Sotheby’s Record Breaking $117 million July 2014 Old Masters Evening Sale in London
An achingly/cloyingly cute painting of Tygers at Play by George Stubbs, best known for his horse paintings, was the most expensive lot at Sotheby’s July 2014 Old Masters Evening sale in London (there’s also a flip catalogue). The work has had two owners since it was bought from the artist and has been publicly exhibited only four times. The 63-lot sale, which pulled in £68,341,500 or $117,130,497, with none withdrawn and twelve unsold, was substantially more successful than last night’s sale at Christie’s, which brought in nearly £45 million, and saw almost half the works go unsold. It was a new record for an evening sale of Old Masters at Sotheby’s in London, and they made a video to celebrate the event.
The first quarter of the sale – some 16 mostly Dutch and Flemish paintings – included lot 4, an early and unpublished winter skating scene by Hendrick Averkamp. Estimated at £1-1.5 million, it opened at £700,000 and found a buyer at an impressive £4.4 million (£5,010,500 with fees or $8,587,496), a new record at auction for the artist. The sale proceeded with lots six to sixteen from the Coppée Collection in Belgium, formed in the 1920s and 1930s. As Colin Gleadell reported in the Telegraph: “While various branches of the Coppée family have sold paintings from the collection in the past, this will be the largest disposal yet and will include several early Netherlandish panels and works by Jan Brueghel and Franz Francken the Younger, together with the three Pieter Brueghels.” A Temptation of Saint Anthony by a Bosch follower, estimated at £60,00-80,000, sailed past it’s high estimate and hammered for £350,000 (£422,500 with fees or $662,422), and was followed by a graphic portrait head of Christ Crowned with Thorns from the workshop of Albrecht Bouts – estimated at £120,00-180,000, it raced to a hammer price of £320,000 (£386,500 with fees or $662,422). An early 16th century Northern France School The Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, a squarish oil on panel ( 29 7/8 by 34 1/4 in.) estimated at £80,000-120,000, made £140,000 (£170,500 with fees or $292,220).
Brueghel mania carried over from the previous night’s sale at Christie’s with two of three works by Pieter the Younger starting with lot 10 Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, an image he executed dozens of times during his career. This late (1626) signed work, estimated at £1-1.5 million, opened at £700,000 though it really took off at the £1 million mark – it went to a telephone bidder for an impressive £3.4 million (£3,890,500 with fees or $6,667,928), followed immediately by a Frans Francken the Younger The Israelites, After Crossing the Red Sea, at the Tomb of the Patriarch Joseph, which the sale catalogue claimed “can justly be considered among Francken’s most impressive works,” carried a presale estimate of £200,000-300,000 – it made the low £200,000 (£242,500 with fees or $415,621).
This was followed by two more Pieter Brueghel the Younger paintings: The Outdoor Wedding Dance, another theme the artist depicted on dozens of times, a picture said to be “in a remarkable state of preservation” carried an estimate of £1-1.5 million, and went for £1.3 million (£1,538,500 with fees or $2,565,142); then a large (39 3/8 by 58 in.) Calvary from 1615 estimated at £3-4 million. The sale catalogue noted: “This is one of the rarest of all Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s compositions. It is one of only two signed works which deal with the subject of the Crucifixion, and is the earliest and much the most important of all of them. Moreover it is one of only four certainly autograph versions of this precise composition, and by common consent the finest.” The market didn’t care, bidding stopped at £2.4 million and it failed to sell.
The next major work, and one I would gladly own, comes from the Duke of Northumberland. It’s the spectacular left side of a diptych by Giovanni da Rimini and dates to the early 1300s (the right side of the diptych is in Rome). Estimated at £2-3 million, it roared ahead to make a remarkable £5 million hammer price (£5,682,500 with fees or $9,474,433), a new record at auction for the artist. Another work from the Duke of Northumberland, lot 19, a small (9 1/2 by 14 1/2 in.) and jewel-like oil on copper The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man of 1613 by Jan Brueghel the Elder easily blew through its £2-3 million estimate and sold for £6 million (£6,802,500 with fees or $11,341,809), to the buyer who also purchased lot 10, the Brueghel Birdtrap. This was followed by another bidding war for lot 21, Gilbert Stuart’s portrait of The Mohawk Chieftain Thayendanegea, which trampled its £1.5 million high estimate to hammer for £3.6 million (£4,114,500 with fees or $6,860,106). The Stubbs Tygers at Play, sold from a private collection, opened at £3.3 million and climbed steadily to hammer for £6.8 million (£7,698,500 with fees or $12,835,710).
