$15.7 million Pair of Canalettos leads Sotheby’s December 2013 Evening Sale of Old Masters in London
POST SALE UPDATE:
The just concluded Evening Sale, which saw the star lot – a pair of Canaletto’s sell for a hammer price of £8.5 million (£9,602,500 with the buyer’s premium or $15,732,736 ) – started with a sprint. The Pietà by the van der Weyden in brisk bidding shot well past its £300,000 high estimate and sold to a determined telephone bidder for a hammer price of £800,000 (£962,500 with the buyer’s premium or $1,576,960). Of the 49 lots offered, one was withdrawn and thirteen failed to sell. The tiny Cranach of Lucretia, as predicted, was also very popular, surpassing its £500,000 top estimate to make an £850,000 hammer price (£1,022,500 with the buyer’s premium or $1,675,264). The Aert van der Neer and Cranach the Younger Virgin and Child sold on the lower side of their respective estimates while the Frans Hals portrait did slightly better. And, two of the three Leverhulme paintings bombed – the one that sold – the Rossetti – struggled to make its low estimate.
ORIGINAL POST: The Evening Sale of Old Masters at Sotheby’s December 4, 2013 in London, leads with a pair of “sofa size” oils by Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, a group of Cranachs (both Lucas the Elder and the Younger), Dutch pictures including a Hals portrait and an Aert van der Neer winter scene, and concludes with three Victorian works from the Leverhulme Collection. Also tucked into the sale is a splendid work based on a Pietà by the great 15th century Rogier van der Weyden.
The Canalettos (above) come from the HSBC corporate collection, formerly know as Safra Republic Holdings. The paintings depict quintessentially Venetian views – the Grand Canal and the Rialto Bridge, and Piazza San Marco, as Sotheby’s specialist Alexander Bell tells us in a two-minute video. The pictures capture the city’s great and iconic architecture, the hustle of daily life on the canal and in the piazza, all in lively brushwork and loving attention to detail. The price, however, strikes me as a bit steep, all the more so if they’ve been offered privately.
This Pietà by a follower of Rogier van der Weyden (above) is one of a number of known variants. Another in the National Gallery in London (below), was considered autograph, though in recent years it has been assigned to his workshop. The only accepted autograph version (further below) is in the Musées royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, Belgium. The picture at Sotheby’s is closer in composition to the Brussels version, though substantially smaller. The handling of St. John’s face in the picture at auction is not as refined as the Brussels picture, though the treatment of the faces of Christ, the Virgin and the Magdelene are of better quality and closer to the Brussels work. Other differences from the autograph panel include the color of the robes of the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdelene, the treatment of the background landscape, and the lack of the skull in the work at auction. Nevertheless, this appears to be a beautiful panel that could reveal some more secrets and details following proper restoration.
According to the lot notes, this painting “was completely unknown to scholars until its appearance at auction at Sotheby’s in 1975 … [where] it caused a sensation, fetching the then unprecedented price of £110,000.” It has gotten a little more expensive since then. It may or may not be “one of [the artist’s] finest works left in private hands,” as Sotheby’s claims, but it is impressive, intricate and a thoroughly delightful example of 17th Dutch winter scenes.
This tiny Lucretia is the sort of little jewel of restrained eroticism that old school dealers and collectors adore. Provided it’s fresh to the market, it should do well. It’s the first of sale’s three Cranachs, about which there is a video.
I’m not particularly impressed with this Hals – there’s a certain lack of vibrancy. As the catalogue says: “Much has been written about Frans Hals’ bravura brushwork, which is the overriding hallmark of his style.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t come through for me. [I’m also suspicious of catalogue entries that include language about the “magnificent” frame – who cares?]
The following in the Day Sale caught my eye, a pair of panels for a polyptych by Puccio di Simone:
From the lot notes:
Puccio di Simone was active in Florence around the middle of the fourteenth century and was heavily influenced both by Maso di Banco and Bernardo Daddi. One of his early works, an Annunciation with two saints in the church of San Lorenzo in Florence, also betrays the influence of Giovanni da Milano. Puccio is first recorded as a painter in 1346 when his name was included in the records of the Arte dei Medici de Speziali, the guild of doctors, druggists and painters but he is known to have been active before then since his damaged frescoes in the Strozzi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella in Florence once bore the date of 1340.
These youthful works, probably datable to the late 1340s, formed part of the same dismembered polyptych as the Saint James the Greater in the Seattle Art Museum. Boskovits associated the latter with a Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine last recorded in Berlin with Paul Bottenweiser. In the original configuration, the Mystic Marriage would have formed the central component; along the left would have stood the present Saint James the Lesser and a fifth, as-yet unknown panel; on the right flank would have stood the Seattle Saint James the Greater and the present Saint John the Baptist [above]. All the extant panels except the Saint John the Baptist stand out for their lavish use of the same decorative arabesque motif which is also present in several late works by Bernardo Daddi and his shop and it is likely that the two artists were collaborating regularly by the early 1340s.2
As noted above, the Evening Sale’s final three works, all Victorian pictures, come from the Leverhulme Collection. I happen not to care for a single one.