$16.9 Million Guardi View of Venice leads Christie’s Rocky July 2014 Old Masters Sale in London
It’s time to go Old Masters shopping and Christie’s July 8, 2014 Evening Sale in London featured a mixed bag of works including the Rothschild family’s Guardi (above) that has not been on the market for 60 years and an early Vermeer, among others, from the estate of Barbara Piasecka Johnson. The rocky 70-lot sale made £44,986,000 ($77,016,032) with two lots withdrawn and nearly half – 32 lots – unsold. New York-based Old Masters dealer Richard Feigen termed the sale a “bloodbath,” according to Scott Reyburn in the New York Times.
The sale opened with six Italian 14th-15th century Gold Ground paintings from a private European collection beginning with a previously unpublished fragment from a Sano di Pietro altarpiece, a nicely detailed half-length portrait of Saint Margaret (notice the recumbent dragon along the base with its coiled tail). Estimated at £60,000-80,000, the painting hammered for £50,000 (£62,500 with fees or $107,125). Next up, a crucifixion attributed to an obscure Sienese painter from the second half of the 14th century, Francesco di Vannuccio, who was a contemporary of Paolo di Giovanni Fei and Bartolo di Fredi. There are only a handful of works considered autograph and they rarely come on the market. A recent work at auction was a beautiful reliquary that had been on long-term loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY. This exquisite work sold at Sotheby’s in January 2010 for slightly over $1 million, against an estimate of $300,000-500,000. The estimate for the current work reflects the understandable attribution concerns. This panel, one half of a diptych and last sold at auction in October 2000 for £27,647 (or $40,000), doesn’t have the same eloquent figuration as the reliquary, or another crucifixion that was featured at Giovanni Sarti’s booth in Maastricht in 2004. The painting, which carried a £80,000-120,000 estimate, hammered for £140,000 (£170,500 with fees or $292,237).
Lot 3, the “highly expressive panel,” as the sale catalogue calls it, by an unknown Italian painter (once said to be the great Sienese painter Pietro Lorenzetti), made a hammer price of £60,000 (£74,500 with fees or $127,693), below the estimate of £80,000-120,000; and lot 5, a beautifully articulated and detailed Madonna and Child by the Florentine painter Niccolò di Pietro Gerini hammered, below the £150,000-250,000 estimate for £120,000 (£146,500 with fees or $251,101). The last of the lots from this collection, The Crucifixion with the Madonna and Saint John the Evangelist by the still unidentified 14th Florentine painter called The Master of the Misericordia, was the first picture (but by no means the last) to fail to sell when bidding stopped at £300,000, well below its £400,000-600,000 estimate.
The extremely strange Melancholia by Lucas Cranach I, featuring a figural typology found in many a Cranach Lucretia seated amid a raucous group of nude infants, carried an estimate of £500,000-800,000. It hammered for £750,000 to a telephone bidder (£902,500 with fees or $1,546,885). Unfortunately, the next lot, a pair of previously unpublished Jan Brueghel the Elder 8½-inch diameter biblical scenes in wooded settings was withdrawn. Said to have been in the same family since the mid-19th century, they carried a £500,000-800,000 estimate. Lot 13, Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Road to Calvary, estimated at £5-7 million, has been on the market a handful of times over the past 25 years, last selling eight years ago at Sotheby’s in London for a record £5,160,000 (5 July 2006, lot 20). It was then on loan to the Kunsthaus in Zurich from 2007 to 2013. Bidding opened at £3.8 million and it was poised to sell to a commission bidder for £4.5 million when two bidders joined the action. It sold for a hammer price of $4.85 million to a telephone bidder (£5,514,500 with fees or $9,451,852).
