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
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 subject...is 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.
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.
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
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.