Putti Call at Sotheby’s June 2014 Old Master Sales in New York – with sale results
UPDATE: No major fireworks, though lot 89, the Hubert Robert milkmaid (below) proved quite popular – as I expected – selling for a hammer price of $225,0000 ($275,000 with fees), against a high estimate of $120,000. Complete sale results.
ORIGINAL POST: Compared with Christie’s sale the day before, the offerings at the June 5, 2014 sale of Old Master Paintings at Sotheby’s in New York are a snooze. An overabundance of uninteresting “school of” “attributed to” and “circle of” works. The top two lots are allegorical images with putti by Boucher – still collectible in some corners, but of little appeal to me. From the catalogue notes:
Both this and the following lot are endearing examples of the small scale and brightly lit allegorical pictures which were created by Boucher to decorate the homes, and more specifically, overdoors within the intricately carved boiserie paneling that was installed in many mid-18th century Parisian hôtels. Boucher often employed similar allegorical yet light hearted themes for such multi-paneled projects, as they brought a visual cohesiveness to the physical spaces which they occupied.
This composition derives from a three-figure composition, also an Allegory ofPoetry, sold in the Mentmore sale, Sotheby Parke Bernet, on 25 May 1977, lot 2443. A variant of that picture, generally ascribed to Boucher and Studio (signed and dated 1753), is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (acc. no. 69.155.2). In the present picture, as in the Mentmore version, the central infant Apollo holds a lyre, a traditional symbol of lyric poetry, as he crowns the infant Cupid with a laurel wreath; beside Cupid is a pair of doves. Furthermore, as in the Mentmore version, Cupid writes the following in his scroll:
Qu’il triomphe & regne à jamais / Entre les beaux Arts & la Glorie. / Elevons ce Heros du char de la Victoire / Au Trône de la Paix
Of some minor interest is this work by a follower of the very obscure Jan Mandyn, who often depicted phantasmagorical scenes a la Pieter Bruegel the Elder and Hieronymus Bosch. There are no lot notes for this work.
A few decades ago, Gottfredo Wals experienced a burst of interest and collecting activity – that seems to have abated. This serene and attractive work is half the size of the Bouchers and far more appealing – it should do well provided it’s not shopped out.
From the lot notes:
This landscape by Wals is a lovely example of his small circular paintings on copper, a format and medium that he seems to have favored. Anke Repp, in her 1986 catalogue of the artist’s work, lists only nineteen autograph paintings, although the 17th century Flemish collector Gaspard de Roomer, who lived in Naples, is said to have owned no fewer than sixty paintings by Wals.1 The use of copper as a support allowed for exceptionally fine brushstrokes, lending a luminosity and radiance to the painted surface and providing a perfect vehicle for his subtle gradations of light and dark. Wals’ landscape compositions were often laid out in distinct parallel planes incorporating simple naturalistic motifs such as farm buildings or overgrown ruins, with figures adding visual interest but never dominating.
The ruin depicted in this painting appears to be based on a drawing by Wals in the Cabinet des Dessins in the Musée du Louvre, although the artist has simplified two smaller arches in the drawing into a single larger one [left].
The attribution to Wals has been confirmed by Prof. Marcel Roethlisberger, following firsthand inspection (private communication to the owner). It is impossible to establish any kind of chronology for Wals’ paintings, as there are no dated examples. However, Prof. Roethlisberger is inclined to believe this is a later work, from the mid-1620s, given its very close relationship to, and even its debt to, the early output of the artist’s best student Claude Lorrain.
1. See A. Repp, Goffredo Wals. Zur Landschaftsmalerei zwischen Adam Elsheimer und Claude Lorrain, Cologne 1985, p. 19, pp. 55-84; (the present work was unknown to her).
This pleasant picture is ably painted and does not offend. From the lot notes:
Despois entered the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1807 as a pupil of both David and de Gros. He exhibited at Paris Salon from 1812-1834, and this painting was shown at the Salon in Douai in 1825.
The Île Barbe is an island in the middle of the Saône River in the 9th arrondissement of Lyon. It was first settled in the Neolithic era, but it was not until the Romans founded the city of Lugdunum in the first century B.C. that the island became a true settlement. An abbey was founded on the island in the 5th century, the first monastery established in the region.
This is the picture I find most appealing – the figuration is adequate, but the composition is quite wonderful. There is a palpable tension as the milkmaid strains to pass the bucket of milk to the outstretched arm of the prisoner (not quite Sistine Chapel ceiling tension, but good enough).
From the catalogue:
On October 29, 1793, Robert was arrested and jailed by the Revolutionary authorities for having failed to renew his citizen’s card, though the true motivation for his imprisonment was surely his ties to the French aristocracy. He was held initially at the convent of Sainte-Pélagie and transferred on January 30-31, 1794 to the seminary of Saint-Lazare, both of which had been converted from former leper houses for use as prisons. Today the site of the prison is occupied by the Church of Saint-Vincent-de-Paul. Robert was released in August of 1794 after the fall of Robespierre.
While imprisoned, he consoled himself by painting and drawing. Materials on which to paint were scarce and in many cases he used the earthenware prison plates on which his food was served as his “canvases.” Many of the works executed during this time are signed with the artist’s initials followed by the letters “S.L.” for Saint-Lazare. While many of the pictures Robert executed in prison are landscapes, painted from memory or purely imaginative compositions, others, such as the present example, depict scenes of life from within the prison. Here, Robert depicts the daily task of distributing milk to the prison population with striking simplicity and modernity. A female distributor leans over a large stone staircase as a tightly packed group of prisoners reach for their daily ration. A single container occupies the very center of the composition, and serves as the focal point of not only the figures’ connecting arms, but of the entire composition. The composition is devoid of any outward emotion, a fact punctuated by the cold grey stone architecture. Robert paints this prison scene with Realistic honesty that requires no added sentiment.
A slightly larger variant of square format is located in the Musée Carnavalet, Paris (inv. P1580). That version features a landing and stone bannister rail at the bottom of the composition with an additional figure, a more fully articulated back wall, and a different figural arrangement along the hanging rail at right. The Musée Carnavalet canvas was commissioned by the Duc d’Audiffret-Pasquier, Robert’s prison mate, as a souvenir with which to remember the kind milk sellers who offered a small reprieve to the prisoners during their imprisonment.1
1. C. Sterling, Hubert Robert, exhibition catalogue, Paris 1933.