Another work by Jan Brueghel the Elder, a tiny, previously undocumented oil on copper Landscape with a windmill, figures and horses by a farmstead, with a not so tiny £250,000-350,000 estimate; bidding stopped at £180,000 and it failed to sell. Lot 16, the Cornelis de Vos, Portrait of a lady, is the sort of work curators, collectors and dealers love – completely unknown, fresh to the market, unlined and protected by an old coat of dirty varnish that should clean nicely. Surprisingly, it sold way below £250,000-350,000 estimate and hammered for £140,000 (£170,500 with fees or $292,237).
The cinematic Guardi, Venice, the Bacino di San Marco with the Piazzetta and the Doge‟s Palace, did not disappoint. According to the catalogue, it was one of a pair “purchased in Venice in 1782-4 by Anthony Ashley-Cooper, 5th Earl of Shaftesbury (1761-1811)” and is being sold by the Baron Henri de Rothschild collection (the pendant has not been securely identified). The picture, which carried an estimate of £8-10 million, opened at £5.5 million and hammered for £8.75 million (£9,882,500 with fees or $16,938,604). Two lots later, a rare nocturne by Canaletto (one of only three), estimated at £3-4 million, was withdrawn from the sale. Lot 23, Jacob van Ruisdael’s A path on a wooded rise, Haarlem in the distance was the subject of a serious bidding war and soared past its £180,000 high estimate to hammer for £370,000 (£446,500 with fees of $765,301). Lot 24, an elaborate Abraham Mignon still life set in a forest, estimated at £700,000-1,000,000, failed to sell when bidding peaked at £450,000.… Another variant of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s The Payment of the Tithes – several iterations have sold recently – with a £700,000-1,000,000 estimate; bidding stopped at £600,000 and it failed to sell. This work was previously undocumented.
Additional Dutch and Flemish pictures include lot 31, a still life oil on panel Willem Claesz. Heda reportedly “in the family of the present owner by the early 19th century” and touted as “one of the most significant discoveries in recent years.” It carried a £1.5-2.5 million estimate and was the subject of a protracted bidding war – it finally hammered for £4.25 million (£4,842,500 with fees or $8,300,045). This was followed by Jan Lievens painting, Tronie of an old man, which carried a £500,000-800,000 pre-sale estimate – it almost failed to sell but a lone online bid carried it to a hammer price of £420,000 (£506,500 with fees or $868,141).
The Johnson estate works included a remarkable and dramatic The Annunciation to the Shepherds by the as yet unidentified 17th Neapolitan painter called the Master of The Annunciation to the Shepherds. The work, which measures roughly four by six feet and carried a pre-sale estimate of £1-1.5 million, zipped to a hammer price of £2.1 million to a telephone bidder (£2,434,500 with fees or $4,172,733). This was followed by lot 38, Luca Giordano’s large and haunting The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew. Estimated at £800,000-1,200,000, the painting sold for £800,000 to the buyer of the The Annunciation to the Shepherds (£962,500 with fees or $1,649,725). The Vermeer came up in the very next lot – Saint Praxedis is the artist’s earliest dated work. Estimated at £6-8 million, the bidding opened at 2.5 million before it climbed to a hammer price of £5.5 million (£6,242,500 with the buyer’s premium of $10,699,644).
A bidding war broke out over Tintoretto’s The Siege of Asola, an enormous oil on canvas (78 x 184½ in.), which sailed past its £800,000 high estimate to hammer for £950,000 (£1,142,500 with fees or $1,958,245). Later in the sale, lot 58, a tabletop still life by Johannes Bosschaert with fruit, flowers and blue and white china, expected to bring £500,000-800,000, became the 26th (though not the last) bought-in lot when bidding stopped at £420,000 and it failed to sell.
The sale wrapped up with several English picture topped by Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Portrait of Lady Frances Marshami, a very large image (94¼ x 58½ in.) of a subject heavily caked in makeup. Expected to bring £3-5 million, bidding opened at £1.9 million and it hammered mid-estimate for £4.2 million (£4,786,500 with fees or $8,204,061).
