, though dating to later in the century, and proposes it to be the work of Paolo di Giovanni Fei, active between 1369 and 1411. De Marchi notes that the punch work does not appear to be in keeping with the Siensese figures and suggests the gold and punch work may have been modified at a later stage. At a time when the dominant tradition among his Sienese contemporaries was in imitation of Simone Martini, Fei was highly sought-after for his refreshingly ‘modern’ and vivacious style. The faces of the Virgin and of Christ in this painting are remarkably similar to those in another Crucifixion by Fei, listed by Federico Zeri as on the art market in Rome in 1983-1984.
Laurence Kanter disagrees that the panel is Sienese, proposing instead that its author may be Umbrian. Kanter suggests the artist may have been active in Assisi, noting the influence of Pietro Lorenzetti and Giotto. Kanter observes similarities between this panel and a group of paintings published by Miklòs Boskovits as “Master of the Pomposa Chapterhouse”, though he does not believe it to be by the same hand. That master painted the cycle of frescos decorating the chapterhouse of the abbey at Pomposa, near Ferrara after which he takes his name. Smaller works by the artist include a tentatively attributed Madonna and Child, dating to circa 1310-1315, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 47.143) and a Crucifixion, dating to circa 1320, in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, Madrid (inv. no. 260.1930.23). Both Kanter and Gaudenz Freuler assert that the decorative border is like no other punch work found in Sienese painting of the period.
This large Giovanni da Rimini painted crucifix last sold at Christie’s Goudstikker Sale in July 2007 for $62,400. According to the sale catalogue, it is one of a series of large crucifixes produced by the artist who was strongly influenced by Giotto.
According to the sale catalogue:
This … panel painting, of monumental scale, was only recently restored to the oeuvre of Girolamo Macchietti by Marta Privitera … Privitera, alerted to the existence of the painting by Sylvie Béguin and Aidan Weston-Lewis, gave the panel to Macchietti, an attribution upheld by Carlo Falciani who declared it to be a masterpiece by the artist. When included in the 1987 exhibition, Paintings from Emilia, 1500 – 1700, the painting and its accompanying preparatory drawing, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, were thought to be the work of Jacopo Bertoia.
The final work in the sale is this elegant Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Jacopo di Cione that dates to the 1370s that may or may not have been the central panel of a triptych (this is disputed). The figuration is refined, the punch work a brilliant composition complement and the overall environment serene and beatific. A painting I would gladly own.
Breaking News – According to the New York Times, Thomas Collins (known as Thom), director of the Pérez Art Museum Miami, previously known as the Miami Art Museum, will take over as director of the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia in mid-March. He will “succeed Derek Gillman, who stepped down at the end of 2013 after leading the museum for seven years and was recently named the chairman of the Impressionist and Modern art department at Christie’s auction house.”
Mr. Collins, 46, who also served for five years as director of the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y., said he was drawn to the Barnes not only because it was one of the places where he first learned about art while growing up in the Philadelphia suburbs, but also because of the philosophy of its founder, Albert C. Barnes, a pharmaceutical tycoon who cast it more as a teaching institution than as a traditional museum.
“I’ve always thought of myself as an educator,” said Mr. Collins, who added that he felt that the Barnes had “really never been able to bridge to that great academic community in and around Philadelphia” — schools like the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, Drexel University and Swarthmore College, his undergraduate alma mater.
The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts announced on Christmas Eve the acquisition of The Visitation, an oil on canvas by the 17th Italian Baroque painter Mattia Preti. The museum’s press release states:
The Visitation is an exceptional religious scene by the Baroque master Mattia Preti, whose work illustrates the realistic tendencies perfected by fellow Italian artist, Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi). Preti is generally described as the last great exponent of Caravaggesque naturalism, and here he revels in the tenderness of the scene unlike the coarse treatments of some of his counterparts. Especially appropriate to the Christmas season, this painting depicts the meeting of the Virgin Mary and her cousin Elizabeth, the first episode in the life of Christ recorded by Luke.
Preti, although born in Calabria and active in Naples and Malta later in his career, was working in Rome at the time this painting was produced. The museum’s holdings include important works by great artists active in Naples including Luca Giordano, Paolo de Matteis, Francesco Solimena, Salvator Rosa, and Artemisia Gentileschi. The addition of this work further enhances VMFA’s collection as a destination for the study of the Neapolitan baroque.
