Rediscovered $8.3 Million Claude Lorrain leads Christie’s December 2013 Evening Sale of Old Masters
POST SALE UPDATE: A recently rediscovered Claude Lorrain (above) that sold for £5,066,500 (£4.45 million hammer price plus buyer’s premium), was the highlight in an otherwise unremarkable sale. Of the 46 lots offered, none were withdrawn and 12 failed to sell. One work that got bidders’ blood flowing was Marten van Cleve I’s Saint George’s Day (below), estimated at £200,000 – £300,000 ($320,400 – $480,600). It opened at £160,000 and rapidly shot up to £560,000, before making a hammer price of £620,000, more than doubling its high estimate, or £746,500 with the buyer’s premium ($1,224,260).
ORIGINAL POST: Compared against the great Honthorst just acquired the National Gallery of Art, the offerings at Christie’s Old Masters Evening Sale in London on December 3 look a bit thin, though there are a handful of pictures worth watching, several of which the auction house claims are recently rediscovered. The lead lot, by estimate, is a Claude Lorrain harbor scene (above), and it is about as Claudian in terms of composition and luminosity as they get. The lot notes trumpet this work as a great rediscovery – the composition had been known through variants, including one until now considered autograph:
The reappearance of The Embarkation of Saint Paula from the Smith collection at Hambleden Manor, Buckinghamshire constitutes the most important rediscovery of a painting by Claude Lorrain in more than a generation. It is not that the Hambleden Claude was entirely unrecorded, but it was inaccessible to scholars and students of Claude’s works – even through photographic reproduction – and had been unseen by the public since the late 19th century, when it was last exhibited at the Royal Academy … [T]he careful examination of the present painting, undertaken only in the last few months after it was withdrawn from a sale (Colefax and Fowler. Then and Now. Collection from Hambleden Manor, Lushill and 39 Brook Street, Mayfair; Christie’s, London, 10 July 2013), has shown the Hambleden painting to be – beyond question – not only Claude’s unique autograph version of the composition, but a masterpiece of the artist’s full maturity … Professor Marcel Rothlisberger, doyen of Claude studies and author of the catalogue raisonnéof the artist’s paintings … declared it a ‘great Claude’, concluding that it is ‘a truly sensational discovery, all the more so as the picture is in such wonderful condition, luminous, visible down to every detail, complete with an elaborate figure scene, the brilliant sun, rippling waves, a Roman temple, trees and rocks’ (written correspondence, 19 September 2013).
The lot notes claim this work is in a “perfect state of preservation.” This quintessentially de Heem, an exuberant overabundance of flora and fruit. No dull, moralizing and ponderous memento mori here, this is straight up eye candy.
Marten van Cleve could be an extremely accomplished painter, but I don’t think this is a picture with which to make that claim – it’s a dense composition, but broadly painted. Nevertheless, to the lot notes:
This exceptionally large treatment of the theme of the village kermesse, a subject which enjoyed widespread popularity in the art of Early Modern Northern Europe, particularly in the Dutch and Flemish tradition, has long been associated with the world of Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Sold as ‘School of Pieter Brueghel II’ in 1974, the work was published Dr. Klaus Ertz as ‘very close to the early pictures of Pieter II’ (‘Sehr nahe bei den frühen Pieter II-Bildern’): ‘the hand is that of another painter, unknown to us, who must have painted this wonderful composition towards the end of the sixteenth century, in the immediate proximity of Pieter II’s early compositions. We cannot exclude that Pieter II was himself influenced by this enormous painting’ (loc. cit., p. 881).
More recently, Dr. Ertz has identified this as the work of the earlier artist Marten van Cleve, a contemporary of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder. This makes it a fascinating rediscovery, an exciting addition to the oeuvre of this important sixteenth-century artist, a key ‘missing link’ in the development of Flemish painting of the Northern Renaissance.
A more interesting work is his Blind Leading the Blind (below):
The Brueghel Birdtrap is one of dozens of variants of this subject, as noted in the catalogue entry:
This picture is an exquisite and beautifully preserved example of what is arguably the Brueghel dynasty’s most iconic invention. With no fewer than 127 versions of varying quality surviving, The Bird Trap is one of the most enduringly popular images in Western art. The sheer number of these extant examples suggests that many would have been workshop productions. By contrast, the present work is one of only 45 panels to have been recognised as autograph by Klaus Ertz, the leading expert on the artist, who praised its ‘remarkable quality and perfect state of conservation, certainly [a work] by the hand of the master himself’ (K. Ertz, Breughel-Brueghel, Antwerp, 1997, p. 369).
