By Carter B. Horsley
Most "decorative" auctions are grab-bag affairs with few, if any gems, but this auction of European Works of Art is superb with many great pieces that would allure the great American collectors of the past such as J. P. Morgan, Benjamin Altman and Robert Lehman, whose collections while not encyclopedic were rich and full and not narrow.
Indeed, the overall quality of this auction is very high despite the relatively low estimates. A general lack of enthusiastic interest in religious objects affords astute collectors excellent opportunities to acquire really wonderful works of art in this category which basically covers the Medieval Period through the 18th Century.
The sale was very successful with many lots soaring above their high estimates.
One of the most charming pieces is Lot 9, shown above, an Italian painted wood figure of a female saint, 15th Century, that is 34 3/8 inches high. The figure’s open pose with her extended arms and nice finger articulation is especially inviting. The piece, which is property of the Alsdorf Collection as are many of the better lots in the auction, has some losses, worming and restoration but has a serenity and grace that would enliven any castle. It has a conservative estimate of $6,000 to $8,000. It sold for $8,625, including the buyer's premium as do all prices in this article.
Lot 1, from the same collection, is a very proud, rather fiercesome stone statue of a seated lion, circa 1300, that the catalogue says is either Southern Italian or Spanish. The 18 ½-inch-high by 25 5/8-inch long figure has an almost Chinese style and has a hole in the mouth and on the underside for obvious use as a fountain. It has a conservative estimate of $5,000 to $7,000 and does have some repairs. It sold for $40,950.
Another very fine Alsdorf item is Lot 17, shown below, a 32 ¼-inch high marble relief of Saint Agnes and Saint Barbara, attributed to the Gagini workshops, mid 15th Century. The catalogue says that the work is Southern Italian, possibly Neapolitan, and notes that the Gagini "were an Italian family of sculptors, masons and architects, one branch of which originally came from Bissone and was active in Genoa in the 15th Century onward," adding that "Domenico, one of the most innovative members of the family, settled in Sicily between 1458 and 1463 and that branch of the family remained active there until the 17th Century." "The distinctive facial features with high forehead and narrow eyes, the drapery style and the scallop-shell niche evident in the present lot can be compared with several works" by the Gabini family. The lot has a very conservative estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. Saint Agnes holds a lamb and Saint Barbara holds a tall tower and both have exquisite countenances of quite remarkable beauty even for the Renaissance. It sold for $43,125.
The catalogue’s cover illustration, Lot 21, also is comes from the Alsdorf Collection and is an exquisite, 17 3/8-inch by 19 7/8-inch marble relief of Diana and the Stag, that the catalogue says is school of Fontainebleau, mid 16th Century. The catalogue notes that inspirations for this relief come from Cellini’s "Nymph" cast in 1543-4 for the Porte Dorée of the Chateau of Fontainebleau, the Fountain of Diana, now in the Louvre, and a composition by the Master L. D. of Diana at Rest after a composition by Primaticcio. It also notes that a nearly identical but smaller relief is at the Musée de Cluny in Paris. The work has a conservative estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $60,250.
Lot 5 is a 18 ½-inch high gilt and painted wood figure of an angel holding a shield emblazoned with an eagle, probably Italian, late 15th Century. The catalogue notes it has some losses and that the right wrist and left arm are later. Nonetheless, it is a quite cheerful, modest work that has a conservative estimate of $3,000 to $5,000. While the figure may be an angel, the eagle shield makes it a rather secular work. It sold for $19,550.
Lot 16 is a 37 ½-inch tall Madonna and Child that the catalogue says is from the workshop of Benedetto da Maiano, last quarter of the 15th Century, is a rather unusual Florentine painted terracotta sculpture in that the Madonna’s robe is such a strong visual element in the composition enveloping her quite fully while the Child, who holds a bird, is held in her left hand and is almost leaping away from the blue robe. The animated Child adds considerable dynamics as the Madonna, who wears a red dress, is serene but almost sad with downcast eyes. The catalogue notes that the bird has some losses and the Child’s left hand has areas of "refreshed" paint. The modeling of the Child is excellent, although the drapery is a bit crude and the Madonna’s right hand is definitely clumsily done. The catalogue compares "the distinctive and delicate facial features, pattern of folds in the drapery and the depiction of the hands with long, tapering fingers to known works by the Florentine Quattrocentro master in a book by F. Schottmüller and in the figures in the Annunciation relief in S. Anna dei Lombardi in Naples. The lot has an estimate of only $10,000 to $15,000. It sold for $36,375.
There are numerous Limoges items in the auction, but the most spectacular is Lot 32, a champlevé enamel copper book cover, circa 1200, that was once in the collection of Leon Arnault. The cover, shown above, depicts the Crucifixion and incorporates applied figures of the angels above and the Virgin and Saint John with Adam rising from the tomb at the foot of the cross. The catalogue notes of the 9 by 4 5/16 inch work that "The clarity of the enameling and the precision with which the enamels are contrasted with the gilded areas…allows for comparison with similarly fine examples made in Limoges around 1200." The museum-quality work has a very conservative estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It was withdrawn.
Lot 54, shown above, is a nice pair of German stained glass panels of "regal men," 16th Century or later. The 63 5/8 by 30 inch panels probably depict Holy Roman Emperors, according to the catalogue, as both are "elaborately clad in ermine cloaks and crowns on damask background." The lot, which would certainly enhance any child’s bedroom window, has a very conservative estimate of $7,000 to $9,000. The panels are enclosed in lightboxes. It sold for $14,950.
