By Carter B. Horsley
Whereas the Old Master Paintings auction at Sotheby's this season is strong in Italian Renaissance paintings, this auction at Christie's is strong in Dutch works, including a nice portrait by Rembrandt (1606-1669) and several lovely works on copper.
The signed Rembrandt, which is dated 1633, is Lot 81, shown above, "Portrait of a Bearded Man, Bust-length, in a Red Doublet," an oil on an oval panel, 25 by 20 inches. It is being sold by the Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art in Las Vegas, which had acquired it from Otto Naumann Ltc., New York. It had been sold by Amon Carter of Fort Worth, Texas, at Sotheby's in New York January 30, 1998. It will be included in Addendum 2 of the forthcoming Volume IV of the Corpus of Rembrandt's Paintings, published by the Stichting Foundation Rembrandt Research Project, which will state that "the confident execution; the astonishing command of form; the subtlety with which certain elements have been executed in contrast to the freedom and energy of the painting process; the specific 'handwriting' in the application of details…proved decisive in our attributing the work to Rembrandt," adding that "closest in manner, perhaps, to the present work is the Self Portrait in the Musée du Louvre of the same year."
The addendum will also note, according to the catalogue, that "Details, hardly noticeable to the viewer, such as the differentiation in the execution of the catchlights of the eyes and the tip of the nose, attest to a great degree of forethought and astonishing manual control. The catchlight in the eye at the right is slightly weaker than in the eye on the lit side; a feature Rembrandt included in seven other portraits of the same period. While the paint of these catchlights is evenly applied, the highlight on the tip of the nose is slightly impastoed thereby contributing to the protruding effect of the nose. In other areas as well the brushwork ahs been subtly adapted to the function of the applied strokes. Hence, the somewhat grazingly applied light stroke on the curled-up edge of the collar plays a distinct role in the spacial effect in that part of the collar. A similar handling of the brush can be discerned in the highlights of the lit lock of hair. It is a device that Rembrandt employed with increasing frequency in later years to achieve an atmospheric spacial effect."
The identity of the sitter has not yet been determined in this nice, but not terribly exciting portrait.
The lot has an estimate of $6,000,000 to $8,000,000. It sold for $12,656,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article.
A more evocative work is Lot 82, "Saint John the Baptist in the Wilderness," by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), a 55 1/2-by-45 1/2-inch oil on canvas. Lush and sensuous, this is an imposing and unusual treatment of the subject and the catalogue notes that it suggests "a familiarity with Caravaggio's psychologically complex version of the same subject, today in the Nelson-Atkins Museum, Kansas City." The thin wooden cross that leans across the saint's crossed legs is a bit unusual in that it blocks out part of his right forearm rather awkwardly and his two fingers resting on the cross are also somewhat jarring to the otherwise very graceful composition. The lot, which is being sold by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art to benefit its acquisition fund, has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $116,000.
Another museum deaccession is Lot 99, "Peasants smoking and making music in an inn," by Johannes Natus (recorded in Middlebourg in 1662), a 20 3/8-by-16 1/8-inch oil on panel. It has been consigned by the Putnam Collection, Timkin Museum of Art to benefit its acquisition fund. The work, which is shown above, is very charming and distinguished by the strong rays of light coming through the ceiling. It has a modest estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. It sold for $64,625.
One of the highlights of the auction is Lot 166, a pair of paintings of interiors by Giambattista Tiepolo (1696-1770) and "attributed to Gerolamo Mengozzi-Colonna (1688-circa 1766). Both oils on canvas measure 83 1/8 by 57 1/2 inches. One depicts the interior of a church with "Vestal Virgins (?) and other figures" and the other the interior, a detail of which is shown at the top of this article, of a classical library. The catalogue notes that the pair, which has been consigned by the di Portanova Collection, was acquired in 1981 for $400,000 by Baron and Baroness Enrico di Portanova.
The catalogue discusses this pair at length noting some differences of opinion by experts regarding the attribution over the years and the subject matter. The pair was probably executed in the 1720s and might have been theatrical set designs. Tiepolo, according to the catalogue, is believed to have done the figures and statuary.
