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Important Old Master Paintings


May 28, 1999

"A Knight in Armor on a White Horse" by a follower of Paolo Ucello

Lot 1, "A Knight in Armor on a White Horse"

by a follower of Paolo Uccello, oil on panel,

34 1/2 by 19 1/2 inches

By Carter B. Horsley

Most auctions scatter their best works throughout the sale to maintain interest, pace it, and avoid the misfortune of latecomers stuck in traffic missing their lots at the beginning.

This auction, however, began with a group of interesting early works from the Sarah Campbell Blaffer Foundation and Lot 1, shown above, was probably the handsomest work of art in the auction at least for romantics.

"A Knight in Armor on a White Horse," this 34 1/2 by 19 1/2 inch oil on panel was described in the Sotheby's catalogue as a fragment of a larger work by a follower of Paolo Uccello (1396-1475), one of the rarest and most influential early masters of the Italian Renassiance, best known for his flamboyant perspectives and battle scenes.

Uccello is rarer even than Piero della Francesca and there are probably only a handful of major works accepted as authentic by most experts. This large work is almost too good to be true as a fragment because it is a better good composition in its present condition, which is also excellent. What is most striking about the picture is the red sky under the tree leaves at the top. This is a very handsome picture that had a surprisingly low estimate of $15,000 to $25,000 even as an anonymous work. It sold for $21,850 (including the buyer's premium as do all the prices in this article). Perhaps some connoisseurs got stuck in traffic.

Renaissance paintings, especially those of religious subjects, have not been in vogue for some time with many interior designers and "new" money eager to be fashionable, and therefore often present wonderful bargains to the cogniscienti. Lot 2, for example, a "Madonna and Child" by Jacopo del Landini, called Jacopo del Casentino (active 1339-1358), was an extremely handsome work in good condition, worthy of most museums. A 40 by 26 inch tempera on panel with gold gound and a pointed top, it sold for only $27,600, short of its $30,000 low estimate.

Painted panels of chests, or cassone, are among some of the most interesting Renaissance paintings and Lot 4 was a 15 1/4 by 59 inch example by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni di Simone, called Lo Scheggia (1407-1486), fomerly known as the Master of the Adimari Casseone and the Master of Fucecchio. This cassone depicted the "Triumph of Caesar" and the catalogue noted that it was "updated and set amidst early Florentine architecture and fashions." The work is similar in its complex composition, though not in its execution, to a couple of magnificent cassones at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It sold within its estimate for $51,750.

Another good painting in the Blaffer group was Lot 10, "Holy Family with Saints Luke, Dorothy, Peter, Sebastian and the infant Saint John the Baptist," by Bonifazio de Pitati called Bonifazio Veronese (1487-1553) and Studio. The 64 1/2 b 77 1/2 inch has some figures that are similar to those in another work by the artist in the National Gallery in London and other figures that relate closely to those in a work in Alnwick Castle, the catalogue observed, adding that the figure of St. Dorothy is "nearly identical" to one in a painting "considered to be from the workshop of Bonifazio, in the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore." The lot sold for $74,000 and had a $70,000 low estimate.

Among other early works in the auction not part of the Blaffer group was Lot 15 and Lot 17. The former was "The Decollation of Saint John the Baptist, Salome Waiting to the Left and the Soul of the Baptist Ascending to Heaven," by Carlo da Camerino (active 1396). This 15 by 11 1/2 inch tempera on panel with gold ground is a pleasant work that sold for $68,500, almost twice its $35,000 high estimate. The latter was "The Trinity with a Donor Figure and Saint John the Baptist and Another Male Saint (Saint Peter?) Below," by Borghese di Pietro (1427-1463), formerly the Master of Saints Quiricus and Julitta. This attractive, 11 3/4 by 8 1/2 inch tempera on panel with gold ground sold for $156,500, almost four times it $40,000 low estimate.

The highlight of the early works was Lot 20, "Christ as Salvator Mundi," by Circle of Leonardi da Vinci (1452-1519), a 27 by 19 1/4 inch oil on panel that was in less than pristine condition and which is not in the widely recognized style of the great master. "The most compelling document for a Leonardo painting of this the existence of a print by Wenceslaus Hollar, the great Bohemian engraver, which is clearly captioned "Leonardus da Vinci pinxit...," the catalogue wrote. There are about 12 paintings that are related to the print, "of various levels of quality," it continued, adding that the present work, "cloistered away in the Béhague/de Ganay collection and thus unknown to most scholars until the early 1970's, is perhaps the most accomplished of the varous examples." The lot was estimated at 80,000 to $120,000 and sold for $332,500. If it were an autograph work, of course, it would be worth an extra two digits.

