Very Picky Buyer’s at Sotheby’s Old Masters Auction
In contrast to the train wreck at Christie’s last night, Sotheby’s sale of Old Masters in London had better results, though buyer’s were very picky and the star lot, John Constable’s The Lock, sold only at it’s low estimate of £8 million (£9,109,000 with fees), no where near the £22,441,250 that a comparable picture made a few years ago. The 44-lot sale yielded £19,305,000 (£22,630,750 with collective buyer’s premiums) against a pre-sale estimate of £21,800,000-32,560,000 (estimates do not include the buyer’s premiums). No works were withdrawn, but 15 failed to sell, more than a third to the total offered. The reception for Dutch pictures was emblematic of the evening’s roller coaster ride – a Govert Flinck Tronie of a young woman shot past its £300,000 high estimate to hammer for £400,000 (£485,000 with fees), while landscapes by Miendert Hobbema and Aelbert Cuyp, and a Johannes Cornelis. Verspronk portrait all bombed.
The sale opened with a group of early Netherlandish, Flemish and French works including a Head of Christ by the Master of the Legend of St. Ursula that made a respectable £75,000 (£93,750 with fees) against a £70,000-100,000 estimate, followed by the final in a sequence of 24 panels, with 30 scenes, by the Master of 1456 about the martyrdom of St. Ursula.
According to the sale catalogue:
The hausmarke at the lower right of the composition belongs to the van Scheyven family, who possibly intended the panels for the Klarenkloster, Cologne, with which they had close ties. It was this same family who commissioned the dated cycle in the basilica, with a Jan van Scheyven named on the penultimate panel. As is evident from these two cycles, Saint Ursula clearly had great significance to this family, as she did to Cologne in general, the place of her martyrdom. Her effigy abounded throughout the city, whose coat-of-arms of three crowns, symbolising the Magi, can be seen decorating the flag flying at the upper right of our panel. The legend, first mentioned in a fourth- or fifth-century inscription in the basilica, recounts that Ursula, a British princess, undertook a pan-European pilgrimage before her marriage, which only ended when she and the eleven-thousand virgins accompanying her were massacred by an army of besieging Huns.
There was definite interest and the picture sold for a hammer price of £80,000 (£100,000 with fees). Following a careful cleaning, it should be even more beguiling.
A modestly sized, fantastical moonlit landscape by the delightfully idiosyncratic Herri met de Bles caught the room’s attention. After Patinir, Herri was the most popular practitioner in the new genre of landscape-centric painting. As the catalogue notes: “He was both talented in the depiction of the minutest detail of his ‘world landscapes’ and possessed an imagination that set his landscapes above those of his peers. He eschewed Patinir’s structured compostions in favour of more chaotic, spectacular worlds of his imagination.”
A frequent element in a Herri painting is an image of an owl. As the catalogue notes: “There is possibly an owl in the small cavity in the rock, above and to the right of the little hut reached by ladder. Much has been made of the owls that feature in many of Herri’s works and they are often considered his ‘signature’, as they were by Van Mander – indeed in Italy, where his works were popular, he was nicknamed ‘Civetta’ in response to this.”
The reception in the sale room was enthusiastic with the painting fetching a hammer price of £110,000 (£137,000 with fees).
Next up was the lefthand panel from a mid-15th century triptych believed to have originally been painted for the chapel of the Virgin and Saint Christopher, Church of Saint-Gervais-Saint Protais, Paris.
The central panel of the work is in the Getty (below) and the righthand panel, depicting The Resurrection with Jeanne Peschard and her daughters presented by St Catherine, is in the collection of the Musée Fabre in Montpellier. The J. Paul Getty Museum Journal No. 11 from 1983 (which can be downloaded free) has an extensive essay about the triptych (pp. 183-196).