The mid-16th century Florentine The Descent into Limbo is one of those Mannerist oddities that shows the “influences of Giorgio Vasari, Francesco Salviati and Agnolo Bronzino,” as the catalogue notes. It’s big (57 1/2 by 44 7/8 in) and apparently in a good state of preservation; estimated at £500,000-700,000, it hammered at the low end for £500,000 (£602,500 with fees or $1,004,549). Next up were three drawings – the first by Sandro Botticelli and according to the catalogue it “seems to be the only surviving drawing by Botticelli that can be clearly linked with one of his paintings, and is also the only study by the artist that remains in private hands.” Estimated at £1-1.5 million, it sold for £1.1 million (£1,314,500 with fees or $2,191,666), a record for a work on paper by the artist. Two nearly identically sized drapery studies from the Barbara Piasecka Johnson collection followed, labeled as being from the “Workshop of Andrea del Verrocchio, circa 1470, traditionally attributed to Leonardo da Vinci” (an attribution they’ve carried for more than a century), and each with a £1.5- 2 million estimate – the first, lot 28, made £1.5 million (£1,762,500 with fees or $2,938,617), while the second failed at £1.3 million.
The drawings were followed by another Johnson collection work, Bartolomeo Cavarozzi’s The Sacrifice of Issac, which she purchased in 1989 (the same year she purchased the Leonardo drawings). It has all of the drama and chiaroscuro one wants in a Caravaggesque painting – estimated at £3-5 million, it £3.2 million (£3,666,500 with fees or $6,113,156), a new auction record for the artist.
From the descendants of a Finnish collector came Banedetto Gennari’s Diana and Endymion, “an important lost work by Gennari: his only surviving history piece from his first stay in Paris, recorded in the artist’s own memoirs, presented by him to King Charles II in London in 1674, and with an unbroken provenance since it was painted,” according to the catalogue. Estimated at only £200,000-300,000, it topped the high mark to hammer at £420,000 (£506,500 with fees or $844,488). Two works by Jan Sanders van Hemessen, were also on offer – lot 41, a portrait of a man and lot 53, a depiction of the Virgin and Child. Both carried estimates of £800,000-1,200,000 – the portrait made £1.5 million (£1,762,500 with fees or $2,938,617), a record at auction for the artist, while the religious painting made £650,000 (£682,500 with fees or $1,304,663). Lot 45, a hilarious George Romney Portrait of Edward Wortley Montagu (1678–1761), “the only son of Sir Edward Wortley Montagu (1678–1761), British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire,” according to the catalogue. He’s depicted in Turkish-ish looking garb sporting a long beard. The catalogue goes on to say he was a “wildly eccentric man, who distained convention and actively courted controversy,” and that his wife was “the infamous and equally eccentric writer, traveller and orientalist, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (circa 1689–1762).” Edward is also “[d]escribed by Isobel Grundy in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as ‘traveller and criminal'”. The painting, estimated at £2-3 million hammered for £3.5 million (£4,002,500 with fees or $6,673,369).
Another Madonna and Child, this time by the Lucas Cranach-ish Master of the Piasecka Johnson Madonna, which carried a £600,000-800,000 estimate, sold for £600,000 (£722,500 with fees or $1,204,625). This was followed immediately by a Sir Peter Paul Rubens oil sketch of The Annunciation, expected to sell for £2-3 million, it made £2.75 million (£3,162,500 with fees or $5,272,837). Lot 59, an early and pleasant if unremarkable Claude Lorrain Mediterranean Seaport, which Piasecka Johnson appears to have purchased from the New York-based Old Masters dealer Richard Feigen in 1982, failed to sell at £380,000 against a £400,000-600,000 estimate. Lot 61, A Michele Marieschi of Venice shot well past its £600,000 high estimate to hammer for £1.9 million (£2,210,500 with fees or $3,685,567), while lot 63, the evening’s final, Thomas Gainsborough’s The Cottage Door bombed at £1.4 million against an estimate of £1.5-2 million.
From the sale catalogue:
This hitherto unpublished winter landscape was painted early in the artist’s career, probably around 1610, and is a significant addition to his early œuvre [On the basis of a photograph, Dr. Roell, Director General of the Rijksmuseum, wrote in a letter dated 21 February 1949 that in his opinion the present work is ‘a genuine and excellent work by Hendrick Avercamp’. Earlier attributions to Molenaer and Brueghel are recorded.] It was originally painted on a panel comprising two horizontal panels, probably of fairly similar width. At some later date, probably after the artist’s death, a small section of the top edge of the upper panel was trimmed, presumably to remove the bevel, and a third horizontal panel was glued to it. The sky was thus extended, creating a more modern winter landscape with a much lowered horizon line. The bare branches of the trees left and right were extended into the added panel, and patches of pale blue sky, unfamiliar in Avercamp’s early winter scenes, were included.