In this powerful and dramatic painting, Preti represents the meeting of the Virgin Mary with her older cousin Elizabeth. Mary hastened to visit her kinswoman following the Annunciation by the Angel Gabriel. Elizabeth, who was soon to give birth to St. John the Baptist, recognizes that Mary has been chosen as the mother of the Son of God, and greets her with the words “Blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. . . . For lo, as soon as the voice of thy salvation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.” (Luke 1:42-44)
“This old master painting will become a visitor favorite, as well as a touchstone for the artist,” Director Alex Nyerges said. “We can think of no better Christmas gift to the commonwealth than exquisite art for all to enjoy.”
UPDATE 2: Artnet points to an article in The Independent, which claims that Turner’s Rome, from Mount Aventine was sold by the father of Lord Dalmeny, chairman of Sotheby’s UK and a father of five who is getting divorced from his wife of 20years: ‘Hinting at the reason for his 85-year-old father’s decision to sell the painting, Lord Dalmeny is said to have dubbed it “Rome, from Mount Alimony”.’
According to The Independent:
He has a reputation as a larger-than-life character – helped by his willingness to act the comic. At an event to mark what would have been the late Freddie Mercury’s 65th birthday in 2011, Lord Dalmeny wore a grey suit, cut away at the back to reveal the suspenders, PVC shorts and fishnet stockings he was wearing underneath.
UPDATE 1: The energy in the room was palpable starting from the first lot through to the record breaking £30,332,500 (or $47,430,455) for the Turner. Of 43 lots offered seven works failed to sell, with the sale bringing in £53,972,000 (inclusive of the buyers fees or $84,423,002).
The first lot, a Teniers shot past it’s £150,000 high estimate to hammer t £350,000 (£422,500 with fees or $660,875), followed by a Joos de Momper that more than doubled it’s £150,000 high estimate to make £320,000 (£386,500 with fees or $604,563). Aggressive bidding for a Pieter Brueghel the Younger pushed the work to £2.25 million (£2,602,500 with fees or $4,070,831), to the same buyer as the Teniers.
The Asselijn (below) opened at £220,000 and hammered at a comfortable £500,000 (£602,500 with fees or $942,431), followed by a Jan van der Heyden, that hammered £60,000 below it’s £250,000 low estimate at £190,000 (£230,500 with fees or $360,548) to the same buyer as the Teniers and Brueghel.
Canaletto’s view of the Piazza San Marco hammered below its low estimate for £4.8 million (£5,458,500 with fees or $8,538,186). However, in a post-sale announcement, the Sotheby’s Web site currently says:
This is not true – the pre-sale estimate does not include the buyer’s premium. This lot missed its low estimate by £200,000. They are certainly justified in promoting the success of the sale, but as a publicly traded company, they should know better than to make this false assertion.
While both the Cranach Faun Family and the Bruyn failed to sell, the underestimated Gentileschi sold for £500,000 (£602,500 with fees or $942,431), and the tiny Brueghel river scene made a substantial hammer price of £450,000 (£542,500 with fees or $848,579). A Crossiers Prodigal Son saw very spirited bidding that took to nearly four times it £150,000 highest estimate, hammering at £550,000 (£662,500 with fees or $1,036,283).
The Coorte still life of peaches (below) that last sold for £2 million, opened at £1.1 million managed to make a respectable hammer price of £3.0 million, its high estimate (£3,442,500 with fees or $5,384,759). The Turner opened at £12 million and crept timidly at first, but picked up steam to hammer for a record breaking £27 million (£30,332,500 with fees or $47,430,455).
ORIGINAL POST: A large, richly detailed Turner painting of early 19th century Rome, estimated at £15-20 million, leads Sotheby’s 43-lot December 3, 2014 Old Masters evening sale in London. Other highlights include a classic Canaletto view of the Piazza San Marco, a peculiar Lucas Cranach the Elder – The Faun Family – and an Adriaen Coorte still life that last appeared at Bonham’s on December 7, 2011.