From the lot notes:
This previously unpublished Saint Margaret by Sano di Pietro exemplifies the colourful and enchanting qualities that made Sano’s work enormously sought after amongst Sienese patrons of the mid-14th century. Born Ansano di Pietro di Mencio, Sano’s early artistic training probably took place in the workshop of the great Sienese revolutionary Sassetta, several of whose unfinished works Sano completed after the elder artist’s death in 1450. Although Sassetta undoubtedly remained his strongest artistic influence, Sano’s paintings reveal his awareness of the art of Domenico di Bartolo and suggest that he also knew the work of Paolo Uccello and Fra Angelico. Here Margaret’s attribute, the dragon from whose belly she burst forth unscathed, appears subdued along the lower edge of the picture, its curling tail, bright red wing, and bristling scales and hair exemplifying Sano’s strong interest in colour and design. It is likely that the present work once formed part of a series of half-length saints which served as the predella for an altarpiece.
From the sale catalogue:
Boldly punched along the borders of its original engaged frame, this arresting panel shows the Madonna and John the Evangelist slumped in despair at the foot of the Cross, the sinuously elongated body of Christ occupying nearly the entire of the composition. The ‘rare and interesting Trecento painter’ Francesco di Vannuccio, as he is described by John Pope-Hennessy, was a contemporary of Paolo di Giovanni Fei and Bartolo di Fredi, and is listed along with them in Sienese records from 1356 (J. Pope- Hennessy, ‘A Diptych by Francesco di Vannuccio’, Burlington Magazine, XC, no. 542, 1948, p. 137). He may also have had contact with other Sienese contemporaries such as the Ovile Master and Naddo Ceccarelli, but his poignant and passionate emotional sensibilities most readily recall the refined, lyrical art of Simone Martini, who was, along with the brothers Pietro and Ambrogio Lorenzetti, the most distinguished and influential Sienese painter of the second quarter of the 14th century.
Here, John the Evangelist’s anguished eyes, furrowed brow, and open mouth, which seems to cry out in despair, recall Vannuccio’s highly expressive style. Mary, too, clasps her cheek in evident disbelief, her other hand extended as though pleading for mercy. Christ’s serene yet sorrowful expression is a distinct contrast to the physiognomies of His companions, enhancing the deep pathos of the scene.
This Madonna and Child with a goldfinch is a characteristic work by Niccolò di Pietro Gerini, who is frst recorded in 1368 as a member of the Arte dei Medici e Speziali in Florence. Gerini may have been a student of Andrea di Cione, called Orcagna, and primarily undertook commissions in Florence throughout his career; it is likely that he collaborated with Andrea’s brother, Jacopo di Cione on several occasions between 1366 and 1383. Gerini was also certainly influenced by the work of Taddeo Gaddi, Giotto’s pupil and most immediate follower, and worked with Taddeo’s son Agnolo on a number of projects between 1390 and 1395.
From the catalogue:
The Master of the Misericordia, named in 1958 by Richard Offner after the impressive Madonna della Misericordia in the Accademia at Florence, was one of the most effective and productive painters active in Florence in the period fromcirca 1355 to 1390. Formed in the world of Taddeo Gaddi and Bernardo Daddi, the dominant Florentine artists of the previous generation, his development paralleled that of Giovanni da Milano, and anticipated that of the Florentine masters of the late Trecento. Offner’s core group of pictures by the Master was significantly expanded by Boskovits in 1973 (M. Boskovits, Pittura Fiorentina alla vigilia del Rinascimento, 1370-1400, Florence, 1975, pp. 366-72) and by Chiodo.
