Numerous Highlights in Sotheby’s January 2015 Old Masters Sale in New York
UPDATE: The sale at Sotheby’s was considerably more successful than the catastrophe that was the Christie’s sale. The first part grossed slightly more than $57 million, while the “Moretti” sale pulled in nearly $6.5 million.
ORIGINAL POST: There are several things that standout in Sotheby’s Old Masters sale in New York January 29, 2015, including the $5,000 Constable that’s now estimated at $2-3 million, a large selection of “gold ground” paintings, an intriguing and small 16th century Italian oil on copper of unknown attribution, a decent selection of Dutch and Flemish works and what’s happening with Clara Peeters’ market? A still-life by her labeled “important” when sold at auction on 2001 is estimated below its sale price of fourteen years ago.
Sotheby’s also has 32 “Selected Renaissance and Mannerist Works of Art Assembled by Fabrizio Moretti”, the Florence-based dealer, including two panels by Lorenzo Veneziano.
This large panel by Sano di Pietro, about there is speculation that he may also be the so-far unidentified Master of the Osservanza (I don’t buy it), is according to the sale catalogue “well preserved and newly-discovered” (despite the evident vertical and horizontal cracks in the panel’s lower register). This is apparently the central panel from a dismembered polyptych – and while Sano may be “one of the most successful artists in Siena in the fifteenth century,” I’ve always found his egg-shaped heads and tendency to cloying rather off putting.
The Massys has had an on-again-off-again attribution history and last sold at Christie’s New York October 17, 2006 as “Attributed to Quinten Massys,” where it made $744,000 against a $150,000-200,000 estimate. The sale catalogue states: “The Madonna of the Cherries was recently examined firsthand by Maximiliaan P.J. Martens and Peter van den Brink, who both agree that this is an autograph work by Quinten Massys, and Prof. dr. Martens will be including it in the catalogue raisonné of the artist that he is preparing in collaboration with Dr. Annick Born.”
This elegant and enigmatic gothic panel requires some TLC. The sale catalogue says this “is closest to the work of Nicolás Francés,” an obscure but talented artist.
While his name implies French origin, Francés lived and worked in León in the northwest of Spain, where he was regularly commissioned to paint for the León Cathedral. He completed a series of wall paintings depicting the Passion for the Cathedral’s cloister between 1451 and 1461, though very few other works by the artist have survived.
The detailing and punch work are beautiful, and compositionally I find it compelling.
This panel combines the nascent naturalism of pictorial depiction emerging in late 13th century Italy (with the works of Cimabue and Duccio) with its Byzantine antecedents from Constantinople. According to the sale catalogue:
Roberto Longhi was first to publish the panel in 1947, believing it at the time to be the work of an anonymous Byzantine master of exceptional skill … It was not until 1966 … that the scholar recognized the hand as that of a Bolognese miniaturist, whose illuminations appear in a bible created for Pope Clement VII, now in the Bibliotèque Nationale, Paris (BN Ms Lat. 18). Longhi compared the present composition with a crucifixion scene illustrating a leaf of the Gospel of Saint Matthew (left). The two scenes are unmistakably the same hand. Not only is the Christ figure surprisingly similar, but the cross is treated in the same manner, planed into six facets to create a geometric effect.
The present Crucifixion is a rare example of panel painting from this period in Bologna. As Longhi recognized, this was not the work of a Byzantine master inspired by Western painting, but rather a Bolognese artist enthralled by influences of the Orient. As Massimo Medica asserts, this Crucifixion is an exceptionally rare example of the pictorial productivity of the Master of the Bible Lat. 18 who, alongside the Master of the Gerona Bible, pioneered the so-called “second style” of Bolognese manuscript decoration in the latter part of the 1200s. Much like in Venice and Siena, the circulation of Byzantine devotional images would have been diffuse in Bologna at this time. Byzantine tendencies therefore bled into traditional Bolognese painting, with local artists creating a hybrid style visible in literary illuminations, devotional pictures and even monumental decoration. The result was a rich and intricate synthesis of highly decorative oriental models with the pathos and complexity injected by the Florentine and Bolognese masters. Here, the Greek inscription on the lateral bar of the cross is an overt reference to the Eastern world. The sharp, geometricized folds in the drapery, the elongated, stylized limbs, all recall Byzantine paradigms. Yet the treatment of the Christ figure is testament to the influence of Cimabue and Duccio and, similarly, the poignancy of Saint Francis’ emotion as he clings to the base of the cross is entirely Emilian.