The lot notes are worth reading and include this salient biographical information: “Dreux Budé and Jeanne Peschard married in 1422. Both were from prominent Parisian families. Jeanne was the daughter of Jean Peschard and Jeanne Gencin. The Budé family came from Auxerre, but were established in Paris by the end of the 14th century, where their wealth stemmed from the wine trade.”
The work sold well above estimate, hammering for £800,000 (£965,000 with fees). According to Apollo it was acquired by the Louvre.
The Mabuse Virgin and Child (illustrated at the top of the post), was included in the exceptional 2011 retrospective about the healed at the National Gallery in London (where it was on loan from 1993 to 2012) and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and is only one of two depictions of this subject from the 1520s and 1530s in private hands. It may have been one half of a diptych, but there is no known corresponding flanking panel. In modern times, Mabuse’s renown grew when the so-called Flemish Primitives gained popularity starting in the early 20th century. Despite the pre-sale hype the work sold at its low estimate of £4 million (£4,629,000 with fees).
In their July 2015 evening sale Sotheby’s had a workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger portrait of Henry VIII, which came from Castle Howard. That work hammered for its low estimate of £800,000 and would seem to have shaken loose another Holbein workshop portrait of the sovereign.
The two paintings are extremely similar: the dimensions are nearly the same; the ornate dress only differs in color; and the face of the sovereign is fuller and the beard here has only a hint of gray. According to the lot notes:
This magnificent portrait of Henry VIII last appeared on public exhibition over a century ago, and its re-emergence here reveals it as perhaps the first and surely the finest known version of this, the last great image of the king produced by his celebrated court painter Hans Holbein the Younger. The fact that it has remained in the famous collection of portraits at Warwick castle for over two centuries has meant its extraordinary quality has remained largely unaffected by later intervention, and its remarkable state of preservation thus allows us to see the exceptional quality and detail of jewellery and costume intact. Some three hundred years after it was painted, its likeness had not lost its power to impress.
The owners of Warwick castle who were the sellers had to settle for less than the minimum estimate as the painting fetched £680,000 (£821,000 with fees).
Nested among some gold ground Italian paintings including a Lorenzo di Bicci portable triptych that made £130,000 (£161,000 with fees), and a Jacopo di Cione Madonna and Child Enthroned with Music-Making Angels and Virtues that sold way below it’s £120,000 low estimate (I blame the Virtues), hammering at £90,000 (£112,500 with fees), was lot 11, Cola di Petruccioli da Orvieto’s Madonna and Child Enthroned, Flanked by Saint Catherine of Alexandria, Saint Veronica, Saint Mustily and Saint Lucy.
There’s a quirkiness to the physiognomy of the figures painted by this obscure artist that I find engaging and makes me want to know more about him. According to the catalogue:
Cola di Petruccioli, a native of Orvieto, was first recorded as the author of a fresco of The Crucifixion, signed and dated 1380, in the crypt under the tribune of the Duomo in Orvieto. Cola is known to have been one of several pupils working under Ugolino di Prete Ilario, the first well-known figure in the school of Orvieto, who was charged with much of the decoration of the Duomo between 1372–78. Ugliono appears to have been significantly influenced by the Sienese master Luca di Tommé and indeed documentation exists that confirms Luca’s presence in Orvieto at this time, and Ugolino’s acquaintance with him. Since Sienese masters such as Luca di Tommé travelled to neighbouring towns and often far further into the Italian peninsular, the particular artistic style of the Sienese that had developed from the radical and progressive works of masters such as Giotto and Simone Martini (who himself had worked in Orvieto around 1320), had an influence that extended far beyond Siena’s own city walls.
Bernard Berenson in Essays in the Study of Sienese Painting wrote:
His place is with those minor painters who as craftsmen were, like Fei himself, in the intermittent employ of the great cathedral fabrics to do a bit of new decoration here, and a bit of refurbishing there, filling in the intervals with turning out pictures to order, or, as is the case with the small triptychs, for the market. Siena seems to have been particularly rich in such little men, whom indeed Petruccioli recalls, as, for example, Francesco Vannuccio, and, a generation later, Tino di Bartolommeo or Nanni di Jacopo. At that time they had to seek a livelihood far away from home, and they can be tracked not only to Pisa but to the most secluded recesses of Umbria and perhaps even to Sicily.
