The June 16, 2016, Sotheby’s Old Masters sale in Paris includes this substantial and intriguing work by Pietro Novelli, called Il Monrealese. Stylistically, the painting recalls the Neapolitan Caravaggism of Bastistello Caracciolo and Bernardo Cavallino, and the work of Giuseppi Ribera. But who is Novelli? The Getty has this short biography:
Sicily’s most important painter of the 1600s, Pietro Novelli trained with his father, a painter and mosaicist, then studied painting and perspective in Palermo. Anthony van Dyck’s visit to Sicily in 1624 influenced him for life. Van Dyck’s altarpiece,still in the oratory of a Palermo church, encouraged Novelli to lighten his palette, a decision that added a sweetness and elegance to his art.
Novelli’s travels also made a lasting impact on his work. Visiting Rome between 1622 and 1625, he studied paintings by the famous Italian Renaissance artists. His draftsmanship in particular, with its economical line, graceful curves, and abbreviated forms, shows his exposure to the art of Giovanni Lanfranco. During a trip to Naples in 1630, Novelli saw works by Jusepe de Ribera and Neapolitan naturalist painters, who encouraged him to develop a more realistic and popular art. In return, Novelli’s style brought to Ribera and Bernardo Cavallino an awareness of Van Dyck’s elegance and rich color.
Returning to Sicily in 1637, Novelli painted primarily religious subjects, including canvases and fresco cycles for ecclesiastical institutions and also served as the royal architect.
In the revolution in Palermo of 1647, he sustained mortal injuries.
The passage in this painting I find most captivating is the central section (below), with the Christ figure falling to the side, his wrists tied to the column. There is a languid singularity to the movement that contrasts with the concentrated activity/energy of the hands of Christ and his tormentor, the rope and the knife. Christ’s body is not resisting this confinement, it is surrendering in exhaustion. The line created by the tormentor’s right arm, through the rope and along Christ’s left arm adds a sense of momentum – we know when the rope is cut, Christ will collapse to the ground.
The painting, which has been in a southern French collection since the 19th century, has substantial condition issues that are visible in the online catalogue. There are cracks and tears in the canvas and paint surface, paint losses and it’s filthy. I suspect there are overpainted sections such as the Christ figure’s left leg, particularly the psoriatic looking lower half (below). There are additional details that are barely legible, especially in the lower righthand corner (below).
Here are additional examples of his work held by the Prado, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and the Getty.
Very aggressive action this week by authorities to stem the flow of looted antiquities.
Japanese antiquities dealer Tatsuzo Kaku was arrested at Asia Week and charged on March 14th with criminal possession of a looted 2nd Century Buddhapada sculpture valued at more than $1 million, court records show.
Kaku, who owns Taiyo Ltd. in Tokyo, consigned the Kushan-period sculpture of the Buddha’s footprints to the Maitreya Inc. for sale at Asia Week.
Authorities did not release an image of the Buddhapada seized from Kaku but based upon its description it is similar to this piece.
Maitreya is owned by antiquities dealer Nayef Homzi, a prominent Manhattan dealer in Asian art who was previously director of the Doris Wiener Gallery, owned by the mother of Nancy Wiener, whose gallery was also raided this week. Homzi was the target of a federal investigation at last year’s Asia Week after he was caught trying to sell looted Indian sculptures valued at more than…
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On 11 May 2016 Sotheby’s New York will offer Untitled (New York City) by Cy Twombly in the Contemporary Art Evening Sale. The work is the only painting from the famed Blackboard series executed with blue loops on grey ground and boasts a remarkable history. It was acquired by the current owner from the artist’s studio immediately after it For Immediate Release ￼ was executed in 1968, and has not been seen in public since. Untitled (New York City) is expected to fetch in excess of $40 million; it goes on view at Sotheby’s Los Angeles on 24 March before exhibition in Hong Kong and London.
Grégoire Billault, Head of Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Department in New York commented: “As a unique example from Cy Twombly’s most celebrated series, that boasts unbeatable provenance, and appears at a time of unprecedented auction interest in the artist, Untitled (New York City) is set to be the outstanding highlight of the May series of sales in New York.”
Untitled (New York City) is a one-off example of the artist’s most hallowed series of Blackboard paintings through which he forged a new visual language in a period of great convergence in postwar art. However, unlike every other Blackboard painting that bears white loops, in Untitled (New York City) Twombly used a blue, rather than white, wax crayon to create the endless overlapping loops on the wet paint. At over 28 square feet, the work belongs to the elite group of large-scale works by Twombly that can be found in the world’s great museums including: The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; The Menil Collection, Houston; and The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. The appearance of Untitled (New York City) at auction comes just six months after Sotheby’s set a record for the artist with Untitled [New York City], 1968 from the collection of Los Angeles philanthropist Audrey Irmas. That work was the second Twombly Blackboard to exceed $65 million in the previous 18 months.
The sale will also include a major late Twombly: Untitled (Bacchus 1st Version V). The appearance of the 2004 work in May marks the first time an example from the series, that is widely recognized as defining the artist’s late work, has appeared at auction. The painting is expected to fetch in excess of $20 million and will also be on view in Los Angeles alongside highlights by Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol.
The venerable art fair TEFAF – The European Fine Art Fair – held annually in the southern Dutch town of Maastricht, wraps up this weekend. Some 10,000 people attended the first day and more than 75,000 were expected over the course of the fair’s ten day run. The fair, established in 1975 and principally known for its focus on Old Master paintings and for its scrupulous vetting, has grown over the decades to include decorative arts, antiquities, and more recently, postwar and contemporary artwork. This year, as chronicled in daily YouTube postings, more than 270 dealers presented approximately 35,000 objects covering 7,000 years of art history. Nevertheless, dealers in Old Masters are still the dominant force and the line many often use is that they save their best material for the fair.
This year there were several standouts, including a spectacular still life by Roelandt Savery (above) at Colnaghi’s, which sold to the Mauritshuis in The Hague for €6.5 million, thanks to the generous support of the sponsors BankGiro Lottery, the Rembrandt Association and a private individual. A press release from the museum quoted Emilie Gordenker, Director of Mauritshuis:
‘Floral still-lifes painted by Savery are very rare, and don’t come on the market very often, definitely not an artwork of such high quality. The painting Vase of Flowers in a Stone Niche is without any doubt among the best work of the master and it will enrich both the collection of Mauritshuis and the Dutch national art collection. It comes from a private collection and has not been exhibited in public for many years. The Mauritshuis was able to acquire the work thanks to the support of the BankGiro Lottery, the Rembrandt Association and a private individual.’
Another winner at Colnaghi’s booth with this enormous painting (above) by the 17th-century Italian painter Luca Giordano, which sold on opening night to a private collector for €2 million. The artist, known as “fa presto” (“paints quickly”), worked in Naples, Rome, Florence and Venice, and also spent 10 years late in his career as a court painter in Spain. Another great Italian work was a gold-ground depiction of the crucifixion by the 15th-century Florentine artist Paolo Uccello, who by the age of ten was apprenticed to the great sculptor Lorenzo Ghiberti, designer of Florence’s famous Baptistry Doors. According to the New York Times: ‘Paintings by this important Florentine artist are all but unheard-of on the open market. Acquired by Agnew’s from a private collection, the circa 1423 panel has been recently identified by scholars as an early work by Uccello painted in a medieval style before (as Giorgio Vasari put it) he “drove himself mad” with the study of perspective.’ Agnew’s of London was offering the painting for €5.5 million.
Art fairs like TEFAF have become a major source of revenue and a significant way to meet clients for many of the participating dealers, but it will have to continue to evolve. So, what next? The New York Times reports:
In response to the growing dominance of American collectors and museums, Tefaf announced last month that it would be holding two “mini Maastrichts” in New York at the Park Avenue Armory.
Tefaf New York Fall, devoted to more historic works, will open in October, while Tefaf New York Spring, focusing on modern art and design, is scheduled for May 2017. Both events will include about 80 to 90 exhibitors.
Tefaf’s enterprise has been widely applauded, but will the presence of these fairs obviate the need for Americans — 2,500 of whom attended last year, of the fair’s 75,000 visitors — to go to Maastricht?
“It will be good for the New York market,” the Tefaf exhibitor Otto Naumann, an old-master specialist there, said of the October event. “New York is the center of competition and dealers who can’t get into the fair will be exhibiting in the galleries. But it could possibly have an erosive effect on Maastricht. There are fewer Europeans buying.”
A late afternoon press release today from the National Gallery of Art announced the acquisition of a bevy of works including 331 items in the third round of accessions from the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The additions to the collection were approved at the January 2016 meeting of the museum’s Board of Trustees.
The museum’s rich holdings 17th-century Dutch art grew with the addition of Frans van Mieris’ An Interior with a Soldier Smoking a Pipe from 1657. The painting came to auction at Sotheby’s in London, July 9, 2008, where it carried an estimate of £200,000-300,000. It sold for a whopping £1,329,250 (hammer price + buyer’s premium) or $2,621,148 (no word what the gallery paid). According to the press release:
Frans van Mieris was one of the most celebrated Dutch Golden Age painters. His elegant works were marked by smooth execution, invisible brushwork, and extraordinary attention to detail. In his beautifully preserved An Interior with a Soldier Smoking a Pipe (c. 1657) he displays all the qualities that earned him his fame. Intimate in scale and humorous in subject—the roguish soldier has apparently just bested a companion in a game of cards—it possesses a high degree of refinement, particularly in the soldier’s aubergine costume and the gold fringe of a nearby cloak. The painting comes with a remarkable provenance, having once belonged to the Elector of Saxony, August the Strong (1670–1733) from whom it went by descent to the Kings of Saxony and ultimately entered the Gemäldegalerie Dresden. The Dresden museum deaccessioned the painting in 1927 to the Gallery van Diemen, which sold it later that same year to a private collector in Germany. The painting remained in that family until 2008, when it was auctioned by Sotheby’s in London and entered a private English collection. The National Gallery of Art acquired this masterpiece through the generosity of Lee and Julie Folger/The Folger Fund.
Another winner is this Trompe l’Oeil of an Etching by Ferdinand Bol (c. 1675), by an as yet unknown artist. The press release notes: “The painting depicts a wooden plank with an etching by Ferdinand Bol affixed with a red wax seal. By using toned glazes and carefully built-up pigments, the artist masterfully imitated the look of the pine wood panel with its rough grain and knots. He also rendered the crinkles and creases of the print so convincingly that it looks like a real piece of paper.”
An early work by the American artist Alex Katz depicting his wife Ada was made at a critical juncture in his career: “Cropped dramatically with lively brushwork and slight asymmetries, this painting combines an early pop awareness of advertising imagery and posed snapshots with the immediacy of direct observation.” This is the advent of the style for which the artist is justifiably famous.
Among the hundreds of works accessioned from the Corcoran is this delightful landscape by Thomas Hart Benton depicting part of Martha’s Vineyard off the coast of Massachusetts. Benton painted a series of works of the island, often capturing the hilly terrain in his signature exaggerated way.
According to a 2001 New York Times article: “Benton and his wife, Rita, summered on the Vineyard for more than a half century, starting around 1920. Their ashes are buried beneath a tree on their former property in the rural town of Chilmark, on the western half of this island. Benton painted countless Vineyard scenes and residents.” He was a “gruff but likable neighbor who was fond of eating radishes with sugar, swimming in the buff and chewing tobacco.”
A rarely depicted scene from Ovid’s Metamorphosis is the subject of a Nicolas Poussin painting recently acquired by the Musée des Beaux-Arts in Lyon. The Death of Chioné (or Diana killing Chioné) was painted in 1622-23, just before the artist’s first – and very consequential – trip to Rome. The Wikipedia entry on the artist, citing biographical sources, says: “In 1622 [Poussin] met Giambattista Marino, the court poet to Marie de Medici, at Lyon. Marino employed him on illustrations for a projected edition of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. These “Marino drawings” preserved at Windsor Castle are among the very few identifiable works of Poussin executed before his arrival in Rome. Marino took him into his household, and in 1624 enabled Poussin (who had been detained by commissions in Lyon and Paris) to rejoin him at Rome. It has been suggested that it was this early friendship with Marino, and the commissioning of illustrations of his Ovidian poetry, that founded, or at least reinforced, the prominent eroticism in Poussin’s early work.”
The painting was purchased from the London-based dealer Jean-Luc Baroni for €3.75 million and was made possible through the support of the Club Saint-Pierre Museum of the City of Lyon, the State and the Rhône-Alpes Region.
The Art Tribune says the little known work was first published in 1998 by Sir. Denis Mahon in the catalogue for the exhibition Nicolas Poussin. I primi anni romani. The painting was created in Lyon and commissioned by Silvio I Reynon (circa 1595-1666), and is documented as being in the collection of the Reynon family (who were of Milanese origin) in 1691.
Agence France Presse reports that France and the Netherlands have signed a deal to jointly acquire two, full-length portraits by Rembrandt for €160 million ($174 million). According to the article:
The agreement, signed by French culture minister Fleur Pellerin and her Dutch counterpart Jet Bussemaker seals the multi-million dollar deal agreed upon in September for two of the Dutch master’s works.
The acquisition — costing the Louvre 80 million euros — is the largest ever made by a French museum.
The portraits, dating from 1634, are of prominent Dutchman Marten Soolmans and his future wife Oopjen Coppit, both wearing black with white lace on the eve of their marriage.
The ministry said in a statement that the two works will be unveiled at the Louvre “in the coming weeks” before being shipped off to the Netherlands for restoration.
The works will then be shared between the Paris museum and the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam which both house some of the largest public art collections in the world.
France and the Netherlands acquired the paintings from the French branch of the Rothschild family, one of the wealthiest and most influential families in the world. Over the past 150 years the public was only able to catch a glimpse of the valuable portraits during an exhibition organised in 1956.
The deal was reached after a series of twists and turns after the Louvre turned down the Rothschild’s initial price in 2013.
The late 19th/early 20th century Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi’s paintings, especially his domestic interiors, are idyllic, sublime and quietly beautiful; and now the Art Gallery of Ontario has become the first public institution in Canada to own one. According to a press announcement from the museum: “To celebrate, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) will host a critically-acclaimed exhibition of Hammershøi’s work this spring, organized by the National Gallery of Denmark. Painting Tranquility: Masterworks by Vilhelm Hammershøi runs from April 16 to July 3, 2016.”
As noted in the press release:
Born in Copenhagen in 1864 and trained at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Hammershøi painted everyday scenes, lacking in detail and narrative, but rich in light and atmosphere. At odds with his contemporaries, his works on canvas and in charcoal include unpopulated landscapes and cityscapes, portraits and spare, sunlight-infused interiors for which he earned the title “de stille stuers maler” (the painter of tranquil rooms). Described by the National Gallery of Denmark’s Director Mikkel Bogh as a “painter of pauses, silences and in-between spaces,” Hammershøi’s reclusive personality and contemplative works made him a favourite amongst poets and writers. Highlights of the exhibition include Interior. An old Stove (1888); View of Christenborg Palace. Late Autumn (1890-92); and A Room in the Artists Home in Standgade, with the Artist’s Wife (1902).
Originally curated by the National Gallery of Denmark’s senior research curator, Kasper Monrad, the installation will be overseen by Lloyd DeWitt, the AGO’s curator of European art. At the centre of the exhibition is the recent AGO acquisition, Hammershøi’s Interior with Four Etchings, from 1905. A portrait of the artist’s wife in their Copenhagen apartment, this painting has been largely unseen since its creation, and held in a private collection. The AGO was able to delay the painting from being exported and purchased it in early 2015. It’s the first work by a Scandinavian avant-garde artist to enter the AGO’s European collection, and its acquisition was made possible with the assistance of a Moveable Cultural Property grant from the Department of Canadian Heritage under the terms of the Cultural Property Export and Import Act, 2015.
