Brueghel, Natoire, and Hallé works featured at Artcurial Auction in Paris March 2014
UPDATED with sale results.
Tajan’s March 26, 2014 sale of Old Master & 19th Century Paintings & Drawings contains a number of works amid the 157-lot sale worth pondering. Among the more entertaining is The Wave, a work on paper by the German Symbolist artist Carlos Schwabe, whose style suggests Gustav Doré meets Edvard Munch. According to the lot notes, this image was used to illustrate The Words of a Believer by the upstart French priest Félicité de Lamennais (1782-1854). According to Answers.com, in the work Lamennais “denounced all authority, civil as well as ecclesiastical. In the next decade his thinking moved further and further to the left. He believed in the moral superiority of the working class and foresaw a time when governments would be overthrown and the workers would rule. During his last years he spent time in prison and was also elected to the Chamber of Deputies. After his death in Paris on Feb. 27, 1854, Lamennais was buried without funeral rites, mourned by thousands of intellectual and political sympathizers around the world.” As the lot notes indicate, “Stormy waters are the metaphor of angry people described in this Catholic social manifesto.”
This watercolor of 1774 is an autograph copy of the artist’s original tapestry cartoon of 1756, itself one of seven scenes from the life of Marc Antony created between 1740 and 1757 that would be rendered as Gobelin tapestries. If the Google translation of the lot notes is correct, only three of the tapestries were realized. The scene, which follows Caesar’s assassination, depicts the meeting of Cleopatra and Marc Antony in 41 BC. The imagery is based on a 1559 translation of Plutarch; according to the catalogue:
The text provides many details on the wealth of the … Queen of Egypt[‘s ship] “whose stern was gold, the sails of purple, silver oars” and the splendor of his suite, consisting of “small children dressed more or less as painters are wont to portray the Amours “and” women and ladies similarly the most beautiful …dressed as nymphs Nereids, which are the fairy waters, and as the Graces , some resting on the pole, the other on the cables and ropes of the boat, which he left wonderfully soft and sweet smells of perfume …
This highly finished work has an equally interesting story. First, there is the stated provenance: “Mentioned in the will of the artist and bequeathed to his wife: “Madame Hallé … the grand design of the Scythians from the table made for the King of Poland” … Thence by descent.” Second, the drawing is based on a suite of four paintings created for Stanisław August Poniatowski, King of Poland from 1764 to 1795, which depict good governance. They are still preserved in the Royal Castle in Warsaw. According to the lot notes:
The monarch had a very clear idea of the iconographic program he wanted and gave his instructions. Painters mission was to illustrate the essential to good government moral virtues: Magnanimity, Concorde [Agreement/Harmony], Emulation and Justice. After the death of Carle Van Loo in 1765 and the defection of François Boucher, the achievement of these four large paintings … was entrusted to Louis Lagrenée (The head of Pompey delivered to Caesar), Joseph-Marie Vien (Caesar at the foot of the statue of Alexander and The Continence of Scipio), and Noël Hallé (Scilurus, king of the Scythians). Our artist in charge of the allegory of the Concorde, represented a rare episode in the life of Scilurus king of the Scythians.
From Wikipedia, Scilurus “was the best known king of Scythia in the 2nd century BC. He was the son of a king and the father of a king, but the relation of his dynasty to the previous one is disputed. His realm included the lower reaches of the Borysthenes and Hypanis, as well as the northern part of Crimea, where his capital, Scythian Neapolis, was situated.”
This specific scene in Scilurus’ life is drawn from Plutarch’s Sayings of Kings and Commanders: “Scilurus on his death-bed, being about to leave eighty sons surviving, offered a bundle of darts to each of them, and bade them break them. When all refused, drawing out one by one, he easily broke them; thus teaching them that, if they held together, they would continue strong, but if they fell out and were divided, they would become weak.”
The Antwerp Mannerists of the first part of the 16th century, which includes the Master of 1518, produced congested images within daffy architectural settings – they never fail to entertain. According to the lot notes, Max J. Friedländer was the first to identify the artist and his moniker is based on a Life of the Virgin in the church of St. Mary in Lübeck and dated 1518. There are currently seem 40 works attributed to the artist.
It almost goes without saying that no Old Master sale is complete without a Brueghel or two. According to the provenance, this has been in the same family collection since the early 20th century, implying that it’s fresh to the market. This work by Pieter Brueghel the Younger is presumably based on a similar work by his father in the Detroit Museum of Art. Pieter the Younger made a career out reproducing compositions his father created. This work from 1624 is one of more than 30 versions produced between 1607 and 1626. In an entertaining bit of French snark, the lot notes bemoan the “cruel news about the potential sale of some masterpieces” from the museum, so satisfy Detroit’s debt, including the Elder’s Wedding Dance, valued at $100-200 million. Mon dieu.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s brother, Jan the Elder (also know as the Velvet Brueghel), is the author of this remarkable set of miniature gouaches. According to the lot notes, Jan the Elder was “famous both for his religious and mythological painting[s,] … his landscapes, still lifes and genre scenes. Although well documented, one aspect of [his] production, however, is too little mentioned … his work as a miniaturist.” It continues: “Originally, our sixteen scenes from the life of the Virgin and Christ were probably part of a Book of Hours lavishly illuminated manuscript of great value …” The works date to Jan’s stay in Italy from 1590-1596.
The genre of the collector’s cabinet painting, with intent and studious figures surrounded by paintings, drawings, sculpture, scientific objects and other ephemera, probably started with Frans Francken II, according to the lot notes. It certainly became a popular reflection and representation of Netherlandish prosperity. There are two variants, one shows the wealthy and preening well-dressed collector amidst his prized possessions, frequently showing them off to others. The second, developed by Peter Paul Reubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder, artists who periodically worked together, are allegories of the senses, from which this present composition is derived. Part of the enjoyment these works provide is identifying the paintings depicted. Fortunately, the cataloguers took care of that, see below.
Identifications and proposed identifications for some of the works:
1 . Frans Francken II (?) The Meal at Simon
2 . Peter Paul Rubens Satyrs and Leopards (Montreal Museum of Fine Arts)
3 . Peter Paul Rubens Drunken Silenus (Moscow, Pushkin Museum)
4 . Peter Paul Rubens Hunting Tigers (Rennes, Musée des Beaux- Arts)
5 . Giambologna Hercules and the Centaur
6 . According to the Antique The Laocoon
7 . Peter Paul Rubens The Judgment of Paris (Vienna, Dorotheum, April 16, 2008 , No. 302)
8 . Lambert van Noort (?) The Healing of the Blind
9 . Joos de Momper Animated characters Rocky Landscape
10 . Andries von Eertvelt (?) Marine
11 . Frans Francken II (?) Croesus showing Solon his Treasures
12 . Hendrick van Balen The Adoration of the Shepherds
13 . Peter Paul Rubens Portrait of Charles the Bold (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum)
14 . Pieter Brueghel the Elder The Preaching of Saint John the Baptist
15 . Sebastian Vrancx Scene looting
16 . Gaspar de Grayer Portraits of the Archduke Albert and Archduchess Isabella (Althorp, Spencer collection and Chrysler Museum Collection, Norfolk, VA)
17 . Peter Paul Rubens and Jan Brueghel the Elder ( ?) Virgin and Child in a Garland of Flowers
18 . Hieronymus Bosch (?) The Temptation of St. Antony