From the catalogue:
In 1984, Robert Gibbs recognized this impressive panel as the work of [Emilian brothers] Bartolomeo and Jacopino da Reggio, citing its affinity with a triptych signed, HANC TABULA(M) FECERU(N)T BA(R)TOLOMEU(S) ET JACOPINU(S) D(E) REGIO, in the Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan (inv. no. 6019). The present painting is very close in style to the Brera to complex, particularly in the treatment of the Christ figure and the positioning of the attending angels. The centurion in armor, here shown minus his helmet, is almost identical to that in the signed painting, turning slightly to the right, his right arm crooked and his left hand grasping the long curved dagger with its curiously forked bolster.
The catalogue essay starts out on a triumphant note: “When this picture reemerged on the art market in 2001 (see Provenance), it was one of the most important additions in recent years to the limited corpus of Clara Peeters, among the greatest still life specialists of the seventeenth century.” But look at the provenance and you’ll find the old Clara’s renown seems to have dimmed. The painting sold at Christie’s in London on December 12, 2001, for $715,258, presumably to London-based dealer Richard Green who in turn sold it to Bernard Palitz, from whose estate this is being sold. Now it’s estimated at $500,000-700,000. It would probably have to sell for at least $1 million for the Palitz estate to recoup its investment.
The van de Velde is one of a handful of Dutch and Flemish works highlighted in a short pre-sale video produced by Sotheby’s. “This composition in black and white, a remarkable fusion of painting and drawing, is usually described as a pen-painting (after the Dutch penschilderij).” This work is one of about 30 “pen-paintings” from the 1640s. According to the catalogue:
The technique probably derives from the work of Hendrick Goltzius … Over the course of his long career [van de Velde] made relatively few traditional oil paintings in color, preferring instead the pen-painting, and he viewed himself primarily as a draftsman, signing his letters “Scheepsteickenaer” (literally ship’s draftsman). He spent most of his professional life aboard ships, recording on paper the events that passed before his eyes. His pen-paintings were in a sense translations of those shipboard drawings into more permanent works of remarkable clarity and directness, which were sought after and highly valued by his contemporaries.
According to the sale catalogue:
Aert van der Neer painted the Frozen River at Sunset in or shortly after 1660, a period that was a high point for Dutch landscape painting and for the artist himself. It embodies his fascination with the people and the world around him and most notably the effect of light on a winter landscape and how it can transform the content and mood of a composition. Wolfgang Schulz, in his monograph on Van der Neer, describes it as a masterpiece and compares its remarkable coloristic effects to the Winter Scene at Sunset with a Beacon to the Left in the Wallace Collection, London (inv. no. P-127).
We know little about Van der Neer’s early life or even his place of birth, but his earliest dated painting is a genre scene from 1632. His first dated landscape is from the following year and by the mid-1640s he had established himself as a landscape painter and was beginning to specialize in the subjects for which he became best known: moonlight subjects, twilight landscapes and winter scenes. In the last category, his debt to Hendrick Avercamp is clear. Moving away from the tonal landscapes and more focused depictions of his more immediate predecessors, Van der Neer returned instead to the broader views and compositional motifs that Avercamp had made famous earlier in the century. He even included the depiction of snow itself – bright white on the ground, buildings and tree limbs, which had largely disappeared in the more monochromatic landscapes of the intervening years.
