By Carter B.
of the major art auctions
there are usually quite a number of famous artists represented,
even if not always by their masterworks.
Old Master field, however,
great works by the big names do not come up often any more and
the names that predominate are pretty obscure even to most experts.
are, of course, many
"secondary" works that run the gamut of attribution
categories: "Circle of," "School of," "Studio
of" and "Attributed to." Every so often, such less
than enthusiastic endorsements result in surprises as some collectors
believe that firmer attributions are in order.
uninitiated, most of
the offerings at Old Master Paintings auctions are quite bewildering,
but they are also fascinating for stripped of the glamor label
they force the potential buyer to actually look at the lot on
its artistic merits. As art scholarship advances, repute often
acrues to long-forgotten and overlooked artists. Reappraisals
of art history do not rewrite the textbooks completely but often
make for fascinating addendums.
auctions are a return to their grass-roots of art appreciation,
rummaging with their parents perhaps in flea markets or country
antiques stores, long before their formal indoctrination with
the displayed treasures of museums.
point is not that the great
artists are not great, but that availability of their works is
scant, even in a time of record prices.
more important is the
fact that while attributions may change or not be as impressive
as a sellor or buyer might wish the work of art does not.
Master Painting auctions,
therefore, are not only esoteric but exciting and this auction
was not exception. While it was not a resounding success with
less than three-quarters of the offered lots selling, it was quite
strong given the quality, a reflection of the general robust strength
of the art market.
the finest work in
the auction, at least in terms of being a smashingly attractive
painting, was Lot 112, the wings of an altarpiece by Hans Dürer
(1490-1535-8) that was sold at Sotheby's in London Dec. 8, 1993
as "circle of Albrecht Dürer," the great German
master. A large detail of the right wing, Saint George, is shown
at the top of this article. Hans Dürer was Albrect's younger
brother. The other wing depicted St. Christopher and both 40 1/2
by 15 inch panels also had paintings on their back (verso) of
panels are the wings
of an altarpiece for which the central panel of "The Lamentation"
is most likely now in the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh,
the catalogue noted, adding that "that panel bears the Dürer
monogram which, while possibly added at a slightly later date,
clearly points to Albrecht Dürer as the principal source
of inspiration for those paintings' execution, although others
have noted comparison with the work of Dürer's pupil, Hans
Baldung Grien and the Saxon Court painter, Lucas Cranach I."
Such "comparisons," however, do not make much sense
the influence of
Albrecht Dürer cannot be denied, it is upon comparison with
the signed and date painting by Hans Dürer in the Jacobite
Church in Nysa, Poland, that the attribution for the present lot
has been suggested. The composition of the Virgin and Child
in the Nysa altarpiece is based on an engraving by Albrecht
to 1516 and resembles his style particularly in the facial
the painterly interpretation of the linear design, including the
highly decorated gowns, suggests Hans' own style. Another altarpiece
by Hans Dürer of Christ carrying the Cross (signed
and dated 1522), formerly in the Cathedral, Breslau, and now in
the Nationalmuseum, Warsaw, is also based on Albrecht Dürer's
woodcut from the large Passion series.
within its estimates
for $167,000 (including the buyer's premium as do all the quoted
sales prices in this article).
were several nice buildings
by minor artists such as Peter Tillemans (1684-1734), Lot 3, a
very nice harbor scene with many figures that sold within its
estimate for $11,500; Jean-Baptiste Pillement (1728-1808), Lot
75, a very well done and dramatic painting of a shipwreck that
also sold within its estimate for $34,500; Lot 94, "Christ
among the Doctors," by The Master of Fontanarosa (17th Century),
a very interesting fragment that sold for $13,800 and had a high
estimate of $12,000; "The Triumphal Entry of David into Jerusalem,"
Lot 99, a charming oil by the School of Frans Francken II (1581-1642)
that sold for $19,550, almost twice its low estimate.
catalogue's cover illustration,
Lot 10, a very fine large still life, by Edwaert Collier (1640-afte
1707), had a high estimate of $300,000 and sold for $442,500.