Widely celebrated during his lifetime, Hammershøi’s reputation declined rapidly following his death a century ago in 1916. Rediscovered in the 1980s, he is again in ascendance, internationally acclaimed by critics and collectors alike for his strikingly modern interiors, haunting landscapes and distinctive portraits.
“The works in this exhibition clearly show us the exacting skill and serene poetry that made Hammershøi Denmark’s most famous artist,” says Lloyd DeWitt. “It is a wonderful opportunity to have the remarkable works from the National Gallery of Denmark travel to Canada, and we are delighted to supplement this exhibition with our own exciting new work. The acquisition of Interior with Four Etchings has been a great accomplishment for the AGO, and we are grateful for the assistance of the Department of Canadian Heritage who worked with us to keep this extraordinary artwork in Canada.”
Italian authorities have located a cache of looted Roman and Etruscan antiquities purchased by one time art dealer Robin Symes in Geneva, Switzerland, according to the Telegraph. Symes, once one of the most well-known antiquities dealers, whose clients included the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and others, was ultimately found in contempt of court in a case involving looted antiquities and spent seven months of a two-year sentence in jail.
According to the article:
The antiquities were found hidden inside 45 crates …
They had languished there for 15 years, in boxes marked with the name of an offshore company.
The haul includes two life-size Etruscan sarcophaguses, one depicting an elderly man and the other a young woman, both reclining on their sides.
They are among the very few examples of their kind and date from the second century before Christ.
The antiques had been brought to Geneva by a former high-profile British art dealer, whose name has been linked in the past to the trading of several looted antiquities throughout the world.
Restitution to Italy of invaluable objects from its cultural heritage was made possible by the Swiss legislation on international mutual assistance in criminal matters. In concrete terms, this restitution fulfills Switzerland’s commitments based on its ratification in 2003 of the UNESCO Convention on the means of prohibiting and preventing the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property.
The Telegraph article also noted:
Many of the items are believed to have been looted from archaeological sites by tomb raiders.
The crates were discovered by a specialist unit of Italy’s Carabinieri police that deals with art crime, with the collaboration of the Swiss authorities.
The objects were “exceptional pieces (which were taken from) clandestine excavations,” prosecutors in Geneva said in a statement.
They are believed to have been looted from tombs in what remains of the ancient Etruscan city of Tarquinia, in the hills north of Rome.
The antiquities have been returned to Rome and are to be unveiled at a press conference later this week.
The investigation dates back to March 2014, when the Italians first began to suspect that looted antiquities might be kept in storage in Geneva.
The search was taken up by the public prosecutor’s office of Geneva, which found “an unexpected treasure – two rare sarcophaguses of Etruscan origin – as well as many other invaluable archaeological remains”.
In 2006 [Symes] was accused of being part of an illicit antiquities network in a book by Peter Watson, an investigative journalist, entitled “The Medici Conspiracy: The Illicit Journey of Looted Antiquities from Italy’s Tomb Raiders to the World’s Greatest Museums.”
Tonight’s sale of Old Master Paintings at Sotheby’s brought in more money with one lot – Orazio Gentileschi’s Danae, which sold to the Getty Museum for more than $30 million – than the entire sale of Old Masters the night earlier from the estate of Alfred Taubman, the ex-con former chairman of the company. It was a good new bad news sort of night – the sale pulled in $44,980,000 ($53,743,500 with all of the buyer’s fees) – but 30 of the 61 lots offered cratered, including the cover lot, Canaletto’s Interior view of the Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey.
The sale opened with a banal pair of Sano di Pietro depictions of Saints Jerome and Anthony of Padua that hammered at $180,000 ($225,000 with fees), just below its $200,000 low estimate, followed by the Luca di Tomme (below), which made $90,000 ($112,500 with fees), just short of the $100,000 low estimate, and the Ventura di Moro (below), which made its $120,000 low estimate ($150,000 with fees). All three lots were sold to the same telephone bidder.
Next up, a weird Bedoli of a startled looking young woman followed by a small, listless Lucas Cranach – both tanked – then a School of Fontainebleau full length Pandora lit up the room, zipping past its $500,000 high estimate to make $620,000 ($754,000 with fees); it was purchased by the Louvre according to the Art Tribune. The delightfully bizarre Temptation of Saint Anthony by a Bosch follower, and once owned by Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, later Pope Urban VIII, drew multiple bidders whipping past its $400,000 to hammer for $700,000 ($850,000 with fees).
Three Madonna and Child paintings by Botticelli and studio attracted considerable attention and active bidding – lots 10, 12 and 16 – the first two each hammered for $1.1 million ($1,330,000 with fees), and the third made $650,000 ($790,000 with fees), and was sold the the same telephone bidder who bought the sale’s first three lots. The next five works, beginning with the Lorenzetti (below) and including an insipid pair of putti by Vasari, all bombed.
The Savery rocky landscape, lot 23 (below), alleviated the carnage, finding a buyer at $340,000 ($418,000 with fees). Lot 27, the Jordaens (below), which the sale catalogue said was “totally unknown and completely unpublished,” and which would look so much nicer following a good bath, opened at $3.3 million and crept up to its $4 million low estimate ($4.73 million with fees), which seemed to be the only legitimate bid.
After a couple of more buy-ins a large, saccharine and ostentatious Paul de Vos & Paul Wildens Garden of Eden surpassed its $500,000 high estimate to hammer for $540,000 ($658,000 with fees). This was followed a less than compelling Rubens of Saint Norbert overcoming Tanchelm that fetched $1.5 million ($1.81 million with fees), above the $1.2 million high estimate, and then a leaden van Dyck, lot 32, The Tribute Money, that failed at $1.9 million, just below the $2 million low estimate. Surprisingly, the Giaquinto (below), which the catalogue said was “only recently discovered,” tanked at $170,000, below the $200,000 low estimate – by that point it was the 17th lot to fail.
The Gentileschi brought a bit of energy to the room. Since it carried a third party guarantee, its sale was a foregone conclusion. However, since 19 previous lots had bombed by this point, nearly half the sale, a big hammer price brought much needed relief. Bidding opened at $20 million – after four bids over three long minutes it hammered for $27 million ($30,490,000 with fees). The painting was purchased by the Getty Museum, according to Bloomberg. Seven of the next eleven lots tanked including a pair of Platzers that plotzed (sorry) and the panoramic Vanvitelli of Rome (below), though the Saenredam (below) did hit its $2.5 million low estimate ($3.01 million with fees), purchased by London-based dealer Johnny van Haeften, according to the Telegraph. Lot 54, the Hubert Robert, sold below estimate for $140,000 ($175,000 with fees). Although not remarkable, it’s quite pleasing and hits my soft spot for Italy and great Italian gardens. The Joli view of London (below), which I found cold (and not as interesting as the same scene by Canaletto in the Lobkowicz collection in Prague), sold well below its $2 million low estimate, making $1.4 million ($1.69 million with fees), to the same buyer as the evening’s first three lots & Lot 16, the Botticelli Madonna and Child. The last major lot, by estimate, Canaletto’s Interior view of the Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey, opened at $3.8 million, and promptly bombed at $4.2 million, well below its $5 million low estimate. The final lot of the evening, a Turner watercolor, usually reliable material at auction, also tanked, the 30th work to do so in the 61-lot sale.
It’s unclear how Sotheby’s had hoped their $500 million bet and multiple themed-sales would rehabilitate the image of their former CEO, ex-con and shopping center developer Alfred Taubman – certainly not with the B-/C+ Gainsborough (above), one of the star lots in this evening’s sale of Old Master Paintings, Drawings and Sculpture. The sale brought in $20,010,000 ($24,128,750 inclusive of buyer’s premiums), below its $21-30 million estimate (pre-sale estimates do not include the buyer’s premiums); of the 67 lots offered, none were withdrawn and 17 failed to sell. The sale came amid discouraging news for the folks at 72nd & York: Sotheby’s Announces Significant Losses in Its Historic Taubman Sale trumpeted a recent ArtNet News headline, while the New York Times reported: “The company is … dealing with the problematic $515 million guarantee it paid to auction the collection of its former chairman, A. Alfred Taubman. Last year, it recouped $437.8 million of that investment. The remaining works carry a low estimate of $24 million.” That was followed by this announcement: Sothebys (BID) Downgraded by Zacks Investment Research to “Sell.”
The first significant work was lot 5 (below), the Carracci of The Last Supper, opened at $95,000 and saw steady bidding that took it to a hammer price of $230,000 ($286,000 with fees). The small Raphael portrait, a not very dynamic image, but rare none the less, opened at $1 million and was sought after by two telephone bidders – it made $2.7 million ($3.25 million with fees). Works by Bartolomeo Passarotti got the cold shoulder, with a Study of a Sleeping Woman and a portrait of Spanish nobleman, Don Lope Varona both failing to sell, despite the latter being deeply discounted below its $500,000-700,00o estimate – it tanked at $230,000. Next up a Beccafumi drawing that also failed followed by Lot 12, the Beccafumi Madonna and Child (below) that sold for one half of its $2 million low estimate – $1 million ($1.21 million with fees). Discounts abounded, lot 15 a Venetian School oil lamp hammered for $23,000 ($28,750 with fees) against a $60,000 low estimate; lot 17, the Grinling Gibbons carving (below) made $130,000 ($162, 500 with fees) against a $250,000 low estimate; and lot 18, a Campagnola drawing only got $13,000 ($16,250 with fees) against a $25,000 low estimate.
The sale perked up with lot 20, the wonderful Crowning with Thorns by Valentine de Boulogne (below), estimated at $1.5-2 million, it opened at $800,000 and climbed steadily to a hefty $4.4 million ($5,178,000 with fees), and the evening’s most expensive work. This was followed by lot 21, the weird and clunky Ligozzi (below), that opened at $180,000 and bombed at $220,000, against an astonishing estimate of $600,000-800,000. Another deeply discounted work, lot 26 by Sorgh (below), hammered at $500,000 ($610,000 with fees), against an $800,000 low estimate. A wan Durer drawing of Christ being nailed to the cross stopped at $720,000 against a $1-1.5 million estimate. The sale again got interesting with lot 30, the Stomer Christ disputing with the doctors (below), a dramatic and intriguing picture that opened at $500,000 and sailed past its $1.5 million high estimate to hammer for $2.2 million ($2.65 million with fees).
A muddy Pietro da Cortona, Christ and the woman taken in adultery, lot 31, went well below its $600,000 low estimate to make $400,000 ($490,000 with fees), while a cloying Guercino Penitent Magdalene tanked at $220,000, against a $500,000 low estimate. Other bargain basement lots included lot 44, a Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo group of classical figures that hammered at $270,000 ($334,000 with fees), against a $600,000 low estimate; a drawing by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, lot 46, that made $85,000 ($106,250 with fees), but had a $150,000 low estimate; and another by Giovanni Battista painting of a Toothpuller that made only $90,000 ($112,500 with fees), against a $200,000 low estimate.
Scenes of Venice drew a pulse with lot 49, a Pietro Bellotti of the Grand Canal racing past its $200,000 high estimate to make $400,000 ($490,000 with fees), followed by a very respectable Bernardo Bellotto of the Grand Canal (below), that comfortably surpassed its $2 million high estimate to hammer for $2.5 million ($3.01 million with fees) to a telephone bidder. A handsome plan of the Petit Trianon attributed to Richard Mique, lot 53, nearly doubled its $80,000 to hammer for $150,000 ($187,500 with fees), to the same buyer as the Bellotto.
English pictures didn’t find much love, with several selling on the cheap – lot 57 by Herring, $32,000 ($40,000 with fees), despite a $60,000 low estimate; lot 58, Romney’s Portrait of Mrs. Jordan as Peggy in “The Country Girl” only made $45,000 ($56,250 with fees), not a $70,000 low estimate; and lot 60, an Arthur Devis that hammered at $48,000 ($60,000 with fees), against a $100,000 low estimate. The Gainsborough Blue Page opened at $1.8 million and climbed ever so slowly to a hammer price of $2.7 million ($3.25 million with fees), to a telephone bidder. Most of the remaining lots sold below estimate and the sale closed with the final lot, an Ingres portrait, tanking at $130,000 against a $200,000 low estimate.
According to the sale catalogue: “Philip Pouncey, who recognized it as a full-size modello for a small painting, executed on copper, now in the Pinacoteca, Ferrara (below). The painting was originally inserted, together with another, The Gathering of the Manna, traditionally attributed to Lodovico , in a wooden tabernacle, or ciborium, on the high altar of the Ferrarese church of San Cristoforo alla Certosa.”
It’s Old Masters Week in New York, but there’s big news out of Madrid – the Prado has acquired The Virgin of the Pomegranate by Fra Angelico from the Alba ducal collection for €18 million, and received a second work by the artist, The Funeral of Saint Anthony Abbot, as a bequest. According to the museum’s January 20, 2016 press announcement:
The Royal Board of Trustees of the Museo del Prado and with the Minister of Education, Culture and Sport, Iñigo Méndez de Vigo, also in attendance, today approved the acquisition of The Virgin of the Pomegranate, the only masterpiece of early 15th-century Florentine painting and the only masterpiece by Fra Angelico to remain in private hands.
The payment of this 18 million Euro acquisition over the next four years will be funded by a special contribution of 10 million Euros from the State, an exceptional contribution of 4 million Euros from the Fundación Amigos del Museo del Prado, and another 4 million from the Museum’s own funds.
At the same meeting it was also decided to accept the offer made by Carlos Fitz-James Stuart y Martínez de Irujo, 19th Duke of Alba de Tormes, to donate another important Florentine work, a predella panel on the subject of the death of Saint Anthony Abbot, which has recently also been attributed to Fra Angelico following a study of the work at the Museum.
The two paintings, both acquired in Florence in 1817, represent an example of the sophisticated and early collecting interests of Carlos Miguel Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, 14th Duke of Alba, who acquired the works and had them sent to Spain where they entered the Alba ducal collection.
With the addition of these two new works by Fra Angelico, the Museo del Prado will become an international reference point for the study of this Florentine master, who was previously only represented in the collection by The Annunciation. These two further works enormously enrich the Museum’s small but outstanding group of paintings by this early Italian Renaissance painter.
The present Duke of Alba, who has been responsible for the negotiations, has said that “The Fundación Casa de Alba is extremely proud to hand over to the Museo del Prado these masterpieces of European art, reunited and cared for by my family for two centuries, so that from now on they can be enjoyed by all Spaniards and art lovers from every part of the world who visit and admire our most important Museum.”
In acknowledgement of the Duke’s admirable gesture of only offering this remarkable masterpiece to the Museo del Prado and the generosity of the donation that completes its acquisition, the Museum’s Royal Board of Trustees has proposed that he should be made an honorary trustee. The present Duke of Alba is responsible for the administration of the House of Alba and is president of its Foundation. He is also honorary vice-president of the Fundación Hispania Nostra, of which he was president from 1976 to 1980, which devotes its activities to safeguarding and promoting knowledge of the Spanish cultural and natural heritage.