But it is Van der Neer’s treatment of light, both ambient and reflected, that is most extraordinary and what lifts him far above his contemporaries. Although the sky is blue and pink, lit by the setting sun, a range of cumulus clouds boiling on the horizon, these colors are barely reflected by the icy surface of the river. It is leaden in color, touched with shades of yellow and green, and chills us to look at. The details of the foreground are set crisply before us, but in the distance a mist seems to rise from the ice, blurring the windmill and the buildings around it, and finally disappearing into the cloud bank. It is a cold day and although the people skate and walk about, there is a certain restraint and inwardness about them as if in response to the frigid surroundings.
This is a fascinating little oil on copper whose authorship has yet to be determined. The palette is deciding Venetian and the feel Northern so the painting has been attributed to Paolo Veronese, Pietro Candido, Lambert Sustris and Johann Rottenhammer. Compositionally, according to the catalogue, the painting “ultimately derives from a Pietà designed by Michelangelo Buonarotti for his friend, Vittoria Colonna, marchioness of Pescara. It is not known whether Michelangelo executed the eventual painting but his drawing, dated to circa 1546, survives today in the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, Boston (inv. no. 1.2.o.16). The design for the Virgin’s pose, with her raised arms outstretched and face turned upward toward heaven, enjoyed great popularity, and was employed by Alessandro Allori, Marcello Venusti and Battista del Moro, among others.”
This is the sort of work that was designed to dazzle – within its small confines, Brueghel has created a fantastical world crowded with exotic animals amidst a verdant landscape. In the right background a contemporary festival is in progress. The painting comes from a group of the artist’s Paradise landscapes – “Brueghel painted the present work only two years after his very first Paradise Landscape, now in the Doria Pamphilij, Rome.” From the catalogue:
The present work is, in fact, Brueghel’s first known painting in which he sets the scene from Genesis 7:1-4, in which the animals are called to Noah’s ark in an Eden-like paradise. It is dated 1596, so he either painted it while in Milan with his patron Cardinal Federico Borromeo, or shortly after on his return to Antwerp in October of that year. As the work comes from a Milanese collection, it is most likely that Brueghel painted it in Italy and left it there when he returned to the Netherlands. In depicting the plenitude and beauty of God’s creation with such evident delight, he marries the Cardinal’s religious views to his own artistic preferences and in doing so creaties a painting of beguiling charm and beauty.
He lovingly depicts the variety of creatures waiting to enter the ark, though contrary to the Biblical story in only a few cases are they in pairs. He is mainly concerned with presenting the animals from a characteristic viewpoint so as to be easily identified; thus two delightful peacock-like birds float in the sky as if the wind under their exotic tails were keeping them aloft rather than their wings. The lion and leopard are each in profile, perhaps to clearly distinguish one from another, and a doe and stag are pictured with their heads turned in so that the male’s antlers can be clearly seen. In the lower left corner, closest to the viewer, is a lovely dapple grey horse who, for some reason, has his tongue sticking out.
From the catalogue:
In the first half of his career Salomon van Ruysdael was primarily a painter of tonal landscapes, much in the style of Jan van Goyen. However, in about 1640, he began to compose what came to be called more classicizing landscapes, consisting of more centralized compositions, brighter colors and a new emphasis on cloud-filled skies. At the same time he also began to paint marines. The name may suggest stormy seascapes, but in fact Ruysdael’s marines are generally restricted to calm, inland waters. A few sailboats are set against a high sky, often at dawn or dusk, and in the far distance is a town. In the mid-1650s, Ruysdael further refined this genre, painting a group of small panels in upright rather than horizontal format. The result was a still greater emphasis on the sky, which now took up more than three-quarters of the composition, and the billowing clouds, which provided the dramatic element in an otherwise peaceful scene. Today we know of about a dozen panels of roughly the same dimensions as this one and with similar compositions.
