While Christie's Old Master Paintings auction January 24, 2003 does not have as many blockbusters as Sotheby's does this season, it is very strong and highlighted by a work that may be by Sandro Botticelli (circa 1444-1510), some very choice 18th Century French works, some excellent still-lifes and Venetian scenes, and some very good early Italian paintings as well as a good still life by José de Goya Y Lucientes (1746-1828) and rare works by Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797) and Henry Fuseli (1741-1825).
Lot 75, "Christ on the Cross, adored by Saints Monica, Augustine, Mary Magdalen, Jerome and Bridget of Sweden," is an oil on panel that measures 30 by 36 inches. In the catalogue it is ascribed to "The Master of Apollo and Daphne (Florence, active circa 1500), but a note in the exhibition indicates that Everett Fahy believes it to be a work by Sandra Botticelli.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"The present work, which was last exhibited in 1936, is relatively unknown to modern art historians. When first recorded in 1811 as belonging to A. F. Artaud de Montor, the pioneering collector of early Italian paintings, it was implausibly ascribed to Domenico Ghirlandaio. It was subsequently attributed to such followers as Bartholommemo di Giovanni and the Master of the Apollo and Daphne Legend. The painting also has close affinities with the work of Sandro Botticelli...dating from the 1490s. Thus the thinly painted landscape background, with its many lagoons and coniferous rock formations, recalls the natural scenery depicted in Botticelli's Coronation of the Virgin with Four Saints...[Uffizi, Florence], which was commissioned circa 1490 and completed three years later. The motif of Saint Mary Magdalen, with her head in profile silhouetted against the cross and one hand visible, recalls the same saint's pose in Botticelli's Mystic Crucifixion...[Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge, Mass.], which dates from circa 1497. Moreover, the rugged features of penitent Saint Jerome can be compared with those of the Church father in a panel in The Hermitage, St. Petersburg....Finally, the drapery defining the forms of all the saints in the present painting is rendered in a similarly tight, nervous, linear style typical of Botticelli's later work, perhaps best epitomized by the master's Mystical Nativity of circa 1501...[National Gallery, London]."
The figures in the painting are quite Botticelliesque, although the landscape is quite awkward. The lot has a conservative estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. The lot sold for $284,500 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. The sale was quite disappointment with only about 61 percent of the lots selling.
Lot 76, "The Two Crucified Thieves," is a pair of tempera on panels, each 31 by 11/2 inches by Giovanni Bellini (circa 1432/3-1510). Bellini was the son of Jacopo Bellini and the brother of Gentile Bellini. This fine lot has a conservative estimate of $500,000 to $700,000. It sold for $559,500.
Lot 25 is a large and impressive tempera on gold ground panel of "Saint Catherine of Alexandria" by Bernardo Daddi (circa 1290-1348). It measures 71 1/2 by 32 3/4 inches and has an estimate of $1,500,000 to $2,500,000 reflecting its large size and good condition. Daddi was one of the most important artists after Giotto in 14th Century Florence. It failed to sell.
One of the most lovely works in the auction is Lot 79, "The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist," by Alessandro Casolani (1552-1606). The tondo oil on panel is 43 inches in diameter and has a modest estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It failed to sell.
Another exquisite painting is Lot 151, "The Holy Family," by Giovanni Battista Salvi, who is known as Il Sassoferato (1609-1685). An oil on canvas that measures 30 by 25 1/2 inches, it has a very modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $83,650. The catalogue notes that there are three other versions, which are in the Musée Condé in Chantilly, the museum at Sanssouci, Potsdam and the Palazzo Doria Pamphili in Rome.
Lot 67 is a stunning pair of circular paintings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770) (see The City Review article on Tiepolo