The current appearance of the painting is shown here, but a reconstruction of its original appearance is shown as well, which includes a small section of the added plank, to recover the original proportions … The lower two planks of the current panel thus comprise about 95% of the originally visible panel, allowing for the rebate of a frame. The proportions and the high horizon line are a key pointer to an early dating, and this is supported by tree-ring analysis … Few of Avercamp’s pictures are dated, and latter-day scholars wisely suggest a relatively broad span of dates for undated works. Nonetheless, a comparison with one of his earliest dated pictures, the small landscape in Bergen, Norway, of 1608 shows a similarly high horizon line, also to be found in other works thought to date from the years around 1610 and the early teens.
According to the catalogue:
Although no fewer than 127 versions of the composition have survived, only forty-five are now thought of as autograph works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger himself, with the remainder being largely workshop copies of varying degrees of quality.1 The Coppée painting is one of only eight panels which have the distinction of being both signed and dated, and being painted in 1626 is the latest in date of those so far known.2 Eleven further copies are signed, with four using the signature form P. BRVEGHEL used by Pieter Brueghel the Younger up to 1616, and three others using the form adopted here of P. BREVGHEL, indicating works executed in or after this date when his signature form changed. Ertz rightly describes this example as ‘…besonders strahlende und Helle Version gehört zu denbesten Vogelfallen‘ (‘…this exceptionally light and luminous version is one of the best examples of the Bird Trap’).
The prototype for this famous composition has generally thought to be the painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, signed and dated 1564, formerly in the Delporte collection and today in the Musées des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
From the catalogue:
The Outdoor Wedding Dance has long been recognised as one of the most popular works in Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s œuvre, and indeed Georges Marlier, the great scholar of Flemish art, went so far as to describe it as ‘one of the most popular of all subjects in Flemish painting at the beginning of the seventeenth century’. The extent of its popularity among Brueghel’s patrons can readily be ascertained from the fact that over sixty extant versions have been assigned to his hand. Of these Klaus Ertz accepts nearly thirty as fully autograph works, including the present panel. Of these paintings, about half are signed and almost as many dated. The dated works range from two panels of 1607, today in Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, and Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux Arts, to that of 1626 sold in these Rooms, 17 December 1998, lot 16. As Ertz ackowledges, although unsigned, the Coppée version is one of the finest to have survived (‘zu den besten Versionen das Themas‘), and remains in a remarkable state of preservation. Recent dendrochronological analysis of the oak panel suggests that the earliest the panel could have been constructed would have been around 1610, so a date of execution somewhere in the second decade of the century would seem most likely.
Recent dendrochronological analysis of the oak panel suggests that the earliest the panel could have been constructed would have been around 1610, so a date of execution somewhere in the second decade of the century would seem most likely.
Although no painting by him has come down to us, the composition of the Outdoor Wedding Dance clearly originated with the artist’s father, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, for it is recorded by an engraving in reverse by Pieter van der Heyden which was published by Hieronymous Cock (above).
From the lot notes:
In his catalogue of the works of Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Klaus Ertz lists only twenty-one known paintings which reflect Brueghel’s different treatments of the theme of the Crucifixion. Of these he considers only eight to be autograph works, and of this group only two are signed and dated: the present painting and that now in the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest, which is signed and dated 1617. The latter, however, differs significantly in its format and landscape setting, and in fact only four other works follow the composition of the Coppée version. These are the panel in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Antwerp, that last recorded in the collection of Karl Landegger in New York in 1961, another in the church of Saint-Nicolas-du-Chardonnet in Paris, and a fourth, which Ertz accords doubtfully autograph status but which Marlier lists as signed, last recorded at the dispersal of the collection of Countess Gatterburg in Hanover in 1949.
From the auction catalogue:
A very early follower of Giotto, to whom the panel was once attributed, Giovanni was undoubtedly one of the patriarchs in the relatively short-lived glory of Rimini’s school of painting in the first decades of the century. This jewel-like work is arguably the artist’s masterpiece, and it is difficult to overstate its importance as a bridge between the archaic style of the thirteenth century – still so dependent on static Byzantine models which until that moment had dominated painting in the peninsula – and the new, more recognizably Italian style bathed in emotion and perspective, which was pioneered by Giotto and which was to herald the innovations that led to the Renaissance. When Waagen (seeLiterature) saw the painting in 1854 he assumed it to be by Giotto’s hand and described it thus: ‘…a relic of the most delicate kind, the heads fine, the motives very speaking, and the execution like the tenderest miniature…In excellent preservation’.