Guido di Pietro, known as Fra Angelico (Mugello, 1390 – Rome, 1455), The Virgin and Child with two Angels or The Virgin of the Pomegranate, c.1426. Tempera on panel, 83 x 59 cm
The Virgin of the Pomegranate is a remarkable work painted at one of the key moments in the history of European art, in early 15th-century Florence, by one of its most important artists: Guido di Pietro (Mugello, 1390 – Rome, 1455), better known as the Beato Angelico or Fra Angelico. This panel is also one of the very few masterpieces of this period to remain in private hands, given that since Quattrocento Italian painting first began to attract the attention of critics and art lovers in the early 19th century, it became a coveted field for museums and collectors. In the present day the most important works by Masaccio, Masolino and Fra Angelico are housed in the leading European and American museums. This fact, in addition to the painting’s fine state of conservation, makes The Virgin of the Pomegranate exceptionally important.
Fra Angelico in the 1420s and The Virgin of the Pomegranate
Guido di Pietro da Mugello must have trained with Lorenzo Monaco (active between 1390 and 1423), the principal painter and illuminator in Florence, and in fact Fra Angelico’s first activities were as an illuminator. By 1418 he was an independent master and between that date and 1422 he entered the Dominican monastery of San Domenico in Fiesole. Most of his output from that point onwards was associated with the Dominicans, starting with the monastery in Fiesole for which he painted The Annunciation now in the Museo del Prado (1425-1426), among other works. It reveals the influence on the artist of Masaccio’s volumetric and perspectival innovations. This is also the case with The Virgin of the Pomegranate, which has traditionally been dated just after the Prado Annunciation and which reveals clear echoes of Masaccio’s Sant’Anna Metterza altarpiece for the church of Sant’Ambrogio (1423-1424). The Virgin of the Pomegranate is one of a series of Virgin and Child compositions that Fra Angelico painted in the 1420s and which reveal his increasing mastery of anatomy, light and space. This group also includes The Virgin of Humility in the Museo Thyssen.
The Virgin of the Pomegranate takes its name from the pomegranate held by the Virgin and which attracts the attention of the Christ Child, who touches it. In this context the fruit has a double meaning: in the Virgin’s hands it refers to her chastity, while by touching it the Christ Child prefigures his own death and resurrection. This iconography was widely used in 15th-century Florence where it interested artists such as Sandro Botticelli and Leonardo da Vinci.
It is not known for whom The Virgin of the Pomegranate was painted but it can be said that this was an exceptional commission given the outstanding quality of the materials used. Particularly striking is the abundance of gold, not just in the visible areas such as the textile hanging behind the figures but also as the base for the grass-covered ground on which they are located.
The painting’s arrival in Spain
It could be considered paradoxical that Spain, in which there was traditionally very little interest in Florentine art of the early Renaissance, possesses two of the first works by Fra Angelico to leave Italy: the Museo del Prado had The Annunciation, which was given by Mario Farnese to the Duke of Lerma as early as 1611, while the Alba collection possessed The Virgin of the Pomegranate, acquired in Florence in 1817 by Carlos Miguel Fitz-James Stuart y Silva, 14th Duke of Alba de Tormes (1774-1835). The difference lies in the fact that while it is doubtful that The Annunciationarrived in Spain because of any appreciation of the artist, but rather for its association with the Annunciation, a favoured subject of devotion at that date both in Florence and Madrid, The Virgin of the Pomegranate represents a very early example of interest in Fra Angelico in Europe, in which the Duke’s advanced tastes in art and his relationship with artists such as Ingres was decisive.
The Virgin of the Pomegranate left Italy too soon for the art historians who were beginning to focus on Fra Angelico to turn their attention to it. In addition, the fact that it has remained relatively inaccessible in a private collection and in a country with few examples of early Tuscan Renaissance painting has also meant that it has been little known. Nonetheless, and particularly following its inclusion in the exhibition held in Florence in 1955 to mark the 500th anniversary of the painter’s death, it has been unanimously accepted as an autograph work by Fra Angelico by experts of the stature of Berenson, Salmi, Berti and Pope-Hennessy, who tended to date it to the 1430s, or, more plausibly, to the previous decade.
Interest in the painting increased considerably with the exhibition on Fra Angelico held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2005, curated by Laurence Kanter and Pía Palladino. The curators were not able to secure the loan of the painting but the exhibition’s catalogue nonetheless emphasised its quality and importance for an understanding of the key decade of the 1420s. On the occasion of the exhibition The Legacy of the Albas. Patronage in the service of art, held in Madrid in 2012, Laurence Kanter, the leading specialist on the artist in the present day, wrote of the painting that it is “[…] among the most beautiful paintings of Fra Angelico’s entire career.”
State of conservation
The extremely high aesthetic merits of The Virgin of the Pomegranate would not be as evident as they are if it were not in such outstanding condition. Laurence Kanter also noted that: “[…] the cleaning of the work has shown that the pictorial surface is in an excellent state of conservation.”
The importance of this acquisition for the Museo del Prado
Although exceptional, the Museo del Prado’s paintings collection has two significant gaps, which are the result of historical circumstances in the case of 17th-century Dutch painting and of changing tastes in collecting in the case of Italian painting prior to 1500. This second deficiency explains why, at the beginning of the 19th century when interest in the latter field began to grow, neither the recently created Museo del Prado nor Spanish private collectors could compete with their American and European counterparts in their acquisition. The Prado’s small collection of Italian painting from prior to 1500 (albeit one not devoid of masterpieces) largely entered the Museum in the 20th century with the bequest of Francesc Cambó. The present acquisition of The Virgin of the Pomegranate is a major event for any major art museum while for the Prado it also represents an enormous strengthening of its collection of early Renaissance Italian painting and the addition of a work that will become one of the icons of the collection.
Guido di Pietro, known as Fra Angelico (Mugello, 1390 – Rome, 1455)
The Funeral of Saint Anthony Abbot, c.1426-1430
Tempera on poplar wood, 29.2 x 19.5 cm
(Donation of Carlos Fitz-Stuart y Martínez de Irujo, 19th Duke of Alba de Tormes, to the Museo del Prado)
This is a panel from the predella of an altarpiece on the life of Saint Anthony Abbot, a monk and the founder of the eremitic movement. The panel has always been considered a work by the school or circle of Fra Angelico but following its recent study and restoration at the Museo del Prado it can now be attributed to the artist himself. The attribution can be made on the grounds of its notable technical, formal and compositional parallels with similar works attributed to the artist, in particular with The Funeral of Saint Francis of Assisi in the Berlin Gemäldegalerie. With regard to its dating, it seems appropriate to suggest a date close to that of The Virgin of the Pomegranate, in the late 1420s.
No altarpiece on Saint Anthony Abbot by Fra Angelico is documented although there are depictions of that saint by the artist which may have belonged to one. Reference should be made to Saint Anthony Abbot shunning the Mass of Gold (Houston, Museum of Fine Arts), the dimensions of which (28.1 x 19.7 cm) are remarkably close to those of the present Funeral of Saint Anthony Abbot, suggesting that they both formed part of the same work.
The 14th Duke of Alba as a collector and the family’s relationship with the Museo del Prado
Carlos Miguel (Madrid, 1794 – Sion, 1835) is now universally acknowledged as the principal collector and art patron of the Alba family, having been the one to acquire many of the most important works in the family collections. A patron of the sculptors José Álvarez Cubero and Antonio Solá during his time in Italy, the Duke also commissioned paintings from the young Ingres and even acquired works for the intended opening of a gallery in Madrid that would be of use for the training of young artists. That project was not realised due to the financial problems that obliged the Duke to sell various works. Nonetheless, most of the collection has remained intact and with the family until the present day.
In addition to the historical connection between the various titles of the Alba family and the formation of the Spanish royal collections, the present-day relationship with the Museo del Prado has been a fruitful and ongoing one over the course of the Museum’s history, primarily due to the richness of the family’s collections. Many of its masterpieces have been loaned to the Museum for temporary exhibitions while some have completed the permanent collection in the form of long-term loans. Worthy of separate mention is the fact that the principal works from the Alba collection, including The Virgin of the Pomegranate, were sent together with other masterpieces of Spanish cultural heritage and with the principal works from the Prado to Geneva during the Spanish Civil War. On their return to Spain and during the time the Liria palace was being rebuilt, The Virgin of the Pomegranate remained on display at the Museum.
Finally, and of particular significance today, is the fact that the first president of the Museum’s Royal Board of Trustees was Jacobo Fitz-James Stuart y Falcó (Madrid, 1878 – Lausanne, 1953), 17thDuke of Alba. Appointed a member of the Museum’s Board of Trustees in 1912, he held the position of president until the Board was disbanded in 1936. In 1939, with the creation of a new Board following the Civil War, he was again appointed a member. The Duke had the initial idea of establishing a Society of Friends of the Museo del Prado and embarked on its creation, although the project was not completed until after his term as president had ended. On his death the Duke bequeathed a sum of money to the Museum that enabled it to acquire a work by Paret y Alcázar.
The 16th century Italian Renaissance painter Carlo Portelli, who worked largely in Florence, is the subject of an exhibition on view at the Accademia Gallery through April 30, 2016. Carlo Portelli: Eccentric Painter between Rosso Fiorentino and Vasari features some 50 paintings, drawings and documents. According to art historian Lia Brunori, the exhibition’s curator, in an interview with Conceptual Fine Arts, “‘this is the very first time in history that all the works known by Portelli share the room.”
Portelli studied with Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio, according to Vasari’s Lives, and as curator Brunori notes, “the show stems from Portelli’s highly appreciated Allegory of the Immaculate conception (1566), a glorious altar piece that is permanently on exhibition at the Accademia Gallery, in the same room where also Michelangelo’s David is located. This extremely sensual painting, focused on the female yet eerily masculine nude figure who offers her back side to the viewer while staring at him with enigmatic eyes, is largely considered the artist’s masterpiece. ‘It is dated and signed,’ adds Ms. Brunori, ‘as just a few other works by Portelli are, and that is also why it is so important.'”
Portelli is strongly influenced by artists more talented than him such as, for instance, Andrea del Sarto and Fra Bartolomeo, whose style can easily be spotted in Portelli’s paintings along with references to Bronzino, or Salviati. ‘But it wouldn’t be correct to affirm that he just copied these models – Ms. Brunori explains. Portelli was more that kind of artist who took inspiration, made crossovers, or re-enacted elements to produce something original and quite autonomous’.
The exhibition is accompanied by the first monograph on the artist, published by Giunti Editore. According to The Florentine (which has a short YouTube feature about the exhibition): The show “sets out not only to draw attention to the Accademia’s own altarpiece but also to encourage the gallery’s visitors to discover an artist hitherto known only to experts, an artist who deserving more attention due to originality, imagination and his ability to translate inventive concepts into painting in the manner of Vasari.”
The art publication Apollo has a compiled a list of more than three dozen acquisitions of the year, several of which have appeared in previous entries in this blog. Among them, the sensational left wing of a diptych by Giovanni da Rimini that was sold at Sotheby’s July 2014 Old Masters sale in London. An export hold was imposed to prevent the work from leaving the UK, and one year later it was announced that the painting would become part of the National Gallery in London’s collection courtesy a donation from Ronald Lauder. As a museum statement at the time noted of the panel’s significance:
Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints – which is in excellent condition for a work over 700 years old – unites the exquisite detail of late Byzantine icons with a new, more expressive style. Its inclusion in the collection will allow the National Gallery for the first time to demonstrate to its visitors a key moment in European art, when Western painting (as we now know it) with its emphasis on observation and realism, was born.
Among the other works on Apollo’s list is this Jacob Ochtervelt that was sold at Sotheby’s January 2014 sale of Old Masters in New York. The work was purchased by London-based dealer Johnny van Haeften who featured it at TEFAF in Maastricht, the Netherlands, with an asking price of $.7.5 million. In October 2015, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC announced it had acquired the picture.
The Rijksmuseum made a major acquisition with the addition of an Adrien de Vries’ bronze figurative sculpture that had been missing for some 300 years. A Bronze Bacchic Figure Supporting the Globe from 1626 sold at Christie’s December 2014 Exceptional Sale for a record $27.88 million (against a presale estimate of $15-25 million), establishing a new world record for the so-called “Dutch Michelangelo.”
The sale catalogue said of the work’s history:
The recent discovery of this Bacchic Figure Supporting the Globe is a hugely signifcant event, bringing to light, as it does, a major, unrecorded bronze executed in the fnal year of the life of its creator, Adriaen de Vries. The bronze stood unrecognised atop a column in the centre of a pool in a schloss courtyard for at least 300 years where it is recorded in an engraving of circa 1700. Although, in his maturity, Adriaen de Vries was considered to be the most important sculptor working in bronze in all of Europe, his celebrity rapidly declined after his death.
And of the work’s iconography:
The iconography of this bronze group is unusual in that it appears to include elements from more than one mythological narrative. A male fgure carrying a globe immediately suggests Atlas or Hercules, although both these fgures are normally represented as more mature men with beards. The grapevines on the tree stump and the pan pipes are associated with Bacchus and his cult, but there is nothing among the stories of Bacchus that includes a globe. One could argue that it represents an unusual confation of the stories of Hercules Supporting the Globe and Hercules at the Crossroads. In this interpretation the pan pipes and grapes represent the path of sin and indulgence, while the wreath in the fgure’s hair could be a victor’s wreath, having chosen the path of righteousness.
In contrast to the train wreck at Christie’s last night, Sotheby’s sale of Old Masters in London had better results, though buyer’s were very picky and the star lot, John Constable’s The Lock, sold only at it’s low estimate of £8 million (£9,109,000 with fees), no where near the £22,441,250 that a comparable picture made a few years ago. The 44-lot sale yielded £19,305,000 (£22,630,750 with collective buyer’s premiums) against a pre-sale estimate of £21,800,000-32,560,000 (estimates do not include the buyer’s premiums). No works were withdrawn, but 15 failed to sell, more than a third to the total offered. The reception for Dutch pictures was emblematic of the evening’s roller coaster ride – a Govert Flinck Tronie of a young woman shot past its £300,000 high estimate to hammer for £400,000 (£485,000 with fees), while landscapes by Miendert Hobbema and Aelbert Cuyp, and a Johannes Cornelis. Verspronk portrait all bombed.
The sale opened with a group of early Netherlandish, Flemish and French works including a Head of Christ by the Master of the Legend of St. Ursula that made a respectable £75,000 (£93,750 with fees) against a £70,000-100,000 estimate, followed by the final in a sequence of 24 panels, with 30 scenes, by the Master of 1456 about the martyrdom of St. Ursula.
According to the sale catalogue:
The hausmarke at the lower right of the composition belongs to the van Scheyven family, who possibly intended the panels for the Klarenkloster, Cologne, with which they had close ties. It was this same family who commissioned the dated cycle in the basilica, with a Jan van Scheyven named on the penultimate panel. As is evident from these two cycles, Saint Ursula clearly had great significance to this family, as she did to Cologne in general, the place of her martyrdom. Her effigy abounded throughout the city, whose coat-of-arms of three crowns, symbolising the Magi, can be seen decorating the flag flying at the upper right of our panel. The legend, first mentioned in a fourth- or fifth-century inscription in the basilica, recounts that Ursula, a British princess, undertook a pan-European pilgrimage before her marriage, which only ended when she and the eleven-thousand virgins accompanying her were massacred by an army of besieging Huns.
There was definite interest and the picture sold for a hammer price of £80,000 (£100,000 with fees). Following a careful cleaning, it should be even more beguiling.
