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National Gallery of Art Acquires Intriguing van Goyen at Sotheby’s Jan. 2014 Old Master Painting Sale

January 20, 2014
Lot 34. GERRIT VAN HONTHORST UTRECHT 1590 - 1656 A MERRY GROUP BEHIND A BALUSTRADE WITH A VIOLIN AND A LUTE PLAYER signed lower center: GH (in ligature) onthorst. fec oil on canvas 39 1/4  by 54 1/2  in.; 99.4 by 138.5 cm. Estimate: $2-3 million.

Lot 34. GERRIT VAN HONTHORST
UTRECHT 1590 – 1656
A MERRY GROUP BEHIND A BALUSTRADE WITH A VIOLIN AND A LUTE PLAYER
signed lower center: GH (in ligature) onthorst. fec
oil on canvas
39 1/4 by 54 1/2 in.; 99.4 by 138.5 cm.
Estimate: $2-3 million. (click on image to enlarge) This lot sold for a hammer price of $6.6 million ($7,557,000 with the buyer’s premium).

UPDATE: The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC acquired lot 37, a van Goyen ice scene (below) while, one bidder picked up several of the best Dutch paintings at today’s sale of Old Masters at Sotheby’s including the newly rediscovered Honrthorst (above), the Pieter Brueghel the Younger Summer scene (below), the Ochtervelt (below) and lot 19, a Martin van Cleve picture – spending a total of $17,308,000. The highest estimated lot, an insipid Fragonard estimated at $6-8 million, tanked. Of the 73 lots originally offered, 3 were withdrawn and thirty failed to sell. More results from this morning’s sale. As expected, the Vernet (below) did not sell; and as hoped for, neither did that insipid Fragonard.

ORIGINAL POST: Christie’s and Sotheby’s in New York are getting ready to auction hundreds of Old Master paintings and drawings later this month. Each has produced a specialty catalogue within the sale – at Christie’s it’s Renaissance and at Sotheby’s, The Courts of Europe.  Finally, each has on offer works either unknown or not seen in a very long time. Christie’s, however, has a more interesting group of works.

A recently re-discovered Honthorst (above), while not carrying the highest estimate at Sotheby’s January 30, 2014 Old Master Painting sale, is certainly one of the sale’s most interesting works.  Sotheby’s calls it “a major addition” to Honthorst’s oeuvre, though it’s not nearly as significant as the large-scale concert painting recently acquired by the National Gallery of Art.  Nevertheless, it is important because of its subject and quality, and it more affirmatively displaces a painting of the same subject in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Lyon that until 20 years ago had been considered autograph Honthorst.  It’s one of several significant 17th-century Dutch paintings discussed in a brief video about the sale.

Honthorst is among the group of Utrecht Caravaggisti – artists who were influenced by and emulated Caravaggio.  His major colleagues/competitors were Dirck van Baburen (ca. 1592/93-1624) and Hendrick ter Brugghen (1588-1629). This picture is museum worthy and the estimate seems modest given its import.

Lot 22. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER BRUSSELS 1564 - 1637/8 ANTWERP SUMMER: FIGURES EATING DURING THE SUMMER HARVEST signed and dated lower left: BRVEGHEL. 1600 oil on panel 23 3/8  by 31 5/8  in.; 59.7 by 80.4 cm. Estimate: $2.5-3.5 million.

Lot 22. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER
BRUSSELS 1564 – 1637/8 ANTWERP
SUMMER: FIGURES EATING DURING THE SUMMER HARVEST
signed and dated lower left: BRVEGHEL. 1600
oil on panel
23 3/8 by 31 5/8 in.; 59.7 by 80.4 cm.
Estimate: $2.5-3.5 million. (click on image to enlarge) This lot sold for a hammer price of $4.5 million ($5,205,000 with the buyer’s premium).

This Pieter Brueghel the Younger Summer Harvest is based on a painting from 1565 of the same subject by the artist’s father and now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. According to the lot notes:

Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s interpretation of Summer must be considered one of his most popular and successful subjects, and the present version is perhaps the finest and most impeccably preserved example to emerge in decades. Of the approximately twenty variations on the composition which [Klaus] Ertz [in Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38). Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen 1988/2000] considers autograph (only five of which are dated), this panel, signed and dated 1600, is the earliest by some 21 years, a fact which strongly suggests that it is the prime version of the group.

Lot 7. SIMONE MARTINI CIRCA 1284-1344 AVIGNON A BEARDED SAINT, PROBABLY A PROPHET tempera on panel, gold ground with a shaped top 14 1/8  by 8 1/2  in.; 36 by 21.5 cm. Estimate: $1.5-2 million.