From the catalogue:
The present work, which was previously known only from an engraving by Gérard Edelinck … is an important addition to Coypel’s oeuvre, in terms of both its artistic conception and for its connection to Louis XIV and the French court. Dating from the artist’s early period, it is one of only two or three remaining paintings from a project commissioned by Charles Perrault, a great literary figure and art theorist as well as an aide to Jean-Baptiste Colbert, Louis XIV’s chief minister. Although ostensibly an Allegory of Music, elements in the composition itself, as well as literary and external pictorial evidence, allow us to identify it as a Portrait of Mme. de Maintenon with the Natural Children of Louis XIV.
The picture was originally part of a complex ceiling design depicting the Arts and Sciences commissioned by Perrault for his house in the rue Neuve des Bon-Enfants, Paris. The program was intended for the Cabinet des Beaux-Arts, a relatively modest sized room, about 8.5 by 4.5 meters, within the house. There were eleven separate compositions executed by some of the most popular painters in France in the 1680s, mainly pupils of Charles Le Brun, including, among others Charles de la Fosse, Jean-Baptiste Corneille, Louis de Boulogne, Claude Audran II and Antoine Coypel, and must have been executed between 1681 and 1684 given the activities of the various artists involved. Although Coypel was still at the beginning of his career, he had already completed a number of important commissions and had been received in the Académie Royale for his painting of Louis XIV Reposing in Glory after the Peace of Nijmegen, now in the Musée Fabre, Montpelier.
According to the sale catalogue:
This is the earliest dated view by Panini of the interior of the Pantheon in Rome. The work is in excellent condition and is a wonderful snapshot of figures marvelling at the spectacular construction around them, in much the same way as they do today. Panini offers us a broad spectrum of the social tapestry of Rome in 1732: the spirited figures include soldiers, clergymen, mendicants and other people at prayer, all dwarfed by the ancient Roman temple. As is typical of Panini’s great works, the meticulously observed architecture, particularly the Corinthian capitals, is bathed in the warm and inviting glow of Rome’s afternoon light.
This work last sold at auction at Christie’s in London on July 10, 2013 as by a “Follower of John Constable” for $5,212 (against an estimate of $760-1,200). Clearly, someone got lucky: “This Salisbury Cathedral from the Meadows is a rediscovered preparatory work for one of John Constable’s most celebrated masterpieces, now in the Tate, London.”
From the sale catalogue:
This tranquil London scene, looking eastward across Saint James’s Park toward the Horse Guards building and the Banqueting House, Whitehall, beyond, is an exquisite example of views from Canaletto’s English period. In May of 1746, Canaletto transferred his studio to London, perhaps in pursuit of fresh challenges, following two decades of prolific Venetian vedute painting. The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740 had discouraged English visitors from undertaking the Grand Tour, and these had made up the majority of Canaletto’s patrons and this lack of clientele may have been a further factor in his decision to move. The artist must have found success in Britain, however, as he remained there long after the signing of the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle that brought an end to the hostilities in October 1748. The painting is presumed to date to 1749, when the old, red brick Horse Guards had been condemned. This perhaps captured the imagination of the artist, compelling him to record the architecture in painted form for posterity. Given the lush foliage, it is likely this painting was executed in May or June of 1749, prior to the building’s demolition which began late that same year.
A featured lot in the Moretti part of the sale is this pair of panels by Lorenzo Veneziano that would have been among a series that flanked a central panel of the Madonna and Child. The sale catalogue notes:
Intensely naturalistic, these graceful figures are of exceptional quality and are entirely in keeping with Lorenzo Veneziano’s mature period. An artist of remarkable talent, Lorenzo was unequivocally the leading painter in Venice in the second half of the 14th century. His work was desired as much on the terrafirma as in Venice and, returning from trips beyond the city, he brought with him inspiration from the mainland. Lorenzo’s influence was as significant as it was diffuse, he introduced a naturalism, a fluency of draftmanship and a vitality of figure pose that had never before been seen in Venetian art. Here, for example, the demure and languid figure of Saint Catherine appears almost to sway before the viewer, while Saint Sigismund’s pose is direct, his spurred feet planted firmly and his gaze determined. The lyricism of the cascading drapery lines, the naturalism of the yawning folds and the impeccable transitions of shimmering tones are all telling of Lorenzo’s hand. Great care has been taken in the representation of detail, from the arrangement of folds at Saint Catherine’s feet, to the individual pelts of fur lining Saint Sigismund’s mantel and the tiny buttons fastening it at his shoulder.