A modestly sized, fantastical moonlit landscape by the delightfully idiosyncratic Herri met de Bles caught the room’s attention. After Patinir, Herri was the most popular practitioner in the new genre of landscape-centric painting. As the catalogue notes: “He was both talented in the depiction of the minutest detail of his ‘world landscapes’ and possessed an imagination that set his landscapes above those of his peers. He eschewed Patinir’s structured compostions in favour of more chaotic, spectacular worlds of his imagination.”
A frequent element in a Herri painting is an image of an owl. As the catalogue notes: “There is possibly an owl in the small cavity in the rock, above and to the right of the little hut reached by ladder. Much has been made of the owls that feature in many of Herri’s works and they are often considered his ‘signature’, as they were by Van Mander – indeed in Italy, where his works were popular, he was nicknamed ‘Civetta’ in response to this.”
The reception in the sale room was enthusiastic with the painting fetching a hammer price of £110,000 (£137,000 with fees).
Next up was the lefthand panel from a mid-15th century triptych believed to have originally been painted for the chapel of the Virgin and Saint Christopher, Church of Saint-Gervais-Saint Protais, Paris.
The central panel of the work is in the Getty (below) and the righthand panel, depicting The Resurrection with Jeanne Peschard and her daughters presented by St Catherine, is in the collection of the Musée Fabre in Montpellier. The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal No. 11 from 1983 (which can be downloaded free) has an extensive essay about the triptych (pp. 183-196).
The lot notes are worth reading and include this salient biographical information: “Dreux Budé and Jeanne Peschard married in 1422. Both were from prominent Parisian families. Jeanne was the daughter of Jean Peschard and Jeanne Gencin. The Budé family came from Auxerre, but were established in Paris by the end of the 14th century, where their wealth stemmed from the wine trade.”
The work sold well above estimate, hammering for £800,000 (£965,000 with fees). According to Apollo it was acquired by the Louvre.
The Mabuse Virgin and Child (illustrated at the top of the post), was included in the exceptional 2011 retrospective about the healed at the National Gallery in London (where it was on loan from 1993 to 2012) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and is only one of two depictions of this subject from the 1520s and 1530s in private hands. It may have been one half of a diptych, but there is no known corresponding flanking panel. In modern times, Mabuse’s renown grew when the so-called Flemish Primitives gained popularity starting in the early 20th century. Despite the pre-sale hype the work sold at its low estimate of £4 million (£4,629,000 with fees).
In their July 2015 evening sale Sotheby’s had a workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger portrait of Henry VIII, which came from Castle Howard. That work hammered for its low estimate of £800,000 and would seem to have shaken loose another Holbein workshop portrait of the sovereign.
The two paintings are extremely similar: the dimensions are nearly the same; the ornate dress only differs in color; and the face of the sovereign is fuller and the beard here has only a hint of gray. According to the lot notes:
This magnificent portrait of Henry VIII last appeared on public exhibition over a century ago, and its re-emergence here reveals it as perhaps the first and surely the finest known version of this, the last great image of the king produced by his celebrated court painter Hans Holbein the Younger. The fact that it has remained in the famous collection of portraits at Warwick castle for over two centuries has meant its extraordinary quality has remained largely unaffected by later intervention, and its remarkable state of preservation thus allows us to see the exceptional quality and detail of jewellery and costume intact. Some three hundred years after it was painted, its likeness had not lost its power to impress.
The owners of Warwick castle who were the sellers had to settle for less than the minimum estimate as the painting fetched £680,000 (£821,000 with fees).
Nested among some gold ground Italian paintings including a Lorenzo di Bicci portable triptych that made £130,000 (£161,000 with fees), and a Jacopo di Cione Madonna and Child Enthroned with Music-Making Angels and Virtues that sold way below it’s £120,000 low estimate (I blame the Virtues), hammering at £90,000 (£112,500 with fees), was lot 11, Cola di Petruccioli da Orvieto’s Madonna and Child Enthroned, Flanked by Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Veronica, Saint Mustily and Saint Lucy.
There’s a quirkiness to the physiognomy of the figures painted by this obscure artist that I find engaging and makes me want to know more about him. According to the catalogue:
Cola di Petruccioli, a native of Orvieto, was first recorded as the author of a fresco of The Crucifixion, signed and dated 1380, in the crypt under the tribune of the Duomo in Orvieto. Cola is known to have been one of several pupils working under Ugolino di Prete Ilario, the first well-known figure in the school of Orvieto, who was charged with much of the decoration of the Duomo between 1372–78. Ugliono appears to have been significantly influenced by the Sienese master Luca di Tommé and indeed documentation exists that confirms Luca’s presence in Orvieto at this time, and Ugolino’s acquaintance with him. Since Sienese masters such as Luca di Tommé travelled to neighbouring towns and often far further into the Italian peninsular, the particular artistic style of the Sienese that had developed from the radical and progressive works of masters such as Giotto and Simone Martini (who himself had worked in Orvieto around 1320), had an influence that extended far beyond Siena’s own city walls.
Bernard Berenson in Essays in the Study of Sienese Painting wrote:
His place is with those minor painters who as craftsmen were, like Fei himself, in the intermittent employ of the great cathedral fabrics to do a bit of new decoration here, and a bit of refurbishing there, filling in the intervals with turning out pictures to order, or, as is the case with the small triptychs, for the market. Siena seems to have been particularly rich in such little men, whom indeed Petruccioli recalls, as, for example, Francesco Vannuccio, and, a generation later, Tino di Bartolommeo or Nanni di Jacopo. At that time they had to seek a livelihood far away from home, and they can be tracked not only to Pisa but to the most secluded recesses of Umbria and perhaps even to Sicily.
He’s no Francesco di Vannuccio, nor another Paolo di Giovanni Fei, but the work is sufficiently intriguing so that I would like to see and learn more.
The market seems to agree with me and it fetched an impressive £210,000 (£257,000 with fees).
Sotheby’s hoped royal pedigree would help this van Dyke portrait of King Charles I’s wife Queen Henrietta Maria.
Initially a half-length portrait, “it is believed to have been extended by Sir Joshua Reynolds to its present dimensions in the late eighteenth century to fit with the series of such portraits that decorated the principal state rooms of Warwick Castle,” according to the sale notes. There was no love in the sale room and the painting stalled at £1.3 million.
Meanwhile, the Breughel industry, a whole subset of the Old Master market, is one barometer of the market’s health. There are, for example, dozens of versions of Pieter Breughel the Younger’s Birdtrap of varying quality – the one at Christie’s last night sold for a hammer price of £1 million (£1,202,500 with premium), which turned out to be the highest priced work in that disaster of a sale.
According to the sale notes: “This panel is by far the largest of the known versions of this composition to have survived. In his catalogue of the works of Pieter Brueghel the Younger Klaus Ertz lists only ten autograph versions of the design, with dated examples ranging from 1610 to 1622, and the largest three only 75 by 100 cm.” There was considerable interest and the painting finally went to an online bidder for £720,000 (£869,000 with fees).
The catalogue advises us that these two lots “form part of a series of views of great beauty and importance, that were commissioned from Gaspar van Wittel – his name italianized as Vanvitelli – by the ninth Duke of Medinaceli, Viceroy of Naples, in around 1700. They have never before been offered on the open market and have remained in the family of his direct descendants until recently.”
Vanvitelli had probably arrived in Rome in 1674. A Dutchman, from Amersfoot near Utrecht, he had trained initially under Matthias Withoos, a painter of still lifes, landscapes and the occasional city view, who himself had worked in Rome between1648 and 1652. Vanvitelli’s earliest known works are a series of fifty drawings made to accompany a report prepared for Pope Clement X by the Dutch hydraulic engineer Cornelis Meyer, which investigated the possibility of extending the navigability of the Tiber upstream from Rome. By the early 1680s Vanvitelli appears to have made view painting a particular speciality.
While these two works have “never been offered on the open market” I have to wonder if they’ve been privately shopped around given the poor results. Bidding on the first painting stopped at £800,000 and it failed to sell, while the second work sold below the £800,000 low estimate for a hammer price of £700,000 (£845,000 with fees).
While this is not a major work by Joseph Wright of Derby – it doesn’t have the brilliant flaming colors used to dramatic effect – the painting has been in the same collection since 1840, so, it’s very fresh to the market. It rocketed to a hammer price of £550,000 (£665,000 with fees), with the proceeds going to aid Syrian refugees, according to the BBC.
The final lot, which also carried the highest estimate, was Constables’ The Lock.
This is the second version of The Lock to come to auction in the past few years – the July 2012 Old Master sale at Christie’s featured a nearly identical composition that was being sold by Baroness Carmen Thyssen Bornemisza. That picture carried a £20-25 million estimate and sold for a hammer price of £20 million (£22,441,250 with fees or $35,120,558). The estimate for the present picture is half that of the Bornemisza painting. According to the sale catalogue, “It is also one of only three of Constable’s major works left in private hands.” The Telegraph reports that the work was “painted by Constable and kept in his studio for life,” and was “offered for sale by Sotheby’s for the first time since 1855.”
The painting could only make it’s low estimate of £8 million (£9,109,000 with fees).
The event was clogged with works more appropriate for a day sale, including one by the perpetually annoying Master of the Female Half-lengths, a Virgin and Child (didn’t sell), Guilio Cesare Procaccini’s Christ baptising Mary Magdalene supported by the Archangels Michael and Raphael (didn’t sell), and a Nicolas Poussin Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist (didn’t sell), among the many clunkers.
Among the early lots, Christie’s made a big deal about this Lamentation that had originally been given to Cornelis van Cleve.
However, in a dedicated article, the auction house determined it was likely a picture from the workshop of his father Joos, similar to a work in the Louvre (below).
The catalogue notes state:
This picture provides fascinating new insights into the creative process and workshop practice in the studio of Joos van Cleve. Called the ‘Leonardo of the North’ in a recent exhibition (Aachen, Suermondt-Ludwig-Museum, Leonardo des Nordens: Joos van Cleve, March-June 2011), Joos van Cleve was, along with Jan Gossaert and Bernard van Orley, the foremost Northern painter of his day. Active in the thriving city of Antwerp where he is first documented in 1511, he developed a distinctive and highly successful style, combining technical accomplishment in oil, inherited from the early-Netherlandish painting tradition, as well as a rich palette indebted to northern Italian, especially Venetian models.
The painting, estimated at £150,000-200,000, sold for a hammer price of £140,000 (£170,500 with premium).
After a Master of the Prado Adoration of the Magi fragment from the life of St. Anthony of Padua and a Follower of Robert Campin Virgin and Child in an apse with two musical angels failed to sell, the first of several retreads was slated to come up – including this small Hans Memling tondo format Virgin Mary nursing the Christ Child that last appeared in January 2012 sale in New York where it carried an aggressive $6-8 million estimate, and failed to sell. This time the estimate was £2.5-3.5 million ($3,780,000 – $5,292,000), but it was withdrawn.
According to the lots notes about the Memling, “From time to time, Christie’s may offer a lot which it owns in whole or in part. This is such a lot.” That means Christie’s got stuck with it after the failed 2012 effort. The essay opens with the following:
This exceptionally well-preserved tondo, depicting a graceful Virgin Mary nursing the Christ Child set before a gilded background, has long been recognised as a work by the leading artist in Bruges during the last third of the 15th century, Hans Memling. Since its most recent appearance in public at the Memling exhibition in Rome in 2014-15, a light cleaning has allowed for an even greater appreciation of its immaculate surface. It is one of the last great devotional works by Memling still remaining in private hands.
According to Apollo: “At a sombre post-sale press conference, Christie’s Henry Pettifer and James Bruce-Gardyne revealed that Hans Memling’s The Virgin Mary nursing the Christ Child had sold privately before the sale for an undisclosed price ‘above the high estimate’ of £2.5–3.5m.”Of the Hoffman Hare, the sale catalogue notes:
Inspired by Dürer’s magnificent Hare of 1502, today in the Albertina … the present work can be seen as a paragon of the Dürer Renaissance. One of Hoffmann’s largest drawings and greatest masterpieces, it is not a direct copy but an inventive adaptation and variation which is trying to beat Dürer at his own game. The hare depicted in the present work is in fact not the same as the one drawn by Dürer and is shown in a slightly different position. According to Tony Brown, who we thank for his help, both animals are adult brown hares (Lepus europaeus). The one in the present work, with smaller ears, may be slightly younger than the one represented in the Albertina watercolour. Hoffmann represents the hare among plants while in the Albertina drawing the background is left blank.
Hoffmann’s skill at depicting plants and animals is wonderfully apparent in the present watercolour. Each element is individualised and the artist excels equally at representing beautiful flowers in full bloom, lively insects, a lizard and a frog as well as faded, diseased, or pest-eaten foliage. Cobwebs and a faded dandelion and even a tick attached to the hare’s fur are drawn with extraordinary detail.
I like Hoffman, but am not moved by this work. Apparently I was not alone, because it tanked at £3.9 million.
This was followed by a dark streak – lot 16, Francesco di Giorgio Martini Death of Virginia just made it at a hammer price of £115,000 against a low estimate of £150,000, followed by lot 17, a Jacopo del Conte portrait, lot 18 Mirabello Cavalori Raising of Lazarus, lot 19 an Alessandro Allori portrait, and lot 20 a Prospero Fontana portrait, all of which bombed.
They caught a break when one of Pieter Brueghel’s most frequently produced image – The Birdtrap – made it’s £1 million low estimate (£1,202,500 with premium), the highest price for a work at the sale. Lot 31, Pietro Testa’s Aeneas and the Cumaean Sibyl presenting the Golden Bough to Charon showed surprising life by selling all above it’s £500,000 high estimate, hammering for £620,000 (746,500 with premium).
Another retread is a big (more than four by six feet) The Destruction of the Palace of Armida by Coypel.
This painting appeared at Christie’s in July 2012 with a £500,000 – £700,000 estimate, but bidding stopped at £400,000 and it failed to sell. This time is managed to surpass it £300,000 high estimate to hammer for £420,000 (£506,500 with premium).
All in all, this was a painful experience for just about everyone involved.
Seventeen Old Master paintings worth an estimated €15 million were stolen last night from the Castelvecchio Museum in Verona according to reports in Corriere della Sera and the Guardian. Among the works taken was Pisanello’s Madonna of the Quail (above), Andrea Mantegna’s Holy Family with a Saint, and five paintings by Jacopo Tintoretto.
According to Corriere della Sera:
The hit was carried out by a gang of three professionals, who immobilized the only private security guard and the cashier, before forcing the guard to accompany them to the rooms where the paintings were on show.
“They were professionals; they knew what to take and they knew the museum,” commented the mayor of Verona, Flavio Tosi, who stayed at the scene until late in the night.
The Guardian reports:
Three men dressed in black entered the Castelvecchio museum in northern Italy at the evening change of guard on Thursday, tying up and gagging the site’s security officer and a cashier before taking the paintings.
Council spokesman Roberto Bolis said the museum had 24-hour security but the robbery had been planned so that the thieves arrived after the building emptied but before the alarms had been activated.
“We don’t yet know if they were armed, or whether they took the security officer’s weapon,” he said, adding that both the guard and cashier were in shock and were being debriefed by investigators.
“They tied up the security officer as well and took his keys so they could get away in his car,” he said. One of the men watched over the hostages while the other two raided the exhibition rooms. “It was only once they were able to untie themselves that the alarm was raised,” Bolis added.
Footage from the 48 cameras installed in and around the premises has been handed over to police.