Lot 7. SIMONE MARTINI
CIRCA 1284-1344 AVIGNON
A BEARDED SAINT, PROBABLY A PROPHET
tempera on panel, gold ground with a shaped top
14 1/8 by 8 1/2 in.; 36 by 21.5 cm.
Estimate: $1.5-2 million. This lot was withdrawn.

The violence inflicted on 14th-and 15th-century polyptychs and panel paintings is evident in the work above.  Predellas, pinnacles and other segments were sawn off and sold piecemeal, which destroyed the narrative structure, obscured iconography that could point towards those who commissioned the work, and other salient details.  The lot notes indicate how little is known about this work’s original function: “It would appear that the panel either sat above and between two larger panels, or perhaps formed part of a piece of furniture, such as choir stall seating.”  Nevertheless, this is of significance; as the catalogue entry states:

This exquisitely rendered depiction of a prophet, only newly discovered, is a rare and important addition to the corpus of Simone Martini, one of the undisputed masters of early Italian painting.  Simone skillfully combined the innovations of Duccio with Giotto’s lively narratives and, far outshining his contemporaries, he created exalted compositions that were as sensational to the 14th century viewer as they remain today.

Lot 1. MASTER OF THE SAN BARTOLOMEO TRIPTYCH ACTIVE IN URBINO AT THE END OF THE 14TH CENTURY AND EARLY 15TH CENTURY THE BETRAYAL OF CHRIST tempera on panel, gold ground 7 1/2  by 9 1/2  in.; 19 by 24 cm. Estimate: $70,000-90,000. (click on image to enlarge)

Lot 1. MASTER OF THE SAN BARTOLOMEO TRIPTYCH
ACTIVE IN URBINO AT THE END OF THE 14TH CENTURY AND EARLY 15TH CENTURY
THE BETRAYAL OF CHRIST
tempera on panel, gold ground
7 1/2 by 9 1/2 in.; 19 by 24 cm.
Estimate: $70,000-90,000. (click on image to enlarge) This lot sold for a hammer price of $70,000 ($87,500 with the buyer’s premium).

According to the lot notes: “This rare, Marchigian master takes his name from an unusual Late Gothic triptych dating to 1408, removed from San Bartolo (or rather, San Bartolomeo), Urbino, in 1864 and now in the Galleria Nazionale  delle Marche, Urbino.”  This may or may not have been part of a larger altarpiece or a portable triptych.  The painting could certainly use a bath and there are surface abrasions and losses that require attention, but overall this work is in solid shape.  Compositionally, it follows accepted iconographic protocols, but there is one odd and amusing feature I don’t recall seeing in comparable works from the period – note the heads in profile at the top of the painting, seeming to move behind the hilly backdrop.  They have halos, which makes them saints, perhaps the Apostles.  Again, a pictorial device I don’t recall having seen before.

Lot 5. FLORENTINE PAINTER, ACTIVE IN THE AMBIT OF CIMABUE, CIRCA 1285 - 1290 MADONNA AND CHILD oil on panel 27 5/8  by 18 in.; 70.2 by 45.7 cm. Estimate: $600,000-800,000.

Lot 5. FLORENTINE PAINTER, ACTIVE IN THE AMBIT OF CIMABUE, CIRCA 1285 – 1290
MADONNA AND CHILD
oil on panel
27 5/8 by 18 in.; 70.2 by 45.7 cm.
Estimate: $600,000-800,000. This lot was withdrawn.

The catalogue entry for this early Italian painting starts: “An early and rare panel of monumental scale, this remarkably expressive and touching depiction of the Madonna and Child can be dated between circa 1285 and 1290. While the painting undoubtedly shares an affinity with models by Duccio di Buoninsegna, such as his Rucellai Madonna, now in the Uffizi, Florence (inv. no. P555), Andrea De Marchi and Laurence Kanter believe the author of this panel to have been Florentine rather than Sienese, and more heavily influenced by Duccio’s contemporary Cimabue.”

Unfortunately, the condition of the painting, specifically the losses on the faces of the Madonna and Child (particularly the latter), will likely make a successful sale difficult to any but the most dedicated.