highlights included Lot
60, "The Madonna and Child with Adoring Angels, a very pleasant
34-inch tondo on panel, by Ridolfo di Domenico Bigordi, called
del Ghirlandaio (1483-1561), sold for $310,500, more than five
times its high estimate; Lot 61, "Cupid and Pscyhe,"
a large oil by Bartolomeo Guidobono (1657-1709), a Caravaggioesque
dark work that sold for $255,500, more than twice its low estimate;
Lot 104, a very fine river landscape with travelers and a peasant
family by Jan Wynants (1625-1684) that sold for $266,500 and had
a $50,000 high estimate; Lot 129, "The Madonna and Child
Enthroned," a very fine work on panel with an unfortunate
vertical crack by Zanobi di Benedetto Strozzi (1412-1468) who,
according to Everett Fahy, was formerly known as the Master of
the Buckingham Palace Madonna, and which sold for $255,500, more
than three times its high estimate; Lot 133, a very impressive
portrait of Saint Andrew attributed to Jusepe de Ribera, called
Lo Spagnoletto (1591-1652), which sold for $145,500, more than
twice its high estimate; Lot 142, "Portrait of Maie Leczinska,
Queen of France," by Jean-Marc Nattier (1685-1766), a major
work in need of relining and cleaning, that sold for $85,000,
more than four times its high estimate.
strong showings included
Lot 11, a portrait of a bearded gentleman in the style of Frans
Hals by Judith Leyster (1609-1660), sold for $156,500, more than
twice its low estimate; Lot 17, a fine Holy Family by Giovanni
Battista Salvi, Il Sassoferrato (1605-1685), sold for $79,500,
almost double its low estimate; two paintings by Jean-Baptiste
Greuze (1724-1805), Lot 24 and 78, lovely small portraits of girls,
both selling for more than double their low estimates at $68,500
and $167,500, respectively; Lot 28, "Venus Ordering Arms
from Vulcan for Aeneas," by Jean Restout (1692-1768), a large
and dramatic work consigned by Nancy Richardson, that sold for
$189,500 and had a high estimate of $120,000; Lot 110, a not very
colorful view of Arnheim by Jan Josefsz. van Goyen (1596-1656)
that sold for $299,500, almost twice its high estimate.
Great paintings by the romantic
such as Fragonard and Watteau are in short supply for most gilded
dining rooms and the like, but occasionally a very charming and
lovely but modest painting of similar esprit crops
auction, such as Lot 141, shown below, a delightful oil on canvas,
25 1/2 by 20 3/4 inches by Nicolas Lancret (1690-1743). The unsigned
work had a high estimate of $50,000 and sold for $63,000.
the auction did have
two paintings by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), Lots
29 and 71. The former is a nice, small potrait of a child with
rosy cheeks that sold $235,500, nicely over its high estimate
of $200,000. It was consigned by the Wadsworth Atheneum. The latter
was an 30 3/4 by 52 inch overdoor decoration, one of two owned
by the Norton Simon Foundation that still owns the other one,
"The Music of Lyric Poetry." This lot sold for $332,500,
more than eleven times its high estimate.
One of the star lots of the
auction was a pair
of unsigned paintings, "the Piazzetta in Venice, looking
East," shown below, and "The Bacino di San Marco and
the Church of Santa Maria della Salute," by Bernardo Bellotto
(1722-1780), Lot 146. Although only 18 3/4 by 24 3/4 inches each,
the paintings were quite bold compositions with wonderful effects
of light for this famous follower of Canaletto, the famous painter
of Venetian scenes. The pair sold for $2,367,500, almost double
the low estimate.
the elegant realism of
Canaletto and Bellotto is admirable, Francesco Guardi (1764-1835)
has always been more appealing because his almost very painterly
touch. Lot 63 consists of a pair of his paintings that once belonged
to Vivien Leigh, the actress, and the two paintings are equally
beautiful. Only 3 by 3 7/8 inches, they are fine jewels, nicely
set in very impressive frames as shown below in the illustration
of one of them, "A Capriccio with a ruined Turret on an Island
in a Venetian Lagoon." The other painting is "A Landscape
with figures crossing a Bridge, a Tower beyond." The pair
sold for $134,500, and had a $50,000 high estimate. Another Guardi,
Lot 145, not as nice but about three times as big, sold for $354,500,
almost three times its high estimate, and another one went for
double its high estimate, Lot 62.
More than three-quarters of the
153 lots in
the auction sold, which was respectable. Among the disappointing
passes were Lot 18, a very good "Head of a Sage,' by Pier
Francesco Mola (1612-1666), two paintings by Joachim Anthonisz.
Wtewael (1566-1638), Lots 45 and 46; Lot 93, a very beautiful
"Portrait of Miss Mortimer as 'Hebe,' by the Rev. Matthew
William Peters, R.A. (1741-2-1814), and Lot 114, a portrait of
Sibylle van Cleve, Electress of Saxony, that the catalogue said
was by Lucas Cranach I (1472-1553), a not terribly good, rather
odd work; two unexciting paintings by Francisco de Zurbarán,
Lots 136 and 137; Lot 150, a set of four large oil on canvas paintings
of the seasons by Sebastian Vrancx (c. 1573-1647); and Lot 152,
a pleasant Philips Wouwerman (1619-1668).