£7 Million Steen Tanks at Christie’s July 2013 Old Masters sale – UPDATED with sale results
UPDATE: A rocky night at Christie’s with the star lot, Jan Steen’s Easy Come, Easy Go not going anywhere. Another work with a seven figure estimate, Poussin’s Hannibal Crossing the Alps on an Elephant, also bombed as did clunky works by Ludger Tom Ring II (a still life), Antonio Joli (a drab Gardens of the Palazzo Barberini), and Belotto (an architectural capriccio). By contrast, work by Ribera (below), Rubens, Titian, Abel Grimmer, Canaletto (below), and even a cumbersome Brueghel Payment of Tithes went well above their high estimates. Here’s the complete list of results.
ORIGINAL POST: The July 2, 2013 sale of Old Masters at Christie’s in London has more than a handful of interesting and notable paintings, beginning with the Jan Steen (above) being sold by the Lowther Estate Trust. According to The Art Newspaper, the Steen has not been on the market for 250 years and the decision to sell is recent. The article also outlines a bitter family feud that may be at the heart of that decision:
The painting, which is being sold by the Lowther Estate Trust, was to have been the centrepiece of a new picture gallery that is being set up at Lowther Castle, in the Lake District in the north of England. A spokesman for the estate trust says that until recently there was no intention to sell the Steen, but there are now “changed circumstances”. He was unwilling to divulge what these are. The work was last sold in 1763, at an auction in The Hague, where it was bought for the 1st Earl of Lonsdale. The painting was on loan to the Walker Art Gallery in Liverpool from 2010 until last September. …
Lowther Castle, near Penrith, in Cumbria, was occupied by the Lonsdale family until 1936 and it was later used by the military during the war. The neo-Gothic mansion quickly fell into disrepair and the roof was demolished in 1957, leaving the building as a ruin. In 2010, the castle ruins and grounds were leased to a charity, the Lowther Castle and Garden Trust, which is opening it up as a visitor attraction, with £9m from European and UK public development funds. … The restoration of Lowther Castle follows the resolution of a bitter family dispute. Just before the seventh Earl of Lonsdale died in 2006, he partially disinherited his eldest son, who had accused his father of sexual abuse. The eighth Earl then initiated legal action against his father’s fourth wife and other family members and companies. In 2009 the eighth earl dropped the case, and it then became easier to proceed with the opening up of Lowther Castle to visitors.
Lot 2 by Bitino da Faenza intrigues me. It has a certain regional primitiveness reminiscent of Riminese painters, the treatment of the cross is fascinating, and the punch work halos are wonderful. According to the catalogue notes: “As Professore Andrea de Marchi recognised, this panel, previously associated with the Bolognese master Simone dei Crocifissi, is by Bitino da Faenza, who moved from his native town to Rimini, where he is recorded by 1398 and died in 1427.”
Lot 4 by Bernardino Orsi is both odd and exquisite. Compositionally, it’s peculiar with the juxtaposition of the triangular cluster of delightfully articulated figures on the left, then the awkward void in the center, followed by the figure at right. Since this is one from a group of paintings about Jason and the Golden Fleece, it may feel more compositionally balanced when placed with the other pictures in the series. Nevertheless, it is richly detailed and poetic even in violence. There are extensive catalogue notes includes with the following:
Father of the better-known Lelio Orsi, Bernardino came from Collecchio Parmese and in 1485 supplied an altarpiece for the Boiardi family at Reggio. He and his family moved to Bologna in 1488, but he may already have executed the striking altarpiece of Saint Jerome in the Castelli Chapel of the church of San Petronio at Bologna, which postdates 1484, and has also in the past been regarded as an early work by Costa. That the Saint Jerome is by the same hand as the Argonaut series is demonstrated by similarities between this and the Padua panel, and Bacchi and de Marchi point to equally compelling parallels between the Paris panel and Orsi’s signed altarpiece of 1501. The Argonaut scenes, conceived while Orsi worked in the ambience of Ercole [de’ Roberti] and, indeed, the youthful [Lorenzo] Costa, and the equally individualAtalanta and Hippomenes (Berlin; Bacchi and de Marchi, fig. 33) demonstrates that he was as inventive and eccentric a master as his better-known son.
This head study is a jewel and provided it isn’t thoroughly shopped out and in horrible condition, it should do very well.