An excerpt from the catalogue notes:
An image charged with dynamism, fantasy and eroticism, Melancholia is one of the most iconic and enigmatic subjects in Cranach’s oeuvre. Its iconography, which is highly original, complex and somewhat unsettling, warrants a detailed description. Set in an austere chamber, with a small opening to the right on to a rocky landscape, a winged woman sits, dressed in a lavish vermilion dress, her long hair sensuously flowing down her shoulders, seemingly preoccupied with the sharpening of a wooden stick. In front of her, eight nude children dance frantically to the sound of a drum and pipe, played by two of their companions, while five further children have collapsed in exhaustion on the floor. Dominating the upper third of the composition, a threatening black cloud filled with wild and fanciful creatures permeates the space. Alluring young women, hovering on flying carpets and charging horses, use their carnal charms to subjugate men, while hybrid demons, reminiscent of Hieronymus Bosch’s most frightening creations, complete the devilish procession. The head of an old bearded man emerges ominously from the far right of the cloud, with the word MELANCHOLIA projecting from his lips towards the winged figure below.
From the lot notes:
This beautifully preserved pair of panels, which have never before been published, were painted at the outset of Jan Breughel the Elder’s Antwerp career, after a seven year sojourn spent in Italy. He travelled there as a young man of twenty one in 1589, working first in Naples, then in Rome, under the patronage of Cardinal Ascanio Colonna, and finally in Milan for Cardinal Federico Borromeo. He had returned to Antwerp by October 1596 and the following year registered as a master in the Antwerp guild of painters.
From the catalogue:
From the lot notes:
Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s 1607 Road to Calvary is an undisputed masterpiece from the artist’s early maturity and one of the finest of all large-scale compositions by the artist still remaining in private hands. Described by Klaus Ertz as ‘von allerbester malerischer Qualität’, this picture is distinguished by its vivid palette and myriad of details, as well as its almost miraculous state of preservation. In 2006, when it last appeared on the art market, the picture achieved notoriety for setting, by a considerable margin, a new record auction price of £5.16 million, thus establishing a new benchmark for the artist, which has since been surpassed.
Brueghel seems to have attached particular importance to the subject of the Road to Calvary early in his career. He signed and dated five treatments in the years between 1599 and 1607, all of which are of especially high quality. This is the largest of the five and the only one still in private ownership after the Nostell Priory version of 1602 was acquired for the National Trust in 2011. The other three are the pictures of 1599 in Florence (Galleria degli Uffzi); that of 1603 in Antwerp (Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten); and that of 1606 formerly in Halle (Staatliche Galerie Moitzburg), destroyed in the Second World War.
This hitherto undocumented work is a notable addition to the painted oeuvre of Jan Breughel the Elder, demonstrating the extraordinary delicacy and finesse of his technique when working on a small format. It belongs with a series of treatments of windmill landscapes, which was a motif that he frequently incorporated into his paintings over the course of a decade. Breughel adopted a common compositional formula for these windmill pictures, typically placing an elevated windmill prominently in the left or right foreground, with a strong diagonal recession into a distant landscape, punctuated by further windmills, accents of light and travellers gradually receding into the distance. In so doing, as in this work, Breughel was able to evoke a remarkable sense of spatial harmony and a pervading mood of rustic idyll.
According to the catalogue:
This previously unpublished portrait, which is in remarkable state, constitutes an important addition to the known oeuvre of Cornelis de Vos. The attribution has been confirmed by Katlijne Van der Stighelen, on the basis of photographs, and the work dated by her to circa 1625. Together with Anthony van Dyck and Jacob Jordaens, de Vos was one of a small group of talented young painters active in Antwerp in the second quarter of the 17th century. While de Vos undertook some religious commissions, notably collaborating with Rubens, van Dyck and Jordaens on the cycle of the Garland of Roses for the church of Saint Paul, he is best remembered as the favoured portraitist of Antwerp’s wealthy patrician class.