The London, Milan & St. Moritz-based art dealers Robilant +Voena have sold a major painting by Bartolomeo Manfredi to the National Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, Japan, according to a recent gallery announcement. Manfredi (Ostiano near Mantua circa 1582-1622 Rome) was a contemporary of Caravaggio, though about a decade younger, and purportedly worked in his studio; and he was a chief Italian proponent of the dramatic Caravaggesque style following Caravaggio’s death in 1609.
According to information from Manfredi specialist Gianni Papi on the gallery’s website:
This is one of Bartolomeo Manfredi’s most important paintings. The literature on the artist had considered it lost: up to now it was only documented in an engraving by Pieter van Leysebetten, (c. 1660) for the Theatrum Pictorium by David Teniers the Younger (Brussels, 1660), the book of engravings illustrating the paintings in the collection of the Archduke Leopold Wilhelm. The archduke’s collections were moved from Brussels to Vienna in 1656, but the catalogue (the first known illustrated catalogue of an art collection) was published in 1660. Furthermore, David Teniers also included Manfredi’s picture in his own painting, showing two walls of the archduke’s gallery (Munich, Bayerische Staatsgemaldesammlungen), which also dates from around 1660 when the collection was already in Vienna.
[The] painting surfaced at the Dorotheum (Vienna) on 2 October 2002 as the work of Bartolomeo Manfredi’s circle. At the time the over-painting on the canvas did not permit an objective evaluation. The iconography was identical to the original which led to hypotheses of a d’après or a copy. However, the painting’s true identity was clearly revealed when it was under restoration. It was an exciting moment that day in December 2002 when the first stages of the cleaning had revealed a totally “different” painting and … [it became evident] that this was the lost Capture of Christ by Bartolomeo Manfredi. The quality revealed by the restoration, which brought to light a painting in excellent condition, showed that there could be no doubts as to the attribution which is further supported by the fact that the painting comes from Austria.
A front page (above the fold) article in today’s Financial Times outlines a claim that a Pieter Bruegel the Elder masterpiece in Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum, The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, was looted from Poland in 1939. According to the article, “The tussle comes amid a wider push by Polish authorities to track down artworks and valuables looted during the occupation.”
Seventy-year-old documents unearthed in the archives of Krakow’s National Museum allege that The Fight Between Carnival and Lent, painted in 1559 and thought to be worth tens of millions of pounds, was taken by the wife of the city’s Nazi governor in 1939 during the occupation of Poland.
“It is impossible to overstate the importance of this painting,” said Meredith Hale, a fellow in Netherlandish art at Cambridge university. “If it was taken unlawfully from Krakow to Vienna it would be a huge story for the art world — as big as it gets.”
Art experts estimate that the painting could be valued at well in excess of £50m, with only one of the Dutch artist’s works in private hands.
The Kunsthistorisches Museum insists that the painting has been owned by the gallery since the 17th century. It believes the work that was taken from Krakow by Charlotte von Wächter, wife of Otto von Wächter, governor-general of Krakow from 1939 to 1942, is not the same painting.
Poland will ask Austrian authorities for a full investigation into the painting to determine whether or not it once hung in Krakow’s museum, the country’s deputy minister of culture told Rzeczpospolita, the Polish newspaper which first reported the existence of the archive documents.
The National Gallery of Art has announced the acquisition of a rare work by the 17th century Dutch painter Jacob Ochtervelt; the work was purchased from London-based Old Master painting dealer Johnny van Haeften who bought it at Sotheby’s Old Master Painting sale in New York, January 30, 2014. The work had been estimated to sell for $3-4 million, and made a hammer price of $3.8 million ($4,421,000 with the buyer’s premium). Van Haeften featured it at TEFAF in Maastricht, the Netherlands for $7.5 million. No word on what the National Gallery of Art paid for the painting, which is now on view in the Gallery 50 of the West Building. At the same sale, the museum also purchased a painting by Jan van Goyen, which was the auction lot that preceded the Ochtervelt.
According to the museum’s website:
Washington, DC—The National Gallery of Art has acquired a masterpiece by the Dutch genre painter Jacob Ochtervelt (1634–1682). Arguably Ochtervelt’s finest painting, A Nurse and a Child in the Foyer of an Elegant Townhouse, signed and dated 1663, is currently on view in Gallery 50 of the West Building, Main Floor. The acquisition of A Nurse and a Child in the Foyer of an Elegant Townhouse is made possible by the generous support of The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund.
“This wonderful painting complements one of the great strengths of the Gallery’s collection: the Dutch painters of high-life genre scenes in the 1650s and 1660s, among them Johannes Vermeer, Pieter de Hooch, Gerard ter Borch, and Gabriel Metsu. Each of these artists capture quiet moments of daily life that entrance and engage viewers, not only because of the sensitivity of their depictions of the human figure but also because of the way they capture the effects of light and color, and the sheen of fabrics,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art, Washington.
ABOUT THE PAINTING
A Nurse and a Child in the Foyer of an Elegant Townhouse depicts a well-dressed young boy—not yet breeched—wearing a freshly ironed white dress decorated with blue and yellow ribbons and a gold medal on a chain drops a silver coin into the hat of a young beggar. Ochtervelt situated his scene at the threshold of a sumptuous home, whose foyer is distinguished by high ceilings, marble floors, and Italianate paintings hanging on the wall. The wealthy young boy, probably about five years old, holds the hand of his nurse, while the parents, visible through an open doorway, proudly observe the boy’s charity—a virtue taught in the home and of great importance to the Dutch—from their parlor. Ochtervelt distinguishes the different classes through a sensitive rendering of clothing, complexion, and body language. A bristling spaniel stands at alert as this unknown young beggar tentatively enters into the family’s space, adding a dramatic flair to the interior scene.
WHO WAS JACOB OCHTERVELT?
A native of Rotterdam, Jacob Ochtervelt studied painting in Haarlem from 1645 to 1650 with the landscape painter Nicolaes Berchem and returned to Rotterdam around 1655. After a successful career in that great port city, in 1667, he moved to Amsterdam, where he spent the rest of his life. Ochtervelt focused on the pleasures of patrician life and leisure—men and women reading and writing letters, eating and drinking, making music, and playing games. However, his most innovative scenes are those that depict the interactions between the upper and lower classes, often placed at the threshold of an elegant townhouse. Characterized by clarity of light and of color, his paintings display a sympathetic rendering of people from all social classes.
A 2nd century AD Roman sarcophagus depicting the labors of Hercules, seized five years ago in Geneva upon suspicion by customs officials that it might be looted from Turkey, has been ordered repatriated by a Swiss public prosecutor, according to Agence France Presse. The work was destined for Phoenix Ancient Art, an antiquities dealership that has been linked to other work that turned out to be illegally excavated and ultimately had to be restituted. The complete article:
A Swiss public prosecutor has ordered that a precious Roman-era sarcophagus be returned to Turkey five years after it was seized by customs in Geneva, an official statement said Wednesday.Considered a major archaeological find, the sarcophagus depicts the 12 labours of Hercules and was sequestered at the Geneva Freeport warehouse complex in 2010.
The prosecutor, from the Swiss canton of Geneva, said in a statement that the decision can be appealed in the next ten days.
The sarcophagus was seized in December 2010 by the Swiss customs administration following a inventory check.
It was part of the inventory of Phoenix Ancient Art which specialises in antiquities.
In March 2011, the federal culture office said that the sarcophagus came from Turkey, from the ancient city of Dokimion — or the present day Antalya region.
The culture office also said that it was sculpted towards the end of the second century, when the area was under Roman rule.
It is an object of “priceless cultural value”, according to Geneva authorities.
Turkey has sought to get the sarcophagus back since 2011.
In October 2013, the magistrate in charge of the case travelled to Turkey to hear witnesses and examine evidence.
A late Van Gogh landscape, estimated to sell for $50 – 70 million, from Belgian collectors Louis and Evelyn Franck, who formed their collection in the 1940s and 1950s, leads Sotheby’s Impressionist and Modern Art sale in New York on November 5, according to a press release from the auction house, which noted:
Painted just one year before Van Gogh’s death, the dramatic landscape depicts the fields outside Arles in the south of France, where he lived from early 1888 through mid-1889. Its palette evokes the colors found in this new Southern climate, yet the turbulent skies foretell Van Gogh’s mental decline in the months following the work’s execution.
Sotheby’s will offer nine other works from the collection including: ” Pablo Picasso’s Nu au jambes croisées, a large-scale, fully- worked pastel from his famed Blue Period … [estimated at $8 – 12 million]; superb examples by Paul Cézanne, Kees van Dongen and Henri de Toulouse- Lautrec; and the finest work by Belgian painter James Ensor ever to appear at auction.”
About the collectors, Sotheby’s notes:
Born in 1907 in Belgium, Louis Franck was a passionate sailor, international banker and discriminating art collector, whose father was an important patron to Belgian artists including James Ensor. After marrying Evelyn Aeby, the couple moved to London in 1935, and it was during this time that they began to build their remarkable art collection. Louis and Evelyn went on to found the Old Broad Street Charity Trust and became major benefactors of the World Wildlife Fund, of which Louis served as Vice-President and Treasurer from 1976 to 1985. The Francks’ superb collection has been on public view at the Fondation Gianadda in Martigny, Switzerland since 1997.
Over the past couple of weeks hints of the coming art season have been arriving – auction notices from Sotheby’s, Christie’s, Drouot; the Pulse Art roster for the December fair was announced; and reporting in the New York Times and elsewhere about the swooning financial markets and what that portends for sales have cropped up.
Amidst all that came notice from Salamon & Co. Old Masters about their upcoming participation at the Biennale dell’Antiquariato di Firenze accompanied by an image of an arresting and exquisite predella panel by Bicci di Lorenzo depicting the Miracle of San Giovanni Gualberto. The Biennale takes place at the Palazzo Corsini September 26-October 4, 2015. The painting by Bicci is one of more than a dozen that Salamon will exhibit – they will also unveil two works by Mattia Preti and Gregorio Preti.
The Bicci painting concerns Benedictine monk Gualberto (Florence, ca. 995 – Badia a Passignano, 1073), founder of the Vallombrosan Order, who was canonized by Pope Celestine III in 1193 (and is the patron saint of foresters, park rangers and parks). The panel depicts the miracle of the ruins of the abbey of St. Peter in Moscheta, which became the site of the order he founded. According to legend, the saint, who was very principled and rejected wealth and corruption within the church, was furious when he saw the money and luxury associated with the building, which was more like a palace than a place of worship. St. John gathered his fellow monks close to him and ordered a river to come over the mountain and wash away the abbey. He then established a more modest monastery built of timber and mud walls.
The artist’s treatment of the subject is riveting – on the left side the determined saint and his awed brethren watch as the crenelated abbey washes down the mountain surrounded by swirling currents and uprooted trees. The left and right hand of the panel are compositionally complement each other despite the juxtaposition of rectilinear form and coiling motion.
According to information provided by the gallery:
This panel comes from a polyptych [below] made by Bicci di Lorenzo, in collaboration with Stefano d’Antonio Vanni, for the altar of the fourth chapel on the left of the church of Santa Trinita in Florence. The polyptych was commissioned in 1434 by the banker Cante di Giovanni Compagni, one of the wealthiest and most influent protagonists of the Republic of Florence, and was still on the altar in 1755, when it was described by the historian Giuseppe Richa in his account on the churches of the city of Florence[i]. The following dismantling brought the larger compartments, featuring the Virgin with the Child on the throne among the saints Anthony the Abbot, John Gualbert, John the Baptist and Catherine of Alexandria, in Westminster Abbey, where it is [above the tomb of Anne of Cleves near the High Altar]. This is the only fragment remaining of the predella – which according to Richa had on the centre the inscription with the date ‘1434’ –, originally situated right under the figure of John Gualbert.
[i] G. Richa, Notizie istoriche delle chiese fiorentine divise ne’ suoi quartieri, III, Quartiere di S. M.a Novella, Florence 1755, p. 161.
A biography of the artist from the National Gallery of Art:
As a young man Bicci was trained in Florence in the well-established workshop of his father, Lorenzo di Bicci, which he probably took over around 1400. Evidence of collaboration between the two artists might be seen in the large fresco of the tabernacle called “del Madonnone” (of the large Madonna) near the former monastery of San Salvi, in which the decorative richness and elegant rhythms of the drawing reveal an intention to move beyond the essentially Orcagnesque style characteristic of Lorenzo.
Bicci’s first dated work is the Porciano triptych (Santa Maria Assunta, Stia) of 1414, which testifies to his moderate interest in the innovations that Cherardo Starnina and Lorenzo Monaco introduced to early fifteenth-century Florentine painting, and betrays the strong attachment to traditional compositional formulas of his father’s shop. The success of this rather prosaic style, improved by the artist’s great technical skill is demonstrated by a series of prestigious commissions, many of them now lost. The lost works include a panel for the church of Sant’Egidio (1420); frescoes in Santa Lucia de’ Magnoli (1421-1422); frescoes for two chapels in San Marco (1420-1433), fragments of which have recently been found. Still surviving are a fragmentary polyptych in the Pinacoteca della Collegiata in Empoli (1423); frescoes in the former monastery of Sant’Onofrio, called “di Fuligno,” in Florence (just before 1429); and the frescoed lunette of Porta San Giorgio, also in Florence (1430). In the now dismembered polyptych of San Niccolò a Cafaggio (1433) he copied parts of the predella of Gentile’s Quaratesi polyptych. During the 1430s Bicci’s commissions became even more copious, and the artist, who was gradually breaking free of late Gothic linear rhythms and rich ornamentation, developed more sedate and rationalized compositional schemes. His models at this time appear to be the works of Masolino and Fra Angelico, whose innovations are simplified in his own archaic idiom, which shows increasingly stereotyped compositions and monotonous execution. And yet, even in the 1440s, Bicci was still obtaining important commissions in Arezzo; in 1447 he received payment for frescoing the vault of the main chapel of the church of San Francesco, a work that would later be continued by Piero della Francesca. By this time the management of Bicci’s workshop was firmly in the hands of his son, Neri. His death is documented in 1452.
 On Lorenzo di Bicci, see Miklós Boskovits, Pittura fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370-1400, Florence, 1975: 107-109, 331-336; for a hypothesis on Bicci’s role in his father’s workshop see Cecilia Frosinini, “Il passaggio di gestione di una bottega fiorentina del primo Rinascimento: Lorenzo di Bicci e Bicci di Lorenzo,” Antichità Viva 25, no. 1 (1986): 5-15.
 See Ugo Procacci, Sinopie e affreschi, Milan, 1961: 55, who leaves open the question of attribution between father and son.
 See Paatz and Paatz, Kirchen von Florenz, 4, 1952: 468, and Serena Padovani, Il Cenacolo del Perugino, Florence, 1990: 7-9.
 Frederico Zeri, “Una precisazione su Bicci di Lorenzo,” Paragone 9, no. 105 (1958): 67-71; Sonia Chiodo, “Osservazioni du due polittici di Bicci di Lorenzo,”Arte Cristiana 88 (2000): 269-280.
There’s good news and bad news about this painting – the bad news is that it doesn’t have an export license – the good news is, that’s your excuse to purchase a home in Italy and make this a housewarming gift to yourself.
Here are several other intriguing paintings included in Salamon’s forthcoming exhibition:
The Corpus of Florentine Painting (section III, volume IV), Bernardo Daddi, His Shop and Following, has the following entry about the author the painting above:
This otherwise unknown Florentine painter takes his conventional name from a panel painting in the parish church of San Polo in Chianti … a work that reveals links in style and cultural orientation with Florentine painting of the fourth decade of the Trecento.