The lot, which is museum-quality, has a conservative estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. The lot sold for $424,000. The architectural spaces depicted are quite extraordinary and inspiring.
Another major collaborative highlight, shown above, is Lot 10, "An Allegory of the Five Senses," by Jan Brueghel I (1568-1625) and Hendrick van Balen I (1575-1632). This sumptuous oil on panel, 24 1/4 by 39 3/4 inches, shown above, is signed "V. Balen" and has a conservative estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $666,000.
The catalogue offers the following quotation about the work by Albert Blankert in Tableau in November, 1987, that notes that Brueghel's forest glade is "reminiscent of the velvet lining of an open jewelbox from which a rich display of precious stones flashes before our eyes": "The sparkling colours and the exquisite refinement in the rendering of a rich variety of naturalistic detail in the human figures, animals, vegetation and inanimate objects makes us at first sight overlook the improbable nature of the scene."
The catalogue's cover illustration is Lot 172, "A Personification of Painting at work in a Collector's Cabinet," by Frans Francken II (1581-1642, a 36 3/4-by-48 1/2 inch oil on panel. It has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It failed to sell. This charming painting, shown above, was formerly in the collection of Lord Amherst at Montreal, Riverhead, Kent, England. The catalogue notes that the painting is "one of the most sophisticated examples of the Flemish 'collector's cabinet' genre, which was probably invented by Frans Francken and which enjoyed great popularity in Antwerp in the first half of the seventeenth century," adding that "The fashion was given a new lease of life by David Teniers II's renderings of the Archducal gallery in Brussels but these differed in that they were more of a descriptive than allegoric character." Christie's, the catalogue continued, "sold what is the earliest extant, dated 'collector's cabinet' - of 1612 - by Frans Francken II on 17 December, 1999, Lot 7, for £826,500 including premium (=$1,339,000). A View of the Archducal Gallery in Brussels of 1653 by David Teniers II was sold by Christie's 8 July 1999, lot 224, for £2,971,500 including premium (=4,636,000)."
There are many good still life paintings in the auction including the following: Lot 13, "Plaice, skate, and other fish beside a barrel," by Jan van Kessel I (1626-1679), which has an estimate of $70,000 to $100,000, which sold for $82,250; Lot 16, "A hock of ham, a knife with slices of ham and a peeled lemon on pewter dishes, with a wineglass, a roemer, a tazza, a lidded condiment jar and a breadroll on a draped table," by Willem Claesz. Heda (1594-circa 1670), which has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000, which sold $446,000; Lot 53, "A stteple cup with upturned cover, a glass of wine, an orange and a knife on an Oriental rug on a draped marble ledge," by Willem Kalf (1619-1693), which has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000, which sold for $76,375; Lot 55, "Black grapes on a stone ledge," by Gérard van Spaendonck (1746-1822), which has an estimate of $160,000 to $180,000, which failed to sell; Lot 174, "A Vanitas still life with a partially peeled lemon, grapes and olives on pewter dishes, an overturned gold tazza, an upturned glass, and a roemer of wine on a draped table," by Pieter Claesz. (circa 1597-1660), which has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000, which sold for $204,000; and Lot 175, shown below, "Roses, irises, poppies and other flowers in a glass vase on a ledge," by Simon Pietersz. Verelst (1644-1710?/21), which has an estimate of $500,000 to $700,000, which sold for $523,000. Simon Verelst was raised in The Hague but went to London where he became the leading flower painter, but eventually, the catalogue noted, took to calling himself the "God of Flowers" and was "incarcerated in an asylum."
Small oil paintings on copper are often among the loveliest of Old Master paintings and this auction has several fine examples.
Lot 1, "A river landscape with travellers in carriages on a path, shipping beyond," by Joseph van Bredael (1688-1739), is a 9 1/2-by-11 5/8-inch oil on copper inset in a panel, shown above. It has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $116,000.