Lot 61 puts to shame the vast majority of offerings of major jewelry stores today as it is an enameled gold necklace, probably Spanish, mid 17th Century, composed of 14 links elaborately worked with scrolling leafy tendrils enameled in white, light pink and light blue, the leaves centered by Baroque pearls. While not as spectacular as the great Renaissance Baroque pearl broaches, this is a stunning piece of jewelry that is modestly estimated at $20,000 to $30,000 and would make most matrons at New York’s major charity balls green with envy. It sold for $54,150.
The auction has two 17th Century bronze horse statues from the collection of Jacques and Barbara Schlumberger. Lot 65 is attributed to Pietro Taca and is 9 3/8 inches high and dated early 17th Century and Lot 68 is 8 7/8 inches high and "after Giambologna" and dated simply 17th Century. The former has an ambitious estimate of $120,000 to $150,000 and sold for $761,500 and the latter an estimate of $40,000 to $50,000 and was passed!
One of the major works in the auction is Lot 82, shown above, a Roman terracotta relief of The Ecstasy of Saint Theresa of Avila, by Tommaso Amantini, third quarter, 17th Century. The 34 ¾ by 18 ¾ inch, museum-quality work has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,00. It sold for $153,500. "A smaller terracotta variant to the present relief is preserved in the Kunsthistoriches Museums, Vienna,…and differs…in the omission of the columns and curtain framing the composition and in the arrangement of the angels and putti in the upper areas. Like the relief in Vienna, the present terracotta appears to be a finished modello, rather than a bozzetto, because of the inclusion of finished details. Both Amantini reliefs are clearly indebted to Bernini’s marble group of the same subject in the Cornaro chapel in Santa Maria della Vittoria, particularly in the theatrical use of light." The piece is missing some arms and fingers, but otherwise is in good condition.
Another fine small terracotta group is Lot 85, shown below, statues of a Muse and a Vestal Virgin, both just over 17 inches high, that are each signed Clodion and dated, respectively, (17)68 and 1769. Formerly in the André Meyer Collection, the catalogue notes that "The style of the present pair relates to other known compositions by Clodion including the marble in the National Gallery, Washington, D.C., of a Vestal probably commissioned in 1770 and a terracotta model of the same which is of similar size to the present sculptures, predating the marble, belonging to the Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh." The lot has a conservative estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $266,500.
Lot 93, shown below, is a quite dramatic Brussels historical tapestry from the story of Perseus, third quarter, 16th Century that is 11 feet 7 ½ inches by 10 feet 7 inches and has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. Perseus is shown with his attendants in a boat in danger of sinking and large central panel is surrounded by an elaborate border of allegorical figures in trelliswork with fruiting vines and exotic birds. The lot has some tears in it. It sold for $79,500.
Another very good Brussels historical tapestry is Lot 105, which is from the story of Alexander the Great after designs by Charles Le Brun, circa 1660. The 10 foot 9 inch by 7 foot 5 inch work has a very conservative estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $28,750.
Women are not neglected in the tapestry section of this auction as Lot 108 is a very nice Flemish panel, 17th Century, of a queen on a ship surrounded by female attendants hoisting the sails. The 5 foot 11 ½ inch by 16 foot half an inch tapestry has a conservative estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $17,250.
The morning session of the auction also has some furniture. Lot 150 is a very fine Flemish ebonized wood jewelry cabinet, 17th Century, with interior panels painted with mythological scenes that the catalogue attributes to a follower of Hendrik van Balen (1775-1632). The 21 3/8 inch by 22 7/8 inch by 24 1/8 inch work has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $40,250.
Another stunning work is Lot 156, shown above, a Dutch Baroque walnut bureau bookcase, second quarter 18th Century, that is 104 inches high and 70 inches wide. The marquetry work is very impressive as is the overall form and size of this work, which has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000, reflecting the fact that the large doors each have a large crack. It sold for $43,125.
The second session of the auction begins at 10:15 AM, Jan., 27 and features English furniture and decorations including several lots being deaccessioned by The Art Institute of Chicago to benefit its acquisition fund.
Lot 160, for example, is a intricate Spanish bone-inlaid walnut vargueno, early 17th Century, that has an estimate of $8,000 to $12,000. It sold for $40,250. The interior drawers are faced with architectural facades. Lot 169 is a French Renaissance style meuble a deux corps with a foliate-carved cornice and a variety of sphinxes and grotesques and the five foot and one quarter inch high work has a very conservative estimate of $2,000 to $3,000. It sold for $13,800. Another unusual work from the institute is Lot 180, a Henri II style walnut three-tier cabinet, 8 feet one inch high, that is very ornate and interesting and has a very conservative estimate of $3,000 to $5,000. It sold for $6,325. The most attractive work from the institute is Lot 188, a 47 ½ inch by 38 inch wrought iron gate of great delicacy that has an very conservative estimate of $1,000 to $1,500. It sold for $7,475.
The institute is also selling some nice George II works including Lot 264, a pair of walnut side chairs, second quarter 18th Century, that have an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $34,500.
Lots consigned by other sellers include Lot 322, a nice 19th Century English marble fireplace surround that has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000, and Lot 340, a very robust and good Regency mahogany pedestal sideboard, circa 1820, 9 feet 9 inches lot, that has an estimate of only $8,000 to $12,000. Lot 322 sold for $63,000 and Lot 340 sold for $14,950.