His work is said to be principally influenced and suggestive of the paintings of Bernardo Daddi, with a secondary influence by Taddeo Gaddi. The catalogue for the Pittas Collection states:
He was an artist who trained in close contact with the models of Taddeo Gaddi and who, in the development of his style, shows ties—particularly in terms of composition— to Bernardo Daddi. The San Polo Madonna must have been a mature work, datable around 1340, due to references to paintings from the mid-1330s such as Bernardo Daddi’s altarpiece in San Giusto at Signa – no, near Scandicci, and, to an even greater extent, the Madonna Enthroned with Angels, St Matthias and St George in the church of San Giorgio at Ruballa, near Bagno a Ripoli, dated 1336 and probably attributable to the young Maso di Banco. The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Four Saints and Two Angels, now at the Museo della Socie – tà di Esecutori di Pie Disposizioni in Siena, is an earlier work, and thus datable to the 1330s. The later phase—perhaps even after 1350— is represented by the polyptych with the Madonna and Child with Four Angels in the collection of Michele Bagnarelli in Milan [the present picture] and the four panels—once part of the same altarpiece—with St John the Evangelist, St Margaret, St Catherine of Alexandria and St Bartholomew at the Museo Bandini in Fiesole where the style draws perceptibly closer to that of Puccio di Simone.
Of this particular painting, the Corpus notes:
The panel, which must originally have represented the Madonna full-length, appears to have been cut down at the base … [I]t must have formed the central part of the polyptych which also included the four Saints by the same master in the Museo Bandini … This reconstruction is based not only on stylistic analogies, but is confirmed by the shapes and frames of the panels, and by the tooling of the halos, which overlap the frames in a rather unusual way.
The so-called Master of the Straus Madonna takes his name from depiction of the Virgin and Child that was donated to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston in 1944 by Edith A. and Percy S. Straus. According to the biographical entry in the Web Gallery of Art:
Of over 30 [Salamon cites the scholars Miklós Boskovits and Angelo Tartuferi who say there are about 50] surviving panels painted in Florence and its environs, the Master’s only dated work is the small, incisive Man of Sorrows (1405; Warsaw, National Museum).
One of the most individual and lyrical Late Gothic Tuscan painters, he bridges the gap between Agnolo Gaddi and Lorenzo Monaco. His slender, pale figures blend spiritual evanescence with Giottesque solidity of form and are at their most expressive in the Man of Sorrows with Instruments of the Passion of c. 1395 and the Annunciation of c. 1405 (both Florence, Accademia), in which a highly refined sense of design balances perfectly with a poetic and vivid sense of colour. Striking touches of realism, as seen in the cockerel of the Passion or Gabriel’s lilies, enliven these scenes. The subtly modelled Virgin and Child with Two Angels in the church at Sagginale (nr Borgo San Lorenzo), originally flanked by Sts John the Baptist and Dominic (both Oxford, Christ Church Picture Gallery), is one of the Master’s finest mature works. Like Starnina and influenced in part by Spinello Aretino and the Giottesque revival, his graceful yet quietly compelling figures were important for the generation of Masolino in the last years of the Late Gothic style.
A recent Dorotheum auction catalogue entry for a Lamentation of Christ by the artist stated:
Vincenzo Frediani is one of the best-documented painters from Lucca during the last quarter of the 15th century. His prestigious commissions of altarpieces and frescoes for churches in Lucca demonstrate that he was one of the most renowned painters of his native town. At first, Richard Offner and Everett Fahy compiled the artist’s work under the name of the ‘Master of the Lucchese Immaculate Conception’. Subsequently Maurizia Tazartes succeeded in identifying the master as Vincenzo Frediani in 1984 and 1987, thanks to newly discovered documents. There is proof that the artist was commissioned with the name-giving retable of the Immaculate Conception in 1502 (today in the Museo Nazionale, Villa Guinigi, Lucca; see. M. Tazartes, Anagrafe lucchese I, Vincenzo di Antonio Frediani ‘pictor de Lucca’, il Maestro dell’ Immacolata Concezione?, in: Ricerche di storia dell’arte, vol. XXVI, 1985, pp. 4–6). From the mid-1480s on, Frediani was influenced by Domenico Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi, whose presence in Lucca while working for San Martino and San Michele in Foro around 1480 and 1481/83 respectively is attested to by documents.
The National Gallery of Art’s website has a comprehensive biography of the artist; here are the opening paragraphs:
Francesco Guardi was born in Venice in 1712. Due to a lack of documentation and secure early works, his initial training and career remain the subject of intense speculation. It cannot be assumed that he was trained by his elder brother Antonio (1699-1761), who was too young to have inherited the family workshop upon the death of their father Domenico (1678-1716). Furthermore, the obvious differences in the brothers’ styles go beyond a difference in temperament and indicate that Francesco was probably trained by another master. Yet, suggestions that he received this initial training in the family’s native Trentino, in Vienna with a north-Italian painter, or in Venice remain highly speculative.
By about 1730 a Guardi family workshop was in existence in Venice: a will of 1731 refers to copies by the “fratelli Guardi.” Because Francesco would have been only 18 at this time, it can be assumed that at first Antonio probably functioned as the head of the shop. It appears, however, that Francesco soon collaborated on and made independent contributions, primarily as a figure painter, to the shop’s large projects. He also accepted independent commissions, as clearly indicated by two letters of 1750 in which he attempted to recover payment on sketches for unexecuted figure compositions. After Antonio’s death in 1761, Francesco continued to work occasionally as a figure painter, but was active mainly as a painter of views and capricci.
Another small but choice exhibition is currently on view at Munich’s Alte Pinakothek, part of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen (Bavarian State Painting Collections). On Golden Ground: Loans from Lindenau Museum in Altenburg features three exquisite 14th century Florentine paintings by Bernardo Daddi, the Meister von San Lucchese, and Puccio di Simone that complement the Alte Pinakotehek’s own holding, which includes works by Giotto, Nardo di Cione, Bernardo Daddi, and others. The three works are on loan through June 30, 2016.
Here’s a short history of the Lindenau Collection courtesy the Alte Pinakothek’s Web site:
The astronomer, statesman and patron of the arts Bernhard August von Lindenau (1779 – 1854) was a passionate collector. While on a trip around Italy in 1843/44, he broadened his knowledge of thirteenth-to-sixteenth-century Italian painting, and planned the systematic enlargement of his collection. In the following years he was supported by the archaeologist Emil Braun, who, as first secretary of the German Archaeological Institute in Rome, helped him with the purchase of numerous further paintings and classical pottery. Lindenau’s collection eventually grew to a total of 180 panel pictures, and to this day it is one of the largest specialist collections of early Italian painting outside Italy.
As early as 1848, Lindenau made the art treasures he had acquired accessible to his fellow citizens. At the Pohlhof, the Lindenau family seat in Altenburg, he had a special building erected to house it, seeing it as a place of public education in the spirit of the Enlightenment. The presentation of the original paintings was supplemented by a small school of arts and crafts, his library, and numerous plaster casts. While he certainly liked the paintings he bought, he acquired and exhibited them primarily, in his own words, ‘to provide instruction for the young and pleasure for the old’. Lindenau was in the service of the king of Saxony in Dresden, and had earned a measure of fame for his involvement in drawing up the kingdom’s first liberal constitution, for re-ordering and opening the royal collections, and not least for his support for the academy of art. In his will, he named the Duchy of Saxe-Altenburg as the heir to his own collections. In fulfilment of his wishes, a magnificent new museum was built in Altenburg 20 years after his death. The building, opened in 1876, was designed by a pupil of Gottfried Semper in the Neo-Renaissance style.
One of the three works is a crucifixion by Bernardo Daddi (above); more about the painting from the exhibition Web site:
This depiction of the Crucifixion with the good centurion on Christ’s left can be assigned on stylistic grounds to the late work of Bernardo Daddi, who is documented as working as a painter in Florence in the period from 1320 to 1348. There he was in charge of a particularly large workshop for panel paintings, probably indeed the city’s most productive. At the start of his career, Daddi was closely involved with Giotto and his workshop. In spite of this influence, his mature style is characterized by originality. The typical features of his art include the harmony and clarity of composition and narrative, interest in spatial phenomena while exhibiting a predilection for large areas of colour, a linear decorative style and a broad luminous palette. The work of renowned masters of the succeeding generation, in particular Maso di Banco and Andrea di Cione (alias Orcagna) testifies to the importance of Daddi’s œuvre to the enrichment of Florentine painting in the first half of the fourteenth century.
This Crucifixion has been preserved with its original frame, a gabled panel with a trefoil arch; it was originally the center panel of a small triptych, a three-part folding altarpiece. Against the gold ground, the tall Cross bisects the panel and also intersects with the elaborately punched ornamental border. The four grieving angels in blue and pink seem to be flying towards the slender body of Christ from a different spatial plane. Via the medium of three scrolls, such as were formerly customary in monumental painting, the protagonists gathered in the lower half of the picture are linked to the crucified Christ in a dialogue – on the left, the Virgin Mary and John, who is comforting the Mother of God by clasping her hand; on the right, the good centurion in a costly garment, his polygonal halo indicating the lesser degree of his saintliness. The red scroll on the right documents the soldier’s moment of recognition: ‘Truly, this was the Son of God’ (Mt. 27: 54), while the blue and red scroll to the left refers to Christ’s care for His mother and John; for the words ‘Woman, behold thy son!’ (John 19: 26) are supplemented by the passage immediately following: ‘Then saith he to the disciple: behold thy mother!’ (John 19: 27).
In addition the following figures, likewise finely differentiated in their facial expressions and interaction, are also witnesses to the event: in the middle, Mary Magdalene in a luminous red garment, on her knees as she embraces the upright of the Cross, and to the sides, slightly in the background, two other Marys, two Pharisees and two soldiers.
The Alte Pinakothek’s collection includes this panel depicting a bishop saint – it would have originally been part of a polyptych and may well have been sawn down (having once been a full length portrait) – more from the Web site:
Together with his workshop, Bernardo Daddi dominated the panel painting of the artistic generation that came after Giotto. His depiction of a bishop with a goldfinch on his hand [above] reveals how sensitively he was able to combine the achievements of the Floren- tine gold-ground painters with qualities deriving from Sienese art, for example linear decorative elements.
from the Web site:
The effect of this Coronation of the Virgin is determined by the dominant, magnificent colour scheme of gold, blue and red. A luminously red mandorla, framed by blue cherubim, forms the immediate background to the event, which is thus strikingly positioned in the heavenly sphere. Christ and the Virgin both wear blue cloaks threaded with gold above golden-yellow undergarments. They are depicted at the moment of coronation, facing each other and, while seated in majesty, they appear to be floating: the absence of any physical thrones within the aureole emphasizes yet again the otherworldly character of the event. In the light of the divine glory, emanating in particular from Christ’s garment, the Virgin, as a submissive bride, receives the crown from the hands of her Son. There is no biblical authority for such an event, but it had been an established pictorial motif since the thirteenth century, and it is depicted here, as was traditional, in such a way that Mary, as the crowned advocate of mankind, embodies the hope of salvation, while the divine ceremony is being carried out in the presence of angels and saints who bear witness to the beatific vision vouchsafed to all believers.
Almost without exception staring fixedly at the crowning ceremony, male and female saints are gathered beneath the mandorla in a semicircle, taking up the whole of the space. Above them on each side are the heads of four angels, who, together with the cherubim, represent the angelic hierarchy. Identifiable among the saints are Peter with the key to Paradise, John the Baptist, Mary Magdalene with a vessel of ointment, and Catherine with the wheel of her martyrdom. Interrupted only by the pale green that gives particular emphasis to the last-named, the coloration of the cloaks of the saints, in accordance with the total composition, is dominated by clear blue, red and yellow.
The narrow gable-topped panel, which has lost its external frame and originally formed the central section of a small triptych, is thought to be the work of an unknown master who was active in Florence in the mid-fourteenth century. The starting-point for the reconstruction of his œuvre was a multi-section altarpiece in San Lucchese in Poggibonsi, destroyed in 1944, hence the master’s conventional appellation. The works attributed to him suggest that at first he was familiar particularly with the art of the two leading Florentine masters, Orcagna and Maso di Banco. His late work then increasingly shows stylistic parallels with the œuvre of Nardo and Jacopo di Cione, as well as Maso di Stefano (alias Giottino). A characteristic feature in this respect is the fine light-and-dark modelling of the figures and their garments, such as we also see in this panel.
from the Web site:
First documented as a member of the Florentine painters’ guild in 1346–48, Puccio di Simone was one of the painters named as the best of their age in a document drawn up in Pistoia in 1349. Two works with Puccio’s signature have survived. Since 1345 he was probably a pupil of Bernardo Daddi, whose workshop in Via Larga he may have taken over after the death of the master in 1348. Apart from a successful few years in the Marche, where, together with Allegretto Nuzi, he executed a Marian altarpiece in Fabriano dated 1354. Puccio was active in Florence until about 1360. His late works evince clear stylistic parallels with the art of Andrea, Nardo and Jacopo di Cione, the brothers who dominated Florentine art in the middle of the century.
What distinguishes Puccio from the art of Daddi and most of his successors is his particular interest in realistic narrative. With the dynamic row of dancing and music-making angels at the foot of the coronation scene, this quality comes out in particularly charming fashion in the Altenburg panel. The heavenly beings, depicted so lifelike in their pale glowing garments, are framed left and right by larger angels in pale green. While the one on the left is blowing one of the bagpipes, the right-hand one is playing a fanfare on a long horn being held high. An angel distinguished both by his size and by a red liturgical cloak and headdress seems to rank above the others in the hierarchy; he is introducing two new members to the ensemble. This motif directly addresses the theme of the reception of the saved into Paradise. The numerous retinue that encircles the throne and stresses the courtly character of the ceremony comprises fourteen saints, led by Peter and John, and a further six angels. They are arranged strictly symmetrically one above the other to the left and right of the magnificent Gothic architecture of the throne, at the same time demonstrating spatial perspective. The angels behold the majestic, monumentally depicted protagonists through the openings in the screens that form the wings of the throne. Here, Puccio is taking up a motif invented by Giotto, which not only defines spatiality, but also reflects the gaze of the beholder, for whom the panel represents a window on to the heavenly sphere beyond. The detailed, richly decorated architecture of the throne, whose pinnacle is adorned by a little tabernacle with a seraph, and the elaboration and meticulousness of the artistic execution, are underscored above all by the varied and delicate ornamentation in gold, which accentuates numerous parts of the depiction. The ornamental splendour is revealed in particular in the deep blue of the cloaks worn by Christ and His mother, and on the red material with its gold threads stretched across the back of the throne.
Two panels, now in York and attributed to Puccio di Simone, are possible candidates for the wings that originally framed this central panel of an altarpiece for private devotions. One shows a throned Madonna and Child, and the Annunciation, and the other the Nativity and Crucifixion of Christ.
There are several, smaller noteworthy museum exhibitions taking place now through the end of the year – this is the first posting. From now through January 10, 2106, Milan’s Palazzo Reale is hosting Giotto, L’Italia an exhibition about the great trecento painter Giotto di Bondone who laid the groundwork for the Italian Renaissance. There are fourteen works on view (mostly panel paintings) reports ANSA:
The 14 works, none of which have ever before been exhibited in Milan, have been placed on large iron altars in semi-darkness: a “poor” context that aims to exalt the beauty of the paintings. Palazzo Reale incorporates the structures of Palazzo di Azzone Visconti, where Giotto in his last years of life painted two mural cycles that have since been lost. In the room on his youth works, there is a fragment of the ‘Maestà della Vergine da Borgo San Lorenzo’ and the ‘Madonna da San Giorgio alla Costa’, which date back to the period of activity between Florence and Assisi. Also exhibited is the nucleus of the ‘Badia Fiorentina’, with the polyptych of the main altar, the panel with God the Father from the Scrovegni chapel and Stefaneschi polyptych, a masterpiece painted for the main altar of St Peter’s Basilica.