This is a very refined work and the extensive and lyrical use of decorative punch work makes the celestial gold ground space even more exquisite. The figuration is less impressive, thought he Magdelene at the base of the cross is especially dramatic. The catalogue’s discussion of attribution is worth reading:
This intimate scene of the Crucifixion, previously unpublished, was almost certainly intended for private devotion within the domestic sphere. The marks along the left edge may be traces left by hinges, suggesting the panel once formed the right wing of a portable diptych. This Crucifixion scene would likely have been accompanied by a Madonna and Child at left. Despite the distinctive brushwork and punch decoration, details of the painting’s authorship remain somewhat elusive, and scholarly opinion regarding its city of origin is divided.
In a private communication with the present owner, Everett Fahy proposed an attribution to Naddo Ceccarelli, a Sienese painter active circa 1330 to 1360. Once considered a retardataire follower of Simone Martini, Ceccarelli is now recognized as playing a more formative role in the development of Sienese painting in the second half of the 14th century. The elaborately decorated border certainly recalls Ceccarelli’s ornamental style, as does the impressive tempera coloration in the drapery, particularly the rose hues in the mantle of Saint John the Evangelist. Andrea De Marchi also judges this panel to be Sienese, though dating to later in the century, and proposes it to be the work of Paolo di Giovanni Fei, active between 1369 and 1411. De Marchi notes that the punch work does not appear to be in keeping with the Siensese figures and suggests the gold and punch work may have been modified at a later stage. At a time when the dominant tradition among his Sienese contemporaries was in imitation of Simone Martini, Fei was highly sought-after for his refreshingly ‘modern’ and vivacious style. The faces of the Virgin and of Christ in this painting are remarkably similar to those in another Crucifixion by Fei, listed by Federico Zeri as on the art market in Rome in 1983-1984.
Laurence Kanter disagrees that the panel is Sienese, proposing instead that its author may be Umbrian. Kanter suggests the artist may have been active in Assisi, noting the influence of Pietro Lorenzetti and Giotto. Kanter observes similarities between this panel and a group of paintings published by Miklòs Boskovits as “Master of the Pomposa Chapterhouse”, though he does not believe it to be by the same hand. That master painted the cycle of frescos decorating the chapterhouse of the abbey at Pomposa, near Ferrara after which he takes his name. Smaller works by the artist include a tentatively attributed Madonna and Child, dating to circa 1310-1315, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York (inv. no. 47.143) and a Crucifixion, dating to circa 1320, in the Thyssen-Bornemisza collection, Madrid (inv. no. 260.1930.23). Both Kanter and Gaudenz Freuler assert that the decorative border is like no other punch work found in Sienese painting of the period.
This large Giovanni da Rimini painted crucifix last sold at Christie’s Goudstikker Sale in July 2007 for $62,400. According to the sale catalogue, it is one of a series of large crucifixes produced by the artist who was strongly influenced by Giotto.
According to the sale catalogue:
This … panel painting, of monumental scale, was only recently restored to the oeuvre of Girolamo Macchietti by Marta Privitera … Privitera, alerted to the existence of the painting by Sylvie Béguin and Aidan Weston-Lewis, gave the panel to Macchietti, an attribution upheld by Carlo Falciani who declared it to be a masterpiece by the artist. When included in the 1987 exhibition, Paintings from Emilia, 1500 – 1700, the painting and its accompanying preparatory drawing, now in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, were thought to be the work of Jacopo Bertoia.
The final work in the sale is this elegant Madonna and Child Enthroned with Saints by Jacopo di Cione that dates to the 1370s that may or may not have been the central panel of a triptych (this is disputed). The figuration is refined, the punch work a brilliant composition complement and the overall environment serene and beatific. A painting I would gladly own.