Lot 60. CLAUDE-JOSEPH VERNET AVIGNON 1714 - 1789 PARIS L'ARC EN CIEL: AN ITALIANATE COASTAL VIEW WITH A RAINBOW, FISHERMAN, AND PEASANTS AT AN INLET IN THE FOREGROUND, A SHIPWRIGHT'S YARD BEYOND signed, inscribed, and dated lower left: 'Joseph. Vernet. f/Romae 1749' (ae linked) oil on canvas 45 by 64 1/8 in.; 114.3 by 162.7 cm. Estimate: $1.8-2 million. (click on image to enlarge)

Lot 60. CLAUDE-JOSEPH VERNET
AVIGNON 1714 – 1789 PARIS
L’ARC EN CIEL: AN ITALIANATE COASTAL VIEW WITH A RAINBOW, FISHERMAN, AND PEASANTS AT AN INLET IN THE FOREGROUND, A SHIPWRIGHT’S YARD BEYOND
signed, inscribed, and dated lower left: ‘Joseph. Vernet. f/Romae 1749’ (ae linked)
oil on canvas
45 by 64 1/8 in.; 114.3 by 162.7 cm.
Estimate: $1.8-2 million. (click on image to enlarge) Bidding on this lot stopped at $1.7 million and it failed to sell.

This detail in the provenance hints this picture may be “shopped out” and/or the Vernet market was overheated – the present collector purchased this work just over 15 years ago (London, Christie’s, 16 December 1998, lot 71) for $1,809,782, just a hair over the current low estimate. Not a particularly good investment.

Lot 37. JAN JOSEFSZ. VAN GOYEN LEIDEN 1596 - 1656 THE HAGUE A WOODEN LANDING STAGE ON A FROZEN RIVER, CHURCHES AND A WINDMILL AT LEFT ON THE DISTANT SHORE signed in monogram and dated on the rowboat lower right: VG 1646 oil on panel 14 3/8  by 13 1/2  in.; 36.5 by 34.3 cm.  Estimate: $1-1.5 million.

Lot 37. JAN JOSEFSZ. VAN GOYEN
LEIDEN 1596 – 1656 THE HAGUE
A WOODEN LANDING STAGE ON A FROZEN RIVER, CHURCHES AND A WINDMILL AT LEFT ON THE DISTANT SHORE
signed in monogram and dated on the rowboat lower right: VG 1646
oil on panel
14 3/8 by 13 1/2 in.; 36.5 by 34.3 cm.
Estimate: $1-1.5 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $1.2 million ($1,445,000 with the buyer’s premium).

Update: On June 13, 2014 the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC announced the acquisition of this van Goyen painting:

An Ice Scene near a Wooden Observation Tower (1646) by Jan van Goyen
Jan van Goyen’s Ice Scene near a Wooden Observation Tower is a beautifully preserved panel, measuring 36.5 x 34.3 centimeters, by one of the leading exponents of the Golden Age of Dutch landscape painting. In summer, this observation tower would have helped ships navigate shallow waters; in winter, it served as the focal point for communal gathering. On this cold and cloudy day, a number of local villagers have come to meet and chat, while others skate or ride in a horse-drawn sledge. To feature this architectural structure, Van Goyen painted a vertical composition, a rarity in his work. This verticality also helps to emphasize the dramatic expanse of sky above the flat, tonal landscape.

This painting was purchased courtesy of The Lee and Juliet Folger Fund.

Original Post: First, let’s dispense with the auction house hype: “This landscape by Jan van Goyen is among the most refined and impeccably preserved examples from his entire oeuvre to come to market. Dated 1646, it is an ideal demonstration of the artist’s shift from a purely tonal color palette of various hues of brown, characteristic of his work from the 1630s, towards a more naturalistic and varied range of blues, greens, dark browns and greys.”

Initially, I was skeptical, but upon firsthand inspection, it is a wonderful picture. The figures (below) are engaged in a variety of activities that gives the work narrative strength an diversity – some are skating, a group travels in a horse drawn sled, and one fellow chases after his hat – the articulation of windmill’s details, such as the black highlights on the ladders, adds veracity and texture.

Lot 37. JAN JOSEFSZ. VAN GOYEN LEIDEN 1596 - 1656 THE HAGUE A WOODEN LANDING STAGE ON A FROZEN RIVER, CHURCHES AND A WINDMILL AT LEFT ON THE DISTANT SHORE (detail) signed in monogram and dated on the rowboat lower right: VG 1646 oil on panel 14 3/8 by 13 1/2 in.; 36.5 by 34.3 cm. Estimate: $1-1.5 million. (click on image to enlarge0

Lot 37. JAN JOSEFSZ. VAN GOYEN
LEIDEN 1596 – 1656 THE HAGUE
A WOODEN LANDING STAGE ON A FROZEN RIVER, CHURCHES AND A WINDMILL AT LEFT ON THE DISTANT SHORE (detail)
signed in monogram and dated on the rowboat lower right: VG 1646
oil on panel
14 3/8 by 13 1/2 in.; 36.5 by 34.3 cm.
Estimate: $1-1.5 million. (click on image to enlarge)