The exhibition Web site, unfortunately, is a bit of a mess, with several significant works misidentified. For example, the Polyptych from Bologna (above) is labeled as the Stefaneschi Polyptych (below), which is in the Vatican.
And the Baroncelli Polyptych (below, shown below during installation) is labeled as the Bologna Polyptych.
Nevertheless, if you’re in Milan, this exhibition is well worth the time.
As the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC) notes of the artist:
Giotto’s explorations and innovations in art during the early fourteenth century developed, a full century later, into the Italian Renaissance. Besides making panel paintings, he executed many fresco cycles, the most famous at the Arena Chapel, Padua, and he also worked as an architect and sculptor.
Whereas his Sienese contemporary Duccio concentrated on line, pattern, and shape arranged on a flat plane, the Florentine Giotto emphasized mass and volume, a classical approach to form. By giving his figures a blocky, corporeal character, the artist introduced great three-dimensional plasticity to painting.
The National Gallery (London) says of the artist:
Giotto was the chief liberator of Italian painting from the Byzantine style of the earlyMiddle Ages. He was mainly active in Florence, although he may have been trained in Rome. He also worked in Avignon, Padua and Naples (1328-32).
The part he played in initiating a new phase in Italian painting was recognised byDante his contemporary, and later underlined by Vasari. Giotto’s main surviving fresco cycles are those in the Arena Chapel, Padua [also know as the Scrovegni Chapel, and a few hours east of Milan by Eurostar], which probably date from just before 1305, and those in the Bardi and Peruzzi chapels in Santa Croce, Florence, probably before 1328.
His few undisputed panel paintings include the ‘Ognissanti Madonna’ (Florence, Uffizi). Concentration and gravity are the hallmarks of Giotto’s style, and his figures, notable for their expressive character and three-dimensional weightiness, inhabit convincing architectural spaces.
Christie’s auction house have just announced that Modigliani’s Nu couché (Reclining Nude) (above), estimated to sell for more than $100 million, “will be the centerpiece of a special curated Evening Sale of 20th Century art focused on the theme of The Artist’s Muse,” on Monday November 9, 2015 in New York.
According to their press release:
The painting is one of a series of great female nudes made for Léopold Zboroswki that famously caused a scandal nearly a century ago when they were exhibited at Modigliani’s first and only one-man show at the Galerie Berthe Weill in Paris. Outraged by the content of this show — which caused a crowd to form outside the gallery window where one of Modigliani’s nudes was openly on display — the police demanded the immediate closure of the exhibition.
The upcoming sale this November marks the first time this portrait is appearing at auction. Estimated to exceed $100 million, the portrait is poised to break the standing world auction record of $70.7 million for any work by Modigliani, one of the greatest artists of the 20th century.
Jussi Pylkkänen, Christie’s Global President and Chief Auctioneer comments, “This is quite simply one of the most important paintings I have handled in my long career at Christie’s. There are a very small number of masterpieces that we dream of handling: this magnificent Modigliani has always been one of them. This powerful and noble female nude is a work of timeless beauty and one of the greatest works by the artist. It is a particular honour to be entrusted with the sale of this painting as my own area of expertise has always been the early 20th Century avant-garde, the paintings that shook the foundations of convention.” Mariolina Bassetti, Christie’s Chairman and International Director, Italy, added, “This is the painting that defines Modigliani”.
Originally in the collection of Modigliani’s mentor, friend, and dealer, Léopold Zboroswki, Nu couché (Reclining Nude) has been so widely and frequently published and referred to over the past century that it has become one of the most recognized images of early 20th century painting and certainly represents one of Modigliani’s best known works. It was also previously in the celebrated collection of the late Gianni Mattioli, one of the greatest champions of Italian early 20th Century Modernism, who organized a global tour of his superb Italian Art collection in the 1960s. In the 1950s, this work toured to the Museum of Modern Art in New York where it took pride of place on the cover of the exhibition catalogue.
The painting has also been featured in major museum shows across the globe, including the Palais des Beaux Arts in Brussels, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Musée National d’Art Moderne in Paris, the Tate Gallery and the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the Palazzo Reale in Milan.
The Los Angeles Times reports that as “many as 5,000 high-tech, user-friendly cameras will be distributed to volunteers across Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Turkey, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan and Yemen by the end of the year,” to document the ancient monuments and cultural heritage threatened by ISIS. This initiative by “the Institute for Digital Archaeology, a joint venture of Oxford and Harvard universities” is “to compile an archive of millions of 3-D images of vulnerable heritage sites and other ancient treasures.”
According to the article:
In recent months, the terrorist group Islamic State has destroyed some of most significant historical and archaeological sites in Iraq and Syria.
Some of the ravaged antiquities and cultural monuments date back thousands of years. They include UNESCO World Heritage Sites such as castles and temples.
The stakes were raised in May when Islamic State captured Syria’s ancient city of Palmyra, known for its Roman colonnades and burial site and considered to be one of the world’s most precious architectural treasures.
Last month, the militants used explosives to blow up Palmyra’s Baalshamin Temple, believed to date to the 1st century. And on Monday, analysts with the United Nations’ UNOSAT satellite program confirmed the main building of Palmyra’s 2,000-year-old Temple of Bel had been demolished.
A standout in Sotheby’s July 2014 Old Masters sale in London was this left wing of a diptych by Giovanni da Rimini, the leading 14th century practitioner in the small Italian town of Rimini. The work sold for nearly $9.5 million, but an export hold was placed on it to enable a UK-based institution to purchase the work and prevent it from leaving the country. Now, according to Art Daily, American businessman, collector and philanthropist Ronald S. Lauder has purchased the work for £4,919,000 on behalf of the National Gallery in London. The article states: “The 52.5 x 34.3 cm panel will be loaned to him for his lifetime. It has however been agreed that Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints will return regularly to Trafalgar Square during this period – this will initially be in 2017, and then up to once every three years after that. At the end of the loan the painting will return to the National Gallery permanently.”
The article continues:
National Gallery Director, Sir Nicholas Penny, said: “We are very grateful to Mr Lauder. He has helped us to find an imaginative way of sharing this rare and exquisite painting. His generous gift to the National Gallery, to the British public and to all visitors to this great collection is an act of extraordinary generosity.”
This method of securing works of art, agreed with the approval of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, allows the National Gallery to add major paintings to the collection without using public money at a time when its acquisition budget is extremely limited.
Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints – which is in excellent condition for a work over 700 years old – unites the exquisite detail of late Byzantine icons with a new, more expressive style. Its inclusion in the collection will allow the National Gallery for the first time to demonstrate to its visitors a key moment in European art, when Western painting (as we now know it) with its emphasis on observation and realism, was born.
Giovanni da Rimini was one of a small group of artists who for a short period in the early fourteenth century made the Italian port city of Rimini a centre for some of the most innovative painting in Europe. The art of this period was characterised by its combination of emotional intensity, iconographic originality, and painterly innovation. Surviving paintings by members of the School of Rimini are rare, and paintings by Giovanni – the most talented member of the group – are exceptionally so. This is one of only three easel paintings unanimously ascribed to him (the others are Scenes from the Life of Christ in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Rome, and The Virgin and Child with Five Saints, in the Pinacoteca Comunale, Faenza).
Dr Caroline Campbell, National Gallery Interim Head of the Curatorial Department and National Gallery Curator of Italian Paintings before 1500 said: “Giovanni da Rimini’s ‘Scenes from the Lives of the Virgin and other Saints’ is a transformative acquisition for the National Gallery. This beautiful and unique work, inspired by Byzantine icons as well as the more naturalistic Western European style, means that we’ll be able to give our visitors a different and more engaging start to the remarkable story of painting which is displayed, with unique completeness, on the National Gallery’s walls.”
Cracked walls, crumbling ceilings, inadequate lighting, holes in the marble floors patched with cardboard … One of Italy’s most remarkable museums ,Venice’s Gallerie dell’Accademia, according to Apollo magazine, is in terrible condition; and the photographs are heartbreaking.
The article notes: “[T]he historic galleries on the first floor of the museum are visibly falling to pieces. And the problem is not simply that the disintegrating fabric and other flaws detract from the visitor’s appreciation of the great works on display; or that funding shortages seem to have bred a general malaise. The trouble is so severe – and the steps to remedy it seemingly so casual – that one fears for the safety of the paintings themselves.”
The acquisitions highlights page of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Web site includes a Sacrifice of Iphigenia by the 18th century Bolognese painter Gaetano Gandolfi. According to the museum’s catalogue entry, the painting is “a modello for the ceiling of a small room in Palazzo Gnudi Scagliarini in Bologna (via Riva di Reno 77), the decoration of which was commissioned from the artist in 1789 by Antonio Gnudi, apostolic treasurer for the papal state of Ferrara-Bologna (he was appointed to the position by Pius VI in 1781).”
The painting had disappeared from view and only resurfaced in 2010 when it was sold by the Genoese auction house Wannenes in November 2010 for €295,200 to the Florence, London, and New York-based Moretti Gallery, which more recently sold it to the museum.
According to the museum:
[This] is an outstanding example of Gandolfi’s pictorial imagination and facility with the brush. It is also in exceptional condition and is in a highly original frame that was specially designed for it, quite possibly by Giacomo Rossi, since its proto-Neoclassical character and decorative motifs, combining scallop shells with delicately carved laurel leaves, have close analogies with the stuccowork in the gallery … Nothing is known of the picture’s ownership prior to its publication in 2010, so it cannot be said whether Antonio Gnudi retained the modello for himself, but this would be the obvious explanation for the unusual design of the frame.
Also from the museum’s catalogue entry:
The subject of the modello is the sacrifice of Iphigenia, the daughter of Agamemnon. She lies on the ground near the altar at which she is to be sacrificed as punishment to her father, who had angered Artemis/Diana by killing a deer sacred to the goddess. A priest (Calchas) stands over Iphigenia, his left hand grasping her left arm while in his raised right hand he holds a knife he will use to sacrifice her. A winged cherub, or putto, restrains the priest’s action while above, reclining on a bank of clouds, Artemis/Diana points to the deer that, at the crucial moment, the goddess has provided as a substitute for Iphigenia. The foreground is defined by the helmeted figure of Achilles, who had attempted to intervene to save Iphigenia. His confusion at the goddess’s intervention is expressed by his prostate position, his body twisted backwards with one hand raised. Agamemnon, covering his face with his hand to avoid seeing his daughter sacrificed, is shown in the background. The placement of the figures no less than the foreshortening of the altar beautifully articulate the space with a view to the function of the composition as a ceiling decoration.
One of the intriguing painters of 17th century Naples is the Caravaggesque painter Bernardo Cavallino, to whom is ascribed some 80 paintings, of which less than ten are signed. A recently rediscovered work by the artist was sold to the Musée Fabre in Montpellier, France, by the Paris-based Galerie Canesso, according to the Art Tribune.
The gallery’s write up of the painting states:
The artist’s oeuvre may now be expanded with the rediscovery of this painting, whose dimensions suggest it was either a modello for a large-scale work that remains unidentified or more simply a small-scale picture destined for private devotion. The composition was already known through a painting in the collection of the Banco di Napoli, a work regarded since the Cavallino exhibition of 1985 as “a copy or the work of an imitator”, and this judgement of style remains entirely valid with the appearance of our canvas.
In Italy, his work can be found in the Palazzo Vecchio in Florence, the Brera in Milan, and the Capdimonte including this superb Ecstasy of St. Cecilia.
Another standout is in the National Museum in Warsaw, Poland, The Dream of St. Joseph.
The subject of the picture reflects a renewed interest in the iconography of Saint Joseph during the seventeenth century, when he became one of the favourite saints of popular devotion; in fact the Jesuits accorded him a place in their Trinity. One has to read the apocryphal gospels to find a description of Joseph’s passing from mortal life in the presence of Christ, who comfortingly touches his hands and gestures towards Heaven. The Apocrypha also tells us that Christ sent the Archangels Michael and Gabriel to take Joseph’s soul, for which the Devil was lying in wait. Here, several angels are sketched out in the penumbral gloom, one of them offering Joseph a white lily. The old man’s body is barely covered by a beige blanket that reveals his naked feet and solid carpenter’s hands, placed over one another and slightly exaggerated in size. The only decorative element in this intimate, reflective scene is the two-tone drapery, hanging in deep folds, and arranged along two lines of energy: the horizontal of the bench supporting Joseph’s body and the vertical formed by the figure of Jesus, continued by the extended arm and thumb. Solids take up as much space as voids, and work together to create the simple spirituality such a work sought to evoke. This is a pared-down composition, and the sharply-defined faces and insistence on descriptive elements in the voluminous draperies recall the style of The Dream of Saint Joseph with the Virgin and Child (Warsaw, Muzeum Narodowe) in which the figure of the angel with slender fingers is particularly close to ours.
The extreme, almost porcelain-like refinement of the brushwork suggests our canvas was painted in about 1640, since after this date the artist’s style evolved towards an increased liveliness in the treatment of colour.
De Dominici informs us that Bernardo Cavallino was trained by Massimo Stanzione (1585-1658), and the painting before us offers further evidence of how much his style reflected Neapolitan naturalism of the years 1635-1640: the artist expresses himself through authentic realism rather than displaying the affetti of a restrained sensibility. Within this small format, Cavallino uses a subtle play of chiaroscuro to emphasise the expressive qualities of the faces that barely emerge from the penumbra.
Christie’s Old Master & British painting July 2015 evening sale in London kicked off amid controversy with the withdrawal of six paintings from Russborough House in Ireland, and suffered some major losses when the star lot, a Bellotto of Dresden (below), and three of four heavily promoted works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger failed to sell (below). Seven of the evening’s works came from the Cunningham Collection, of which three failed to find buyers including an Italianate scene by Nicolaes Berchem, a Jan van Goyen dune landscape with figures, and a de Heem still life. The sale grossed £18,993,500, less than half the £39+ million achieved at Sotheby’s the night before, and 18 works went unsold. As Bloomberg’s Katya Kazakina tweeted (below), Christie’s has trailed Sotheby’s in Old Master sales for the past three years.
The sale began with an early Giovanni di Paolo (above) followed by a nicely executed Sano di Pietro (below), embellished with refined punch work (I am, however, still not convinced he is the Osservanza Master). Lot 3, a work by Nicolás Francés (below) that failed to sell this past January at Christie’s in New York, and at roughly the same estimate ($300,000-500,000), sold well below its low estimate of £200,000, hammering for £150,000 (£182,500 with fees). Lot 6, a Studio of Quentin Metsys Madonna of the Cherries lit up the salesroom and shot past its £80,000 high estimate to hammer for £210,000 (£254,500 with fees), but that level of excitement proved fleeting. It was a workmanlike effort to get to the final lot.
An endearing pairing of Jan Brueghel the Elder tondos (in matching, outlandish frames), sold at the low end of its pre-sale estimate. According to the lot notes:
This beautifully preserved pair of panels, which have never before been published, were painted at the outset of Jan Breughel the Elder’s Antwerp career, after a seven year sojourn spent in Italy. He travelled there as a young man of twenty-one in 1589, working first in Naples, then in Rome, under the patronage of Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, and finally in Milan for Cardinal Federico Borromeo. He had returned to Antwerp by October 1596 and the following year registered as a master in the Antwerp guild of painters.