Also in the rediscovery department is the van de Velde II maritime scene. According to the lot notes:
[T]his picture has been untraced since it last appeared at auction in the Bernonville sale in Paris in 1881. Until now it has been known only by virtue of an engraving made by H. Toussaint which served as an illustration in the 1881 sale catalogue. On this basis, Robinson included the picture in his catalogue raisonné, surmising that: ‘Until the original picture has been found, it can only be assumed that it was an early work by the Younger painted for the Van de Velde studio, c.1655.’ M.S. Robinson, A catalogue of the paintings of the Elder and the Younger Willem van de Velde, London, 1990, I, p. 310, no. 840.
Of this painting the lot notes include the following:
Traditionally regarded by connoisseurs as a masterpiece by the greatest of all Dutch artists, in recent years, along with many other Rembrandt paintings from the years 1643-45, the status of Man with a Sword has been disputed, with attributions made to various pupils of Rembrandt rather than to the master himself. Recently the subject of a thorough re-appraisal, this painting sheds fascinating new light on Rembrandt’s studio practice during one of the most enigmatic and least well-documented phases of his career. Through a process of scientific investigation, which had never before been conducted on the picture, the removal of an old obscuring varnish, and fresh scholarly analysis, Man with a Sword has now been acknowledged as a reliably signed and dated portrait which was conceived by Rembrandt and then fashioned into a historical portrait or tronie by another artist active in the Rembrandt workshop.
Perhaps this altarpiece fragment will be reunited with its related panels, then we’ll know more about the iconography and intent. It”s an intriguing picture and the punch work haloes are wonderful. The lot notes contain the following about the artist’s life:
Lorenzo was a painter-businessman who established a practice which lasted for three generations: he worked closely with his son, Bicci di Lorenzo, who inherited the workshop that he in turn passed on to his own son, Neri di Bicci, in the mid-15th century. So cohesive was the workshop practice that it is often difficult to distinguish the hand of Lorenzo from that of the precociously talented Bicci di Lorenzo.
What’s unclear from the catalogue notes is whether there is agreement about the authorship. The only bibliographic reference, Bernard Berenson’s Italian Pictures of the Renaissance, Florentine School (1963) lists the work as by Spinello Aretino. No other scholars are cited.
Jan Breughel the Elder – the Velvet Brueghel – authored this small and entertaining Temptation of St. Anthony. According to the lot notes:
This Temptation of Saint Anthony is a rare example of the subject by Jan Brueghel, who despite a prolific oeuvre comprising nearly 400 works is only known to have turned to this theme on eight occasions (other examples are now in Kassel, Museumslandschaft Hessen Kassel; New Haven, Yale University Museum; Munich, Alte Pinakothek; Vienna, Kunsthistoriches Museum; Italy, private collection; and France, private collection). This picture is closest in overall composition to a slightly larger copper dated 1604 now in the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister in Dresden.
How will the Christie’s Payment of Tithes fare following the November 13, 2103 sale at Artcurial of an earlier version of the work (below), which carried an estimate of €300,000-400,000 and sold for €1,660,362? Of that painting, Artcurial’s press release noted:
This Payment of the Tithe, in exceptional condition, is considered the earliest version of this famous subject among the score known. Its signature is also of particular interest: around 1616 the artist altered the spelling of his name from BRVEGHEL to BREVGHEL, and this panel is unique among versions of the Payment of the Tithes as the only one to be signed BRVEGHEL.
Ot the present lot, the catalogue notes:
CONSERVED FOR MORE THAN 200 YEARS in the private collection of a single family, until the death of the 8th comte de Gouvion Saint-Cyr in 2012, this fine version of the Payment of the Tithes, sometimes also known as theCountry Lawyer, first came to the attention of scholars of the artist in 2003 … At this time parts of the painted surface were obscured by old overpainting and a dulled varnish, preventing full appreciation of its merits. A recent restoration has unveiled an exceptionally well-preserved original paint layer.
UPDATE: This lot was sold to NY-based dealer Otto Naumann who had the work cleaned by London restorer Henry Gentle in time for TEFAF 2014 in Maastricht, according to the New York Times. Asking price: $3.5 million. A subsequent New York Times story says the work did sell to “an unidentified collector said to be American.”
The cataloguers for this lot were very enthusiastic:
THIS PREVIOUSLY UNRECORDED WORK CONSTITUTES a major rediscovery for the oeuvre of Bernardo Strozzi, and is one of the best examples of a favourite subject for the artist.
In the most recent edition of her catalogue raisonné for Strozzi (Rome, 1995, pp. 136-9, nos. 243-260), Luisa Mortari identifies two separate compositional types used by the artist, for whom the subject seems to have held a special appeal throughout his career. The first type is identifiable with the present composition, while the second is of a condensed format, focusing even more closely on the three figures, the tabletop and the emotionally charged space between them … The first type, matching the present composition, is represented by no fewer than 15 works, many of which must be studio works or later copies (‘sicuramente non tutte autografe’, op. cit., under no. 243), and attest to the powerful interest that collectors of the seventeenth and later centuries must have had for this depiction of the subject.
This newly discovered work is a candidate for … the long-lost prime version …”