First recorded in 1292, by 1300 Giovanni is referred to as a ‘maestro’ in Rimini. By the end of the thirteenth century Rimini was a small independent commune under the rule of the Malatesta family, but it was not to enjoy the wealth or verdant cultural scene from which Padua and Florence benefited until the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, the great Giotto was lured there to work for the cathedral of San Francesco, better known today as the Tempio Malatestiano. The chronicler Riccobaldo Ferrarese records that Giotto produced some superb frescoes which were most likely destroyed during the restructuring of San Francesco in 1450 but his spectacular Crucifix from just shortly before 1300 still hangs there.
The Alnwick panel was originally the left wing of a diptych and narrates a selection of episodes from the lives of the Virgin and Saints. The right-hand panel, (shown at left) now in the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica in Rome, shows six episodes from the life of Christ. Placed side by side, the two identically-sized panels illustrate in a refined palette and with the care of a miniaturist some of the most popular and emotionally charged biblical and apocryphal scenes which presumably resonated most strongly with the Medieval believer.
From the lot notes:
This is one of the finest examples of Jan Brueghel’s famous ‘Paradise’ landscapes to remain in private hands. Transcending the tiny dimensions of the copper panel upon which it was painted, its beautifully rendered panoramic woodland setting and the lovingly detailed depiction of the teeming variety of the animal life within it, makes it easy to see why such pictures became the most famous of all the artist’s works, earning him the sobriquet ‘Paradise Brueghel’. Within these exquisite works of art Brueghel managed to give expression not only to Counter Reformation religious thought on the Creation and the natural world, but also to the burgeoning contemporary interest in the classification and representation of all its many species. From his own day to this, such works have consistently remained the rarest and most prized of all his creations.
According to the lot notes:
This beautiful paletta d’altare, remarkable for its condition and quality, was painted in Florence, probably circa 1560. Deeply aware of the mannerist innovations of his day which were to reach their zenith in the decorations of Francesco de Medici’s studiolo in the 1570s, the artist elegantly synthesises the influences of Giorgio Vasari, Francesco Salviati and Agnolo Bronzino but nonetheless works in a distinct and impressive style, making it all the more unusual that the painting should have eluded a precise attribution thus far. Characteristically for a Florentine work of the mid-sixteenth century, when disegno was considered key to the conceptualization of a composition and in the process of of producing the painting itself, IRR scans show the presence of very fine underdrawing.
From the catalogue:
A very rare late drawing by Sandro Botticelli, the present sheet is closely related to the figure of St. Joseph to the left of The Nativity with adoring St John the Baptist, at Buscot Park (left), a tondo now believed to be a substantially autograph work by the artist, dating from the late 1480s. It seems to be the only surviving drawing by Botticelli that can be clearly linked with one of his paintings, and is also the only study by the artist that remains in private hands. The drawing, squared for transfer, shows minor but significant differences from the final painted work, especially in the position of the head of St. Joseph, which is higher and slightly tilted to the right. Moreover, some faint chalk lines, noticeable to the right of St. Joseph’s head, indicate a revision in the position of his head, which appears initially to have been drawn leaning forward and turned, looking down towards the Child, an interesting but discarded alternative.
From the sale notes:
These two remarkable drapery studies from the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Collection belong to a hugely important group of some 16 similarly drawn draperies on fine linen (‘tela sottilissima di lino’), which bear witness to the brilliance and originality of one of the most important of all Renaissance workshops, that of Andrea del Verrocchio (circa 1435-1488). There sculpture, painting and architecture came together in a unified artistic expression of monumentality, anticipating what Vasari would later describe as the nuova maniera. The achievements of Verrocchio’s workshop were essentially the product of his own incredible vision and talent, but also grew out of the innovative contributions of the various brilliant young artists in his bottega, most notably the young Leonardo da Vinci, who seems to have begun his apprenticeship between 1464 and 1469. Leonardo joined Verrocchio’s workshop more or less at the peak of the master’s career, when he was involved in major commissions for the Medici family, having rapidly taken over the mantle of the family’s favourite artist after the death of Donatello in 1466. Interestingly in the context of these drapery studies, Donatello was the first sculptor to experiment, already in the middle of the 15th century, with the use of actual fabric in casting the draperies of his figures, a famous example being the bronze of Judith and Holofernes, in Palazzo Vecchio, Florence.