Turner’s panoramic view of the Eternal City, which last changed hands in 1878 (for a then record of £6,142), was a “direct commission from his close friend and patron, Hugh Andrew Johnstone Munro of Novar (1797-1864),” according to the sale catalogue, which dedicates more than 40 pages to describing the history, condition and even the frame of this lot – there’s also a short video. According to the Telegraph: “The only comparable work, commissioned by the same patron, was acquired by the Getty Museum from Sotheby’s in July 2010 for £29.7 million” – the current auction record for the artist. Will this work break the record?
The work’s light palette gives a sense of exuberance to the city, which contrasts the catalogue’s description of Rome at the time: “The city that Turner visited in the 1820s and 1830s was … a city in decline, its buildings in generally poor state of repair and its streets badly maintained.” Rome was part of the Papal States, which had interesting theories about urban development and general welfare: “[T]he papal regime regarded street lighting as the work of the devil. Similar obscurantism ruled out vaccination and railways: Gregory VIII, the pope of the 1830s … banned railway construction in his territories.”
The painting’s exceptional condition is to having never been relined (a process that would flatten the impasto), there’s no evidence it has ever been cleaned, and has remained framed and under glass for most of its existence.
The Asselijn is an unpublished and intriguing work in his oeuvre, which is largely Italianate, as it covers an historic event. According to the sale catalogue:
In the late winter of 1651, stormy weather and tidal surges caused extensive flooding in the Dutch province of North Holland, the areas exposed to the Diemerdijk east of Amsterdam being particularly affected. Finally, on the night of 5–6 March, strong north-westerly winds and a high spring tide caused the Sint Anthonisdijk to rupture in two places, flooding much of the city of Amsterdam. There were numerous eye-witness accounts of the tragedy, and as soon as the waters had subsided sufficiently, artists flooded out of Amsterdam and beyond to record the event. … Asselijn also painted the reconstruction of the Sint Anthonisdijk which took place in the summer of 1652, in a work in Berlin, although the two pictures are of different proportions and were probably not conceived as pendants.2 The Reconstruction is a rather more conventional painting by Asselijn, being bathed in a warm almost Italianate light and peopled by peasants familiar from his Bambocciate, although billowing clouds to the left allude to the disaster of the year before.
There is an extensive catalogue entry and video for this painting. From the lot notes:
From the beginning of the 1730s, the decade that would establish Canaletto as the greatest of all exponents of the Italianveduta, this quintessential view of Venice has enjoyed a particularly distinguished English provenance and is here shown in public for the first time since the ground-breaking Manchester Art Treasures exhibition back in 1857. The Piazza of San Marco in Venice, with the Basilica di San Marco and the famous Campanile has always been recognised as one of the most famous of all European settings, and has come to occupy a central place in the work of Canaletto, the city’s most famous view painter. … The number of variants of this scene that Canaletto painted throughout his career is evidence of the popularity that it enjoyed with eighteenth-century visitors to Venice. The earliest of these, and at over two metres in width, much the largest, is the painting [from 1723] now in the Museo Thyssen in Madrid, generally acknowledged as the masterpiece of Canaletto’s early career [below]. The Madrid painting can be dated to around 1723, for it clearly shows the new pavement of the Piazza, with its white geometrical design by Andrea Tirali, being laid, which is documented to that year.
Although there has been general agreement in assigning the present canvas to Canaletto’s early period, there does not seem to have been any scholarly unanimity as to an exact date of execution … Most recently Charles Beddington has kindly suggested a potential dating to around 1730.7 By this date Canaletto had eschewed the use of the dark brown grounds employed in his earlier canvases such as that in Madrid, favouring instead a lighter ground as here. The tonality is cool and clear, notably around the Basilica and the adjoining buildings. The loose and animated handling of the brushwork in the clouds around the Basilica in the present canvas recalls Canaletto’s treatment in the New York painting of the late 1720s. The neatly ruled perspective lines and the closely observed detail are also similar in both pictures. Taken together, these factors would seem to support a dating to around 1730, perhaps just prior to the Fogg and Woburn paintings. Although it is constantly asserted that Canaletto always subordinated topographical accuracy for pictorial concerns, that is not particularly the case in the present canvas. Unlike his later capricci the scene is mostly an accurate transcription of reality; only the omission of one window on the Campanile is an obvious change.