"St, John the Baptist and Saint Paul" by Ferrarese School

Lot 20B, "Saint John the Baptist and Saint Paul," a pair of paintings,

Ferrarese School, late 16th Century, oil on panel, each 63 1/2 by 22 inches

Far more painterly were the pair of paintings in Lot 20B, shown above, "Saint John the Baptist and Saint Paul, Ferrarese School, late 16th Century, oil on panel, each 63 1/2 by 22 inches. The paintings were formerly in collection of William Randolph Hearst and a very fine statuesque quality. The pair sold within the estimate for $79,500, a bargain.

Another remarkable buy was Lot 31, "Saint Jerome in the Wilderness," by Jacopo da Ponte, called Jacopo Bassano (1510/15-1592), oil on canvas, 22 by 18 inches. This extremely attractive work is closely related to several other versions, the catalogue noted. It sold for $40,250 and had a low estimate of $40,000.

There was considerable enthusiasm for a larger work, Lot 46, "David with the Head of Goliath," by Alessandro Turchi, called L'Orbetto (1578-1649), oil on canvas. The 48 by 37 inch work, which was better than many Caravaggios but slightly different in its painterly style and not in perfect condition, had a high estimate of $80,000 and sold for $233,500, but still was not as appealing as Lot 31.

The most alluring work was Lot 48, "Madonna and Child," by Annibale Carracci (1560-1609) after Antonio Allegi da Correggio (1494-1534). this 17 1/4 by 11 7/8 inch oil on paper laid down on paper superbly captured the softness, orange hues of Correggio and his aesthetic. It derives from Correggio's painting "Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine" in the Louvre that the catalogue noted Vasari once observed that it had been painted "with heads so beautiful done that could have been done in paradise." This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1881 as a Correggio. It sold for $145,500, more than twice its $70,000 low estimate.

Perhaps the best museum quality work, or certainly most desirable for architects, in the auction was Lot 167, "Figures in a Classical Archway," by Giovanni Paolo Panini (1691-1765), a 25 3/8 by 19 1/4 inch oil on canvas that sold for $316,000, soaring above its $120,000 high estimate.

Among the other highlights of the sale was Lot 67, "Agnus Dei," by Francisco de Zurbaran (1598-1664), an 18 3/4 by 22 inch painting of a lamb that sold within its estimate for $442,500, Lot 76, "Diana and Actaeon," a 19 3/4 by 29 inch oil on panel by Lucas Cranach, the Younger (1515-1586), which was consigned by the Wadsworth Atheneum and sold for $211,500, more than four times its low estimate of $50,000, Lot 118, "A Head of Moor with a White Scarf Around His Head," French School, 18th Century, 21 1/4 by 19 3/4 inches, a work that would intimidate Velasquez and sold for $40,250, more than five times its $8,000 low estimate, and Lot 146, "Cimon and Pero: 'Roman Charity,'" a 24 3/4 by 31 1/4 inch oil on canvas by Jean-Baptiste Greuze (1725-1805), which sold for $178,500, almost six times its high estimate, and Lot 158, shown below, "Venus Frolicking in the Sea with Nymphs and Putti," by Antoine Coypel (1661-1722), a very delightful 28 1/2 by 23 1/4 inch oil on canvas.

"Venus Frolicking in the Sea with Nymphs and Putti" by Antoine Coypel

Lot 158, "Venus Frolicking in the Sea With Nymphs and Putti,"

by Antoine Coypel, oil on canvas, 28 1/2 by 23 1/4 inches

Lot 184, "Still Life with Two Eggs, Two Jugs, Hanging Fish,Salmon on a Plate and a Copper Pot All on a Stone Ledge," certainly a mouthful, by Jean-Baptiste Siméon Chardin (1699-1779), 13 by 16 inches, oil on canvas, was the most expensive lot in the sale, selling within its estimates for $525,000, a very respectable price for a minor work by an important master.

"Interior of a Gothic Church with Figures" by Francois de Nome, called Monsu Desiderio, oil on canvas, 20 1/2 by 28 1/4 inches

Lot 43, "Interior of a Gothic Church with Figures," by François de Nomé,

called Monsù Desiderio, 1619, oil on canvas, 20 1/8 by 28 1/4 inches

François de Nomé, the catalogue observed, "was one of the most unique and surreal painters of his day," adding that here he took "the standard genre of church interior painting and converted it into an exercise in fantasy, with dramatic lighting and an abundance of detail, lending it a dream-like quality." "Particularly interesting is his inventon of elaborate baroque tomb sculpture and figures of the archangels of Saints Cosmas and Damian, packed together with military trophies, all underneath a vault decorated with a Renaissance grotesque design," it added. It sold for $96,000, nicely over its $80,000 high estimate.

Among the disappointments was Lot 189, two masked figures with a fruit seller, by Pietro Longhi (1702-1785), a good oil on canvas, 24 3/8 by 19 1/4 inches. It was estimated at $500,000 to $700,000 and was passed as were about one quarter of the more than 200 lots offered.

See The City Review article on the May, 1999 Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's in New York

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