According to the sale notes:
This masterpiece of early naturalism was painted around 1617, probably in Spain, by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, one of Caravaggio’s most successful and accomplished followers. Such are its quality and dramatic impact that for several years after its rediscovery in 1987 the painting was associated with Caravaggio himself and it has been exhibited as such numerous times in the recent past. The cinematographic intensity of the spot-lit scene is tempered by a serenity unexpected in a depiction of one of the Old Testament’s most enigmatic and potentially catastrophic episodes which is recounted in Genesis 22. The unusually good condition allows us to appreciate the full extent of the painterly bravura in the sublime chiaroscuro effect, the modelling and foreshortening, the shimmering textures, and the remarkable still-life elements. The painting is nothing short of the summa of the artist’s œuvre and attains a quality never to be surpassed either by his contemporaries nor by Cavarozzi himself. The beauty of the work will without doubt encourage scholars to re-evaluate Cavarozzi’s fundamental impact in the development of both the Caravaggesque movement and seventeenth-century painting generally.
According to the catalogue:
Gennari recounts the circumstances of the commissioning of this picture and its subsequent history in his Raccolta di memorie preserved in manuscript in Bologna, Biblioteca Communale. He lists the works he painted in Paris in sequence following his arrival in 1672; but he mentions the Diana and Endymion as number fifteen at the end of his list as a work he had forgotten to mention earlier, so we cannot assume it was painted at the end of his Paris sojourn. The greatest likelihood is that it was painted in 1673 or in the spring of 1674, since he did not reach London until the 24 September.
Having accepted a commission from the Duc de Richelieu for this painting, his only large-scale history painting done during his first Paris sojourn, and the only surviving picture from this period other than portraits, he was counselled by his friends not to deliver it on the basis that once installed in his palace the Duc would not pay for it. Armand-Jean, Duc de Richelieu was the great nephew and heir of Cardinal Richelieu (1629–1725), but he had been forced to sell his collection to Louis XIV in 1665 following a gambling loss. In assembling a second collection in the 1670s, when he acquired works by Rubens and Poussin, he was advised by Roger de Piles. It is unclear why the Duc was considered a credit-risk by Gennari’s friends, but his earlier improvidence gives a possible hint.
Gennari then decided on the spur of the moment (‘improvvisamente’) to bring the Diana and Endymion with him to England to present to Charles II.3 One might think that such a move would have been planned by Gennari in order to elicit commissions from the King, which would lead to a longer stay in London. Both of these things came to pass, but Gennari implies in the passage quoted above that he made a late decision to visit the English court on his way back to Italy. In an earlier passage preceding his entry for no. 15, he made his intentions abundantly clear. After sixteen months in Paris he and Signor Franceso Riva resolved to pass ‘a month or slightly more’ in England before returning to Paris and proceeding directly to Italy. In fact, Gennari, Riva and the Bolognese Nobleman Count Antonio Giuseppe Zambeccari departed from Paris on 11 September 1674, arriving in London a fortnight later, on Monday 24 September, and even allowing for the compression of events recounted at a later date, he seems to have been given commissions from the King relatively swiftly, starting with a portrait of the King’s ‘favorita’, Louise de Kéroualle, Duchess of Portsmouth.
From the auction catalogue:
Almost completely unknown until first exhibited some twenty years ago, this is a German High Renaissance panel of great beauty and no little importance, not only in its size and exceptional state of preservation, but equally in the detail and rich colour of its design. In a beautiful sunlit landscape, the Virgin Mary is shown seated on a grassy bank, with the Christ Child standing on her lap. She tenderly offers Him some grapes, while behind them the landscape spreads out past a single tree, leading across lakeside houses and bridges and pastures towards a distant hill top castle. The details of all the flora and fauna and all the distant buildings in the landscape are painted with the utmost clarity and precision in clear, bright colours.
The subject of Maria auf der Rasenbank or the Virgin on a grassy bank, stemmed from a combination of two earlier Marian iconographic themes, the Madonna of Humility and the Madonna in the Rose garden. The grassy bank and the posture of the Virgin seated upon it are symbolic of Mary’s humility, while the grapes that she proffers her Son are symbolic of the blood of Christ and hence forewarn of His Passion to come. Iconographically this type, with the Virgin seated full-length in a landscape, was derived in German art from the earlier work of Martin Schongauer (circa 1440–91) and particularly Albrecht Dürer (1471–1528), who had both explored the theme in a series of woodcuts and engravings from the 1480s onwards, notably the former’s engraving of the same subject of 1480–81 and the latter’s Holy Family with a dragonfly of 1494–96.