Lot 3, "An extensive landscape with travellers on a path overlooking a valley, a city beyond," by Jan Brueghel II (1601-1678), is a 10 1/4-by-13 1/4-inch oil on copper, shown above. It is based on a composition by Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568-1625) and has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $37,600.
Lot 6, "A wooded river landscape with fishermen by cottages, a wooden bridge beyond," by Pieter Stevens II (circa 1567-after 1624), is a 11-by-17-inch oil on copper that is a complex and fine composition. It has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $58,750.
Lot 43, "Woodcutters working beside a forest path near a river," by Gillis van Coninxloo III (1544-1607), shown above, is a 12-by-16 5/8-inch oil on copper. It has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $160,000.
The auction also offers several fine landscapes.
Lot 49, "A wooded river landscape with duck hunters in the foreground and sailing boats beyond," by Salomon Van Ruysdael (1600/3-1670), is a 15 3/4-by-25 1/8-inch oil on panel. One of the artist's loveliest and most poetic works, it has a conservative estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 103, "A view of Rhenen," by Jan Josefsz. Van Goyen (1596-1656), is a 39 3/4-by-53 3/4-inch oil on canvas that is one of the artist's best works. It was in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1906 to 1978 and sold anonymously at Christie's in New York May 6, 1980 for $44,000. It was exhibited at the Wallraf-Richartz Museum in Cologne from 1979 to 1985. It has a conservative estimate of $250,000 to $350,000.
Lot 50, "A coastal landscape with fishermen and other figures on the shore, shipping beyond," by Simon Jacobsz. de Vlieger (circa 1601-1653), is an 18 1/4-by-26-inch oil on panel. It has an ambitious estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It failed to sell. The catalogue notes that "the present painting is a masterly exercise in the serenity of a late afternoon on the Dutch coast and reveals why de Vlieger is often considered the most important marine painter of the first half of [the] 17th Century."
Lot 63, "The White Monk," is a pleasant oil on canvas, 20 1/2 by 27 1/2 inches, by Richard Wilson (1713-1782). It has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $391,000.
Lot 92, "The Madonna and Child with Saints Mary Magdalen and Augustine," by Girolamo Marchesi da Cotignola (circa 1471/5-circa 1540/1550), is one of the few Italian Renaissance works in the auction. The 83 1/2-by-58-inch oil on panel is quite imposing and reminiscent of the style of Perugino and in fact was sold at Christie's in London in 1910 as "School of Perugino." Bernard Berenson attributed the large painting to Bernardino Zaganelli, but it has since been attributed to Marchesi by Andrea de Marchi. It has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $248,000.
Lot 89, "A male saint holding a book," by Carlo Crivelli (1430/5-circa 1495), is a 10 5/8-by-8 1/8-inch tempera on gold ground panel. The catalogue notes that Everett Fahy has pointed out that this work is a missing element of the predella of a 1472 altarpiece of which the main element was the "Madonna and Child Enthroned" in the Linsky Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This lot has a conservative estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $171,000.
Lot 86, "The Transfiguration," by Niccolo da Siena (active 1428-1470), is a quite animated composition. It is tempera on gold ground panel and measures 43 3/4 by 24 inches and has an estimate of $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $138,000.
Lot 152, "Phaeton asking to drive the chariot of Apollo," by Francesco Solimena (1657-1747) is a nice sketch for the artist's large ceiling painting in the Palace of Count Wirich Daun in Vienna (now the Daun-Kinsky Stadtpalais), which was built between 1713 and 1716. The large ceiling painting is in the National Gallery in Prague. Another, related sketch in the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento, California. This lot has an estimate of $100,000 to $150,000. It sold for $138,000.
Lot 167 is a fine pair of capriccio views by Hubert Robert (1733-1808). The paintings measure approximately 60 by 57 inches and the lot has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. The lot failed to sell.
One of the most vibrant offerings in the auction is Lot 178, "A young woman playing a viola da gamba," by Gerrit van Honthorst (1592-1656). The woman is wearing a broad-brimmed had with yellow and pink feathers and happily smiling as she looks to the side while playing her instrument. The 33 5/8-by-26 1/8-inch oil on canvas has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $501,000.