From the sale catalogue:
This impressive picture is one of only three known nocturnes by Canaletto. It shows the church and campanile of San Pietro di Castello, the former cathedral and from 1451 to 1807 seat of the patriarchate of Venice, on the Isola di San Pietro at the eastern extremity of the city, from the Fondamenta on the west side of the Canale di San Pietro behind the Arsenale. An ancient foundation, the church was progressively rebuilt: the campanile of 1474 – its status emphasised by the fact that it was the only one completely faced in marble in the city – was reconstructed in 1482-88 by the greatest Venetian architect of the time, Mauro Codussi, but the upper element was added in 1670. The façade of the church itself, work on which was begun in 1596 under the supervision of Francesco Smeraldi but was not finished until 1621, reflected an earlier project by Andrea Palladio, and echoes the façades of other churches designed by him in Venice, most obviously those of San Giorgio Maggiore, begun in 1566; San Francesco della Vigna, begun in 1568 but not finished until 1634; and the Redentore, begun in 1576. The low palace on the right, which housed the canons, was built for Patriarch Lorenzo Priuli (1591-1600) and transformed into a barracks in 1807, when the canons were transferred to Saint Mark’s. The festival took place on the vigil of the day of Saint Peter, 29 June, thus on the night of 28-9 June, and is shown here by the light of a waning moon.
According to the catalogue:
Abraham Mignon’s compositions are notable for their sumptuous vitality and masterfully calculated disorder. This picture, depicting a rich, brightly-coloured arrangement of flowers in a dark woodland clearing, populated by a myriad of creatures, is a particularly fine example of his mature work. The emphasis on the right-hand side of the composition and the strong lighting emanating from the left are characteristic features of paintings executed at this time. Mignon was registered at the Guild of St. Luke in Utrecht in 1669, having travelled to Holland from Frankfurt with his teacher Jacob Marrel (1614-1681), still-life painter and art dealer, some ten years earlier. While in Utrecht, he studied under Jan Davidsz. De Heem (1606-1684) and worked as his assistant until 1672, when the French invasion of the Dutch Republic and the occupation of Utrecht forced de Heem to fee. Mignon meanwhile remained in Utrecht until his death in 1679.
From the sale notes:
This hitherto unrecorded work is an early treatment of this iconic Brueghelian subject, distinguished by its excellent condition and its meticulous rendering of detail. The date, traditionally read as 1613, which would make it the earliest dated treatment of the subject, appears more likely to be 1618, the year in which Pieter Brueghel produced at least half a dozen dated versions of the subject, including those in the Bonnefantenmuseum, Maastricht; the Norwich Castle Museum; and the picture recently sold at Christie’s, London, 2 July 2013, lot 29 (£1,047,475).
The various versions of Brueghel’s Payment of the Tithes paintings can be divided into two main groups, regardless of size: those with plaited straw ropes on the back wall and under the central window, and those with a dark cloth in its place; the present painting is of the latter type. Amongst the dated versions of this subject, the compositional variant with plaited straw and the man on the far left with a grey/blue sleeve appears only in works dated up until 1617; conversely those with a dark cloth and a man with a red sleeve appear from 1618-26, with only two exceptions. One might therefore hypothesize that Brueghel decided for some reason to change his composition and colour scheme in circa 1618, the date of this painting. The type of the signature (P. BREVGHEL rather than P. BRVEGHEL) is also what one would expect in 1618, since the artist changed the spelling of his name decisively in 1616 (see K. Ertz, Breughel-Brueghel: Pieter Breughel le Jeune (1564-1637/8) – Jan Brueghel l’Ancien (1568-1625), exhibition catalogue, Lingen, 1998, p. 19).
According to the catalogue:
This is one of the most significant discoveries in recent years in the realm of 17th-century Dutch still-life painting. A spectacular pronk still life, painted in 1644 by arguably the greatest exponent of the genre, which has survived in extraordinarily pristine condition. The picture belongs to the phase of the Haarlem painter’s career when his compositions took on a richer and more elaborate character. According to Vroom this was when Heda was ‘in the prime of his life, self-consciously at the zenith of his development, and capable of depicting his favourite subject matter in his inimitable style.’ (N.R.A. Vroom, A Modest Message, Schiedam, 1980, I, p. 62, referring to the year 1643).
