Tiepolo, Vernet, Meléndez and El Greco lead Sotheby’s July 2013 Old Masters sale – UPDATED with sale results.
UPDATE: Complete list of sale results.
ORIGINAL POST: Sotheby’s July 3, 2013 London sale of Old Master paintings includes this splendid panoramic landscape by the French 18th century artist Claude-Joseph Vernet. According to the catalogue notes, the work has been rarely offered on the market or displayed:
This magnificent painting is Claude-Joseph Vernet’s only recorded view of his birthplace, the city of Avignon … Rarely seen in public and, subsequently, little studied, it was described by Giuliano Briganti in 1970 as “one of Vernet’s finest views.” The painting was last offered at auction more than 200 years ago and since then has appeared in public only once when exhibited by Arthur Tooth & Sons of London in 1954. Until that time it had been known to scholars only through Pietro Antonio Martini’s engraving of 1782. The reappearance of this important painting is not just of great significance to scholars of Vernet himself, but also to the study of 18th century view painting at large. It is, too, an important document detailing the appearance of the rarely depicted city of Avignon in the mid-18thcentury, seat of the Papacy in the 14th century, and little changed to this day.
Wtewael painted several versions of Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan and this one, according to the catalogue notes, is the largest on copper. Another version appeared last year at Christie’s (other know versions are also shown in this blog’s posting). Compositionally, it’s not as tight as other versions and the physiognomy is a little off in some passages. Nevertheless, the painting does delight:
Four other versions of the subject on copper are known: one in the Mauritshuis, The Hague, is dated 1601 [below]; another in the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, is datable circa 1606-10 [below]; another sold London, Christie’s, 3 July 2012, lot 8 (for £4,100,000) is dated 1610 [below]; and a small oval is recorded in 1933 but not otherwise known.
The subject is treated very similarly in all versions. In a prior and separate scene Vulcan is seen through a door in the back fashioning a fine metal mesh. In the foreground Mercury, who envied Mars his relationship with Venus, reveals the two of them interrupted from their union under an elaborate canopy while Cupid, who had instigated the affair, hovers above. Vulcan, wearing the same hat in the Getty and ex-Christie’s version, readies his mesh. Other gods, not always the same from version to version, jostle for a view. Here Ceres pulls back the rearmost drape and Apollo swoops down from above to peel back another.
According to the catalogue notes about these six very large works:
These magnificent monochrome frescoes commemorating the glories and achievements of the Porto family from the eleventh to the seventeenth centuries were painted around 1760 by Giandomenico Tiepolo for the Palazzo da Porto Festa in Vicenza which had been built by Andrea Palladio. The scion of a wealthy patrician family, Giambattista Orazio Porto (1730-1816) commissioned the artist and his father Giambattista to collaborate in the decoration of three of the palazzo’s main rooms.
The picture is a reduced variant of a painting (see Fig. 1) from the artist’s celebrated commission of some 44 still lifes produced for the Prince of Asturias (the future Charles IV of Spain) to adorn his cabinet of national history, a private museum in his quarters in the Royal Palace, Madrid, the majority of which are today in the Prado Museum.
Technical analysis carried out to the present work prior to its inclusion in the 2009/10 Meléndez exhibition revealed that, in keeping with other pictures in the artist’s oeuvre, the canvas was prepared with a double priming, each layer of a slightly different reddish hue and the top one made up of finer particles. The artist seems to have painted the still life elements first, leaving the background in reserve, as attested by areas of ground that can be seen around the contours of some of the fruit. A lighter, more greyish colour was then applied over the darker background to create a variable atmospheric effect.
The Ruysdael of Nymegen is a classic and provided it has recently been on the market it should do well. From the catalogue:
Like his near contemporary Jan van Goyen, Salomon van Ruysdael’s landscapes present a unified view of land, water and sky, often as here with a town. Ruysdael’s art had, like Van Goyen’s, evolved through stages of tonal landscape painting with different strictly muted colours predominating, but by the late 1640s they were travelling in different directions: Van Goyen towards a more textural and expressive tonality in his last works; Ruysdael towards a more settled style that was to endure for several decades, in which stronger light animates his scenes allowing a much greater range of colours.
This is a very orthodox handling by Giovanni da Milano of a very orthodox composition, but solid and deftly wrought. As the catalogues notes: “Typical of Giovanni’s style are the elegant forms of the present Crucifixion and the relative absence of extravagant decoration found in many of his contemporaries’ work.”
A native of Lombardy, born in the town of Caversaccio near Como, it is not clear why Giovanni styled himself as being from Milan. He spent most of his career in Tuscany and in 1366 was granted Florentine citizenship, though the first recorded evidence places him there by 1346 when he is listed as a member of the colony of foreign painters living in Florence as “Johannes Jacobi de Commo”. Despite his origins as an outsider, his success in Florence was significant, as demonstrated by the important commissions he won in 1366, which included the great altar of the Ognissanti, today in the Uffizi, and later that year he was called upon to complete the frescoes in the Rinuccini Chapel in the sacristy of Santa Croce in Florence.
Finally, we have these two cloying works by El Greco (have I betrayed a bias?). The Saint Dominic in Prayer comes from the collection of Gustav Rau (as does the suite of six Tiepolos above) and sale proceeds will benefit the German Committee for UNICEF. The paintings are included in this post because they featured works in the sale, but the less said about them the better.