Lot 27. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER BRUSSELS 1564 - 1637/8 ANTWERP THE BIRD TRAP oil on panel 14 7/8  by 23 1/2  in.; 37.8 by 59.7 cm.  Estimate: $1.5-2.5 million. (click on image to enlarge)

Lot 27. PIETER BRUEGHEL THE YOUNGER
BRUSSELS 1564 – 1637/8 ANTWERP
THE BIRD TRAP
oil on panel
14 7/8 by 23 1/2 in.; 37.8 by 59.7 cm.
Estimate: $1.5-2.5 million. (click on image to enlarge) This lot sold for a hammer price of $2.3 million ($2,741,000 with the buyer’s premium).

There are so many versions of this image – here’s the background:

The composition of The Bird Trap is one of the most popular created by the Brueghel family.  The prototype has generally been thought to be the painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder, signed BRVEGEL and dated 1565, formerly in the F. Delporte collection and now in the Musées des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. More recently, however, Klaus Ertz has proposed that the prototype may be a lost work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, inspired by Pieter Breugel the Elder’s celebrated Hunters in the Snow, also of 1565 and now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.  Pieter Brueghel the Younger and his busy studio produced numerous copies and variations of the composition.

Lot 38. JACOB OCHTERVELT ROTTERDAM 1634 - 1682 AMSTERDAM A CHILD AND NURSE IN THE FOYER OF AN ELEGANT TOWNHOUSE, THE PARENTS BEYOND signed and dated on floor lower right:  J. Ochtervelt f./1663 oil on canvas 32 by 26 1/4  in.; 81.5 by 66.8 cm. Estimate: $3-4 million.

Lot 38. JACOB OCHTERVELT
ROTTERDAM 1634 – 1682 AMSTERDAM
A CHILD AND NURSE IN THE FOYER OF AN ELEGANT TOWNHOUSE, THE PARENTS BEYOND
signed and dated on floor lower right: J. Ochtervelt f./1663
oil on canvas
32 by 26 1/4 in.; 81.5 by 66.8 cm.
Estimate: $3-4 million. This lot sold for a hammer price of $3.8 million ($4,421,000 with the buyer’s premium).

UPDATE: This painting was purchased by London-based Old Master dealer Johnny van Haeften and it was featured in his TEFAF 2014 booth in Maastricht with an asking price of $7.5 million, according to the Wall Street Journal.

This painting would appear to be a new addition – and the earliest dated work – from a group of nine other paintings of the genre.  From the catalogue:

A Child and Nurse in the Foyer of an Elegant Townhouse is an previously unpublished painting by Jacob Ochtervelt and an important addition to his oeuvre. The only record that we have been able to find for it is the auction catalogue from 1816 … The subject matter and composition are related to a group of nine other “entrance hall paintings” that Ochtervelt made over the course of about twenty years and which are universally considered to be among his most innovative and interesting pictures. Meticulously painted, the present work is both a beautiful example of Ochtervelt’s luminous style as well as a sophisticated representation of Dutch life and values in the mid-17th century.

Lot 66. JEAN-HONORÉ FRAGONARD GRASSE 1732 - 1806 PARIS TWO GIRLS ON A BED PLAYING WITH THEIR DOGS oil on canvas 29 1/4  by 23 3/8  in.; 74.3 by 59.3 cm. Estimate: $6-8 million.

Lot 66. JEAN-HONORÉ FRAGONARD
GRASSE 1732 – 1806 PARIS
TWO GIRLS ON A BED PLAYING WITH THEIR DOGS
oil on canvas
29 1/4 by 23 3/8 in.; 74.3 by 59.3 cm.
Estimate: $6-8 million. Bidding on this lot stopped at $5.8 million and it failed to sell.

I find this both prurient and insipid … but let the catalogue entry enlighten us:

Painted in circa 1770, this light and intimate scene dates from Fragonard’s most fertile artistic period. The spontaneous brushwork clearly illustrates why Fragonard’s virtuoso technique so impressed his contemporaries and why his style still resonates with the modern viewer as much as it did for the members of the court of Louis XV. The artist offers allows us to peer into a moment of blithe playfulness as two girls, probably in their early teens, delight in each other’s company. While the innocence of the scene is underlined by the stock symbolism of the lapdogs, a gentle eroticism pervades the scene; the picture was almost certainly destined to hang in a private boudoir, in much the same way as the artist’s celebrated and much copied Girl in her Bed, Making her Dog Dance, from circa 1768, in Munich.

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