From the sale notes:
This poignant and reflective depiction of a man in old age has been dated by Bernhard Schnackenburg to 1632, placing it towards the end of a highly fertile period of artistic exchange between Lievens and Rembrandt in Leiden, which the leading Rembrandt expert Ernst van de Wetering has hailed as: ‘one of the pivotal moments of art history, that can perhaps best be compared with the meeting of Picasso and Braque, that was to lead to the development of Cubism’ (The Mystery of the Young Rembrandt, Amsterdam, 2001, p. 49). Rembrandt’s mythical fame eventually overshadowed Lievens’ posthumous reputation, however, it is now argued that the more experienced and self-assured Lievens would have been the driving force and dominant personality at this decisive moment (ibid., pp. 39 and 51).
According to the catalogue:
The artist was first identified in the eponymous picture in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, a work that was once given to Velázquez, but whose attribution was questioned by August Mayer in 1923. It was not until 1958 that Ferdinando Bologna suggested naming the anonymous master after the Birmingham picture and, in the years since, the artist’s oeuvre has grown substantially, with several hypotheses being put forward for his identity. He has been recognised in the past as Bartolomeo Passante, or Bassante (1618-1648), a documented artist who is the author of a signed picture in the Prado, a work that has since been distanced from the style of the present artist. And in more recent times the theory has been advanced that he should be identified with Juan (or Giovanni) Dò, originally from Valencia, but known to be working in Naples in the 1620s. The association of Juan Dò with The Master of the Annunciation has gained a greater degree of approval and prompted triumphant claims that the mystery has been resolved. But the hypothesis has not gained universal support.
From the sale notes:
The authorship of this remarkable picture has been the subject of considerable debate, and has played an important role in both re-shaping our knowledge of the oeuvres of Jusepe de Ribera and Luca Giordano, and in understanding artistic taste in mid-17th century Naples. When it was rediscovered and exhibited at the Trafalgar Galleries, London, in 1976, the picture was deemed by Eric Young to be a mature period work by Ribera, dating to circa 1648-50. The attribution was upheld when the picture was subsequently exhibited in the Ribera show at the Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, in 1982-83, when it was considered to belong to an earlier moment of his career, circa 1638-40. However, Nicola Spinosa, in his 1978 publication of Ribera’s Opera Completa, underlined the ‘altissima qualità’ of the picture, but raised a question mark over the apparent differences it presented with Ribera’s oeuvre, not least in the figure in the background, and he remarked on the similarities with Giordano’s tonal expression (op. cit., pp. 123-4). Later, in his revised 2006 catalogue raisonné, Spinosa confirmed his earlier feeling that this was not a late work by Ribera, but in fact an early masterpiece by Giordano, dating to circa 1656-57, an opinion he confirmed upon viewing the picture recently in person.
According to the sale catalogue:
An image of concentrated devotion and meditative poise, this famous painting of Saint Praxedis is here offered for sale at auction for the first time in its brief documented history. First considered to be by Vermeer in 1969, the picture has been the subject of scholarly discussion ever since, largely on account of its unusual subject matter in the context of Vermeer and of Dutch painting in general. Saint Praxedis was firmly brought into the oeuvre of Vermeer in 1986, and in 1995 featured in the seminal monographic exhibition on the artist at the National Gallery of Art, Washington and Mauritshuis, The Hague, as his earliest known painting. At the time it was the only work by Vermeer, from an established corpus of 36 paintings, to remain in private hands. Since then, the ex-Beit/Rolin Lady at the Virginals, a picture that was for a long time dismissed as being by a follower of Vermeer, has been re-accepted into the oeuvrefurther to its sale at auction in 2004 for £16,425 million (Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 2004, lot 8) and is also now in private ownership.
The painting is here presented, as Arthur Wheelock has always maintained, as Vermeer’s earliest dated work, an exploratory painting by a young artist who had recently converted to the Catholic faith and who had a proven interest in contemporary Italian art. Moreover, as a technical exercise by an artist who had a profound understanding of the raw materials of painting, of pigments, colour and methods of application.