He’s no Francesco di Vannuccio, nor another Paolo di Giovanni Fei, but the work is sufficiently intriguing so that I would like to see and learn more.
The market seems to agree with me and it fetched an impressive £210,000 (£257,000 with fees).
Sotheby’s hoped royal pedigree would help this van Dyke portrait of King Charles I’s wife Queen Henrietta Maria.
Initially a half-length portrait, “it is believed to have been extended by Sir Joshua Reynolds to its present dimensions in the late eighteenth century to fit with the series of such portraits that decorated the principal state rooms of Warwick Castle,” according to the sale notes. There was no love in the sale room and the painting stalled at £1.3 million.
Meanwhile, the Breughel industry, a whole subset of the Old Master market, is one barometer of the market’s health. There are, for example, dozens of versions of Pieter Breughel the Younger’s Birdtrap of varying quality – the one at Christie’s last night sold for a hammer price of £1 million (£1,202,500 with premium), which turned out to be the highest priced work in that disaster of a sale.
According to the sale notes: “This panel is by far the largest of the known versions of this composition to have survived. In his catalogue of the works of Pieter Brueghel the Younger Klaus Ertz lists only ten autograph versions of the design, with dated examples ranging from 1610 to 1622, and the largest three only 75 by 100 cm.” There was considerable interest and the painting finally went to an online bidder for £720,000 (£869,000 with fees).
The catalogue advises us that these two lots “form part of a series of views of great beauty and importance, that were commissioned from Gaspar van Wittel – his name italianized as Vanvitelli – by the ninth Duke of Medinaceli, Viceroy of Naples, in around 1700. They have never before been offered on the open market and have remained in the family of his direct descendants until recently.”
Vanvitelli had probably arrived in Rome in 1674. A Dutchman, from Amersfoot near Utrecht, he had trained initially under Matthias Withoos, a painter of still lifes, landscapes and the occasional city view, who himself had worked in Rome between1648 and 1652. Vanvitelli’s earliest known works are a series of fifty drawings made to accompany a report prepared for Pope Clement X by the Dutch hydraulic engineer Cornelis Meyer, which investigated the possibility of extending the navigability of the Tiber upstream from Rome. By the early 1680s Vanvitelli appears to have made view painting a particular speciality.
While these two works have “never been offered on the open market” I have to wonder if they’ve been privately shopped around given the poor results. Bidding on the first painting stopped at £800,000 and it failed to sell, while the second work sold below the £800,000 low estimate for a hammer price of £700,000 (£845,000 with fees).
While this is not a major work by Joseph Wright of Derby – it doesn’t have the brilliant flaming colors used to dramatic effect – the painting has been in the same collection since 1840, so, it’s very fresh to the market. It rocketed to a hammer price of £550,000 (£665,000 with fees), with the proceeds going to aid Syrian refugees, according to the BBC.
The final lot, which also carried the highest estimate, was Constables’ The Lock.
This is the second version of The Lock to come to auction in the past few years – the July 2012 Old Master sale at Christie’s featured a nearly identical composition that was being sold by Baroness Carmen Thyssen Bornemisza. That picture carried a £20-25 million estimate and sold for a hammer price of £20 million (£22,441,250 with fees or $35,120,558). The estimate for the present picture is half that of the Bornemisza painting. According to the sale catalogue, “It is also one of only three of Constable’s major works left in private hands.” The Telegraph reports that the work was “painted by Constable and kept in his studio for life,” and was “offered for sale by Sotheby’s for the first time since 1855.”
The painting could only make it’s low estimate of £8 million (£9,109,000 with fees).