From the lot notes:
Painted at the height of the artist’s career, in 1531, this is an outstanding work by Lucas Cranach the Elder, commissioned no doubt by a member of the courtly circle in Wittenberg, where the artist was in the employ of the Electors of Saxony. The subject represents the mythological depiction of wild people, forest dwellers or demigods, which had long fascinated Cranach and first appeared in his works in prints and drawings, but culminated in a series of panel paintings from the second half of the 1520s onwards. … The subject of the Faun Family relates to the romantic topos of the ‘wild people who live in the forest’, which can be found in the Metamorphoses, a mythological moralizing poem by the ancient writer Ovid (43 BC – 17 AD), and in De Rerum Natura by the Roman poet and philosopher Lucretius (circa 99 BC- 55 AD). Both texts were widely known during the Middle Ages, but they enjoyed increased popularity following their reintroduction during the Renaissance. At the beginning of the 16th century scholars contemplated the original state of mankind before civilization, a notion triggered in part by the accounts of travellers who witnessed the ancient tribes in the newly discovered Americas, as well as the idealization of ideas of ancient pagan traditions during the religious turmoil during the Reformation.
The Bruyn Coronation of about 1515 is a brilliant, radiant and beguiling work. A winning mix of the corporeal and the mystical. According to the lot notes:
This luminous representation of the Coronation of the Virgin is a major early work by Bartholornaus Bruyn the Elder, the dominant figure in the Cologne School in the first half of the 16th Century. The picture is important not only for providing a synthesis of the late Gothic tradition with more contemporary, Renaissance elements, but also for demonstrating the assimilation of strong early Netherlandish influences within the context of contemporary Rhenish art. With it, Bruyn brings inventions of the art of the Netherlands into the Rhenish vernacular. The hierarchical composition and the placing of the figures upon a traditional paved floor is influenced by late Gothic prototypes, which can be found in works by artists active in Cologne in the mid to late 15th Century. The treatment of the firmament of angels, however, shows an awareness of new modes of pictorial representation, which developed as the influence of the Renaissance was felt more widely in Northern Europe. Bruyn’s early development as an artist took place in the workshop of Jan Joest van Kalkar, which he entered in 1505. Although Jan Joest was German, he was profoundly influenced by the art of the Low Countries and in particular by the artists Gerard David and Geertgen tot sint Jans. The dramatic use of light employed by Bruyn in the Coronation of the Virgin clearly demonstrates Jan Joest’s influence, but the composition is entirely of Bruyn’s own devising. Although this is one of the artist’s first independent works, his unique artistic personality was already well developed.
The catalogue says this painting, a late work by the artist, is offered for sale at auction for the first time. I am surprised at the low estimate.
From the catalogue:
Paintings such as this, in which the spiritual sufferings of the ascetic hermit Saint Anthony could be depicted in the most vivid pictorial terms, were enormously popular in the Southern Netherlands throughout the first half of the 16th century. Their inspiration was undoubtedly the work of the Flemish painter Hieronymous Bosch (1453–1516) who was the first to explore the theme of the hermit saints in landscapes filled with symbolic imagery. The saint is here seated beneath a hollow tree, the traditional medieval symbol of evil-doing or alchemy. At its base a rat pours ale into a jug which will then be passed to monks and other figures who sit in the tent at the top of the tree, symbolic of both gluttony and lust. A grylle or demon tugs at the saint’s cloak, pulling him towards two reclining figures, a man and a devil disguised as a woman, who together with the apple and jug floating next to them signify the temptation of lust. Behind them more demons drag a tumbril with another naked sinner towards an Infernal head and ‘Hell’ mouth beyond. In front of them a spectacled owl, normally a symbol of wisdom, trudges disconsolately with a crossbow slung across his shoulders. In the far distance, upon a river, pigs – themselves unclean and symbolic of greed and lust – are seen manning a ship, undoubtedly a parody of the late medieval depictions of the Ship of Fools and its representation of Human Folly. This is one of a group of paintings that have been associated in the past with Bosch’s two principal followers, Pieter Huys (1519–84) and Jan Mandijn (c.1500–60), to whom this picture was attributed by M.J. Friedländer at the time of the 1952 sale.
This painting is coming back to auction after only three years when it last sold for slightly more than £2 million, the lot’s current low estimate.
From the catalogue: “Painted in 1662, this is likely the earliest topographical birds-eye view of a British estate, a genre that would become hugely popular over the ensuing decades.”