According to the catalogue, “this panel [by Wtewael] stands alone as his only recorded treatment of the Flight into Egypt.” The final paragraph of the entry states:
The work is listed in the catalogue raisonné by Anne Lowenthal, 1986, under catalogue number A29 as ‘having disappeared in November 1963 from owner’s home’. This entry was based on an advertisement in Apollo Magazine, 81, May 1965, p. 409. Christie’s has obtained a certificate from the Art Loss Register confirming that the work is not listed on the Art Loss Register database and the Art Loss Register are not aware of any claims in respect of the work.
There’s great lyricism to the composition and the execution of the figures, so no surprise that it hammered at the top of its £200,000-400,000 estimate – £400,000 (£482,500 with fees).
Then the bevy of Brueghels that bombed began with The Wedding Feast (above). A Jacob Jordaens Hermes entertained by Calypso, kicked some life back into the sale, moving well past it £800,000 to hammer at £1 million (£1,202,500 with fees). Following a good cleaning, this painting should really sing. The aggressive estimate on the Richard Parkes Bonington (below) did not deter the handful of interested bidders and finally hammered at £2.15 million (£2,490,500 with fees), a record at auction for the artist.
And then a Birdtrap, one of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s most frequently produced compositions, came and went unsold. A large El Greco of Christ on the Cross, which had been “in the same Spanish noble collection since 1772” and only resurfaced last year proved another bright spot, soaring past its £1.5 million high estimate to hammer for £2.1 million (£2,484,500 with fees). The Giulio Cesare Procaccini (below), “which has been part of the same Spanish noble collection for nearly three centuries,” was touted in the catalogue as one of the “most important works [of] his extant oeuvre.” That’s a bit much – there are more lyrical, tightly composed and eloquent works by the artist. However, there are several splendid passages so no surprise that it found a new home after all these centuries.
The next Brueghel (above) was sold at Sotheby’s in London on July 7, 2005 for £2,248,000, so its failure marks a notable devaluation. But it was the Bellotto that proved the big heartbreaker of the evening. The auctioneer opened at £5.5 million and “bidding” climbed at £500,000 increments until it hit £7.5 million. He called out that number several times, swept the room with his gaze, before declaring the work unsold.
Sotheby’s 57-lot sale of Old Master & British paintings sale in July, which pulled in more than £39.3 million, saw a record-breaking price for a work by Lucas Cranach the Elder, but a whopping 20 of the lots failed to sell.
The sale opened with a Harrowing of Hell that had been given to the delightfully idiosyncratic Herri Met de Bles, but is now Leiden School, circa 1530 – an augury of the evening, it fell flat at £65,000 against a £70,000-90,000 estimate. The Corneille de Lyon Portrait of a Gentleman (above), which according to the catalogue “is the prime version of Corneille’s three portraits of a gentleman identified as René de Batarnay, Comte du Bouchage,” saw considerable interest and made a healthy £190,000 (£233,000 with fees), against a £120,000-180,000 estimate. Pre-sale estimates do not include the fees/buyer’s premiums that are added to the winning bids/hammer prices.
The Brueghel Winter Landscape with Skaters sold for $2.9 million at Sotheby’s in New York in January 2007; it’s one of ten to twelve known versions, but despite being “beautifully preserved,” it hammered below it £1 million low estimate for £900,000 (£1,085,000 with fees or $1,674,264 – a substantial devaluation over the past eight years). This was followed by a Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger stiff half-length portrait of Henry VIII, one of nine works from Castle Howard (the photogenic country house featured in Brideshead Revisited), estimated at £800,000-1,200,000, it hammered at £800,000 (£965,000 with fees).
Next up, Cranach’s The Bocca della Verità (The Mouth of Truth) (above), subject of a pre-sale video and said to be “amongst his most important works remaining in private hands today,” saw healthy bidding that took it to a hammer just over its £8 million high estimate for £8.2 million (£9,333,000 with fees).
One telephone bidder energized the sale room and captured the Bol portrait (above) and the Heda still life (below). Each was estimated at £2-3 million and bidding for each started at £1.3 million. The Bol, another Castle Howard painting “only ever seen on the open market once before in its history,” was the subject of great interest and saw bidding soar over it’s £3 million to hammer for £4.5 million (£5,189,000 with fees). The Heda hammered smack in the middle of its estimate, making £2.5 million (£2,949,000 with fees).
After several more lots tanked, including the Fragonard (above), the Bellotto did find a new home, though the hammer price of £2.15 million (£2,557,000 with fees), was below the low estimate (and amazingly, the painting almost hammered for only £1.8 million).
Interest in the Tiepolo family portrait (above) was also less than enthusiastic with the painting finally hammering at £2.4 million (£2,837,000 with fees), a hair under the pre-sale estimate. This was followed by Workshop of Gentile Bellini double portrait (which I find uninteresting) that whipped past its £500,000 high estimate to make £800,000 (£965,000 with fees), and a handsome, previously unpublished Domenico Beccafumi Holy Family, which had been in the same family collection for more than 150 years. It easily surpassed its £700,000 high estimate to make £900,000 (£1,085,000 with fees).
The Fede Galizia (above) of 1607, “the earliest extant Italian still life that can be securely dated,” according to the catalogue entry, was also a salesroom favorite, hammering for £1.3 million (£1,565,000 with fees). The painting is notable for being the artist’s “only signed and dated still life and the likely prototype for a series of replicas and versions.”
Several other works followed and failed including Ambrosius Benson’s Crucifixion and Adriaen Isenbrant’s triptych of The Adoration of the Magi – this did not impact the dampen the enthusiasm for another early 16th century work by the Nuremburg Master (below), which managed to hit its low estimate of £250,000 (£305,000 with fees); but the following work from the same period, a Cranach-like Lucretia by the Monogramist I.W., which sold for $425,000 at Sotehby’s Old Master sale in New York in January 2013, fell flat.
With the current exhibition of works by Joachim Wtewael at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, I was particularly curious to see how this small and pleasing Mars, Venus and Cupid would do. The oil on copper opened at £500,000 and settled at the low end of its £800,000-1,200,000 estimate, netting £800,000 ($965,000 with fees), making it perhaps the most expensive work per centimeter in the sale.
The large-scale, full-length portraits of John, the 3rd Baron Monson and his wife Elizabeth Capell, lady Monson were being sold by the Monson family. The 3rd Baron commissioned his portrait from Italian painter Pompeo Batoni mid-way through the Baron’s four-year-long Grand Tour, according to the auction house’s video. The portrait of Lady Monson was executed four years later by the noted English painter George Romney when the newly married Lady Capell was 25. Both portraits have been in the family for more than 240 years the video tells us. And neither sold.
The sale did end on a high note with the final lot, John Martin’s cinematic 1841 painting The Celestial City and the River of Bliss, sold within its £2-3 million estimate for £2.3 million (£2,725,000 with fees), but Sotheby’s had to go through what the aptly titled opening lot called the Harrowing on Hell to get there.
According to the Antiques Trade Gazette, “This still life by Dutch artist Cornelis de Heem (1631-95) has been returned to its historical home, The National Trust’s Dyrham Park in Gloucestershire. The painting was bought through London dealer Johnny Van Haeften for £574,000.”
The article continues:
William Blathwayt (c.1649-1717), the builder of Dyrham Park, was secretary at war to William III and frequently visited the Low Countries throughout the 1690s, accompanying the king on his military campaigns. A connoisseur of art, as well as having interests in gardening, music, and architecture, he probably acquired the de Heem, A Still Life of Flowers and Fruit arranged on a Stone Plinth in a Garden, dated to 1686-89, on one of these tours.
The painting remained at Dyrham Park for about 260 years until 1956 when many items from the property were sold at Sotheby’s (the de Heem bringing £1250). It was in an English private collection until it was acquired by van Haeften in 2013.
Rupert Goulding, National Trust curator, said: “It is always exciting when an item from an original collection can come back to the place for which it was first acquired and we are indebted to the organisations and individuals whose generous donations allowed us to bring the de Heem home to Dyrham.”
Since the 1956 sale, it has been the National Trust’s policy to reacquire items associated with Dyrham, in particular high-quality 17th-century works of art associated with Blathwayt.
The first monographic exhibition of the great Utrecht-based artist Joachim Wtewael opens at the National Gallery of Art on June 28, 2015 (through October 4). According to the museum’s press release:
Pleasure and Piety: The Art of Joachim Wtewael (1566–1638) includes nearly 50 of his finest paintings on canvas, copper, and panel, as well as selected drawings. Ranging from portraits and moralizing biblical scenes to witty mythological compositions, these works underscore the artist’s reputation as a remarkable storyteller.
“Wtewael was one of the most important Dutch artists at the turn of the 17th century, but unlike some of his contemporaries—Hendrick Goltzius, Abraham Bloemaert, and Cornelis van Haarlem—Wtewael has not been the subject of a solo exhibition,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “This exhibition sheds light on Wtewael’s artistic excellence, allowing him to reclaim his rightful place among the great masters of the Dutch Golden Age.”
The exhibition presents the artist’s finest works, selected by the curatorial team from the 100 or so known paintings and drawings in private and public collections in Europe and the United States. “Pleasure” and “piety” are constant motifs in these works, which were rendered from the imagination and from life—two approaches to Dutch painting at the time. The exhibition covers three galleries and is organized thematically.
Wtewael painted compelling portraits of family members and close associates, and his ability to capture the likeness and character of a sitter is exceptional. The exhibition opens with pendant portraits (both 1601) of Wtewael and his wife, Christina, on loan from the Centraal Museum Utrecht. In his Self-Portrait, Wtewael holds his paintbrushes, while a Latin motto on a wall plaque declares that he seeks “Not Glory, but Remembrance.” In her portrait, Christina points to her husband with one hand and holds a prayer book or Bible with the other; a coin scale on the nearby table alludes to her thrifty management of the household. Several other portraits are also on view in the first gallery, along with large-scale biblical and mythological scenes, including The Death of Procris (c. 1595–1600) from the Saint Louis Art Museum and Lot and His Daughters (c. 1597–1600) from the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
Nearly one-third of Wtewael’s extant paintings are on copper, a smooth shiny support that yields intense luminosity. Popular in the late 16th and early 17th century, paintings on copper appealed to an elite clientele that valued their exquisite delicacy. Wtewael’s talent for executing these meticulous, miniature scenes was celebrated by both critics and patrons, including Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, who owned one work by Wtewael, most likely The Golden Age (1605) from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Among Wtewael’s wittiest mythologies are his depictions of Vulcan, god of fire, catching his wife Venus, goddess of love, and Mars, god of war, in bed and exposing their adulterous affair. Though a pious Calvinist, Wtewael depicted the lovers’ predicament on several copper sheets. In each of the three versions on view, Vulcan stands next to a lavish bed having just ensnared the couple in a bronze net, while several other gods look on. Small enough to be tucked away, these jewel-like works were kept private and brought out only for those who would appreciate the erotic subject.
Wtewael also made large narrative paintings that focus on a single figure, including the sensuous and evocative Perseus andAndromeda (1611) from the Louvre in Paris, and the remarkableMartyrdom of SaintSebastian (1600) from the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City.
Wtewael made many sophisticated variations of his own compositions, raising questions about his workshop practice. He may have made these versions for his own satisfaction rather than for the market, since a number of his paintings remained in his possession until his death.
Two versions of The Annunciation to the Shepherds (made in or about 1606), from the Rijksmuseum and Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation, illustrate the passage from the gospel of Luke (2:8–14) in which shepherds, watching their flock by night, are visited by an angel who bears tidings of the birth of Christ. Subtle differences between the two compositions exist, but infrared reflectography made during the recent restoration of the Rijksmuseum picture reveal that the two paintings were initially nearly identical.
The exhibition concludes with a selection of Wtewael’s exquisite drawings. Among them is a series of four drawings related to a commission he received to paint 12 glass panels for the town hall of Woerden, west of Utrecht. The series depicts the early stages of the Dutch Revolt, a struggle for independence from Spain dating from 1568 to1648. The designs on view chronicle the events through the tribulations and triumphs of the Dutch Maiden, the allegorical personification of the Netherlands.
About the Artist
Wtewael’s career began in his native Utrecht, where he studied with his father, a glass painter. During an extended period of travel to Italy and France he became inspired by the school of Fontainebleau; Wtewael returned to Utrecht in about 1592 and quickly embraced the international mannerist style—one characterized by extreme refinement, artifice, and elegant distortion. Aside from his artistic career, Wtewael was a successful businessman who amassed great wealth from his flax business, as well as real estate and stock equities. An orthodox Calvinist, Wtewael was a loyal supporter of the House of Orange. He was active in local politics, serving on Utrecht’s city council, and was a founding member of the Utrecht artists’ guild in 1611.
Throughout his career, Wtewael remained one of the leading proponents of the international mannerist style. His inventive compositions, teeming with choreographed figures and saturated with pastels and acidic colors, retained their appeal even when most other early 17th-century Dutch artists shifted to a more naturalistic manner of painting. Nevertheless, Wtewael’s paintings were highly regarded during the Dutch Golden Age, but were largely neglected during later centuries. This exhibition reveals the full scope of Joachim Wtewael’s remarkable and fascinating artistic output.
Curators, Catalog, and Related Activities
Arthur K. Wheelock, Jr., is the curator of the exhibition at the National Gallery of Art. His fellow curators are Liesbeth M. Helmus, Centraal Museum Utrecht, and James Clifton, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, who is also director of the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation. Anne W. Lowenthal, the foremost expert on Wtewael’s paintings, is the exhibition’s consulting scholar.
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.
UPDATE 2: The sale of the Russborough House paintings has been postponed according to the publication Business & Leandership and quoted Alfred Beit Foundation (ABF) chairman, Judith Woodworth:
[T]he foundation had received “a generous proposal on behalf of some private Irish donors for the possible purchase of artworks”.
“In order to explore this promising offer and conscious of the request of the Minister for the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Heather Humphreys for a postponement, I have taken the decision to propose to the ABF board that the sale is postponed, that the foundation enters into negotiations with Christie’s to arrange that and remove the artworks from the July sale.”
She said the foundation has been “acutely conscious” of the concern of the public and comments made since the sale was announced. And she added that it had also remained open to considering any new proposals or options.
“We continue to work to identify any proposal which could produce a funding source for the future maintenance and upkeep of Russborough and also meet the public’s understandable desire to keep the works in Ireland.
“As we have explained to Government, our stakeholders and in our statements, Russborough has run out of resources. The foundation had to take the regrettable decision to sell assets, as Sir Alfred and Lady Beit had to before us.
“The perilous financial status of Russborough and the growing need to fund repairs, restoration and improvements to the fabric of the building and surrounding grounds make it imperative to raise substantial funds.”
According to Woodworth, Russborough needs up to €15m to ensure its long-term financial stability, as well as continuous capital investment.
She added that if the current proposal or other proposals do not reach a satisfactory conclusion by October 2015 and Russborough is unable to raise the required funds, the only option in order to avoid a financial crisis at the house may be to resume the proposed sales.
UPDATE 1: The forthcoming sale of Old Masters from Russborough House has become controversial and that has led to the removal of a Rubens oil sketch from the sale, according to the Irish Times.
ORIGINAL POST: 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.”