This is a standard issue and classically beautiful still life by Heda. According to the catalogue notes:
Along with his elder contemporary Pieter Claesz., the Haarlem-born Heda is credited with the invention of the monochrome still life, in which he adopted a narrow palette of greys, ochres, and browns with silvery highlights, and focused on simple everyday repasts, such as breakfast or ontbijtje. … By virtue of their number and popularity in Dutch Golden Age paintings, still lifes with ham earned their own designation in seventeenth-century inventories as hammetjes. Yet despite the apparent simplicity of the foodstuff, the ostentatiousness of the metal ware vessel, with the finely engraved goblet and the glorious silver-gilt cup towering over the composition, links the picture to another still life genre, the pronk or sumptuous still life. This lavishness is typical of Heda’s later work of the 1640s and 1650s, an evolution possibly influenced by the rich banketjes of Jan Davidsz. de Heem and Willem Kalf.
The geometrical demonstrativeness of the van Vliet is softened by small figure groupings, the broom resting against the pillar and the freshly dug grave in the left foreground.It’s immediately evident, as the catalogue notes indicate, that this “composition once formed part of a much larger panel” – and what a sight that must have been:
[V]an Orley was inspired by developments in the art of Italy, and his influence did much to introduce many ideals of the Italian Renaissance into northern art. Like his Florentine contemporaries and like Rubens a century later, van Orley championed the artist’s role as an inventor of images rather than a mere craftsman, creating designs for tapestry and stained glass as well as for paintings. The text running along the hem of the Virgin’s dress can be precisely identified as belonging to the Stabat Mater, a thirteenth-century hymn evoking the emotional state of the Mother of God as she stands beneath the Cross on which Her Son has been crucified: Stabat Mater dolorosa iuxta Crucem lacrimosa, dum pendebat Filius. O quam tristis et afflicta fuit Illa benedicta, Mater Unigeniti! (‘At the Cross Her station keeping, stood the mournful Mother weeping, close to Jesus to the last. ‘O how sad and sore distressed was that Mother, highly blest, of the sole-begotten One’. Trans. Fr. E. Caswall, Liturgia Horarum). Described as one of the seven greatest Latin hymns, the Stabat Mater is closely associated with the rise of the Franciscan movement and is variously attributed to Pope Innocent III (1160/1-1216), Saint Bonaventure (1221-1274) or Fra Jacopone da Todi c. 1230-1306). Sung during the liturgy of Our Lady of Sorrows, the hymn was well known by the end of the fourteenth century, and its use was widespread in Europe.
This is an odd Cranach (whose output was mostly odd). There passages that are beautifully wrought such as the game birds in the lower right corner, the lower half of Saint Jerome’s red cape and a goodly amount of the foliage. Then there’s the lion/sheep dog. What is that animal?
This treatment of the Tower of Babel treats the tower as a subordinate narrative, which I believe is atypical for this genre. I find the painting quite delightful. From the catalogue notes:
The present painting, last seen in public in 1927, is a highly characteristic and well-preserved work by Pieter Schoubroeck, who was born in a small village near Frankenthal. His parents married in Frankenthal in 1567 and Pieter must have been born shortly after. … Most depictions of the Tower of Babel painted during the last decades of the sixteenth and the early seventeenth centuries are indebted to Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s rendering of the theme from 1563, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. However, with its strong emphasis on human activity, the composition of the present painting seems to go back to paintings by Herri met de Bles and Lucas van Gassel from the 1530s and 1540s. Especially Bles’s fine depictions of landscapes with metal foundries, such as the ones today in Graz and Florence, must have been important sources of inspiration for Schoubroeck.
I’ve included this picture only because it has so recently been on the market. According to the provenance: “Anonymous sale; Christie’s, New York, 26 January 2011, lot 20 ($1,426,500 to the present owner).” This will have to make the high estimate for the present owner to recoup the purchase price. Good luck.
This Ribera is the painting in the sale with which I am most interested. It’s mysterious, beautifully composed and very intimate. From the catalogue notes:
With the exception of its appearance in a short-running exhibition in the Parque del Retiro, Madrid, in the winter of 1981-1982, the picture has remained inaccessible to other scholars until the present day. Despite the enthusiastic reaction of [scholar Matías] Díaz Padrón, its subsequent obscurity has led to its often being listed as one of numerous copies after a long-lost original, one of a set of twelve philosophers painted for Ribera’s major patron in the period 1629-1631, Don Fernando Enríquez Afán de Ribera, 3rd Duke of Alcalá, Viceroy of Naples (and later of Sicily, 1632-1636). … The precise meaning of this mysterious, moving image, showing a middle-aged man, dressed in ragged and tattered garb, gazing pensively into a mirror — the murky reflection in which gives us our only understanding of his features — has given rise to a number of interpretations, as has been seen, ranging from an allegory of sight to a putative self-portrait by Caravaggio. The daring and unusual composition, with the figure effectively turning his back on the viewer, is comparable to Ribera’s early, Roman-period Saint Gregory the Great (circa 1613-1615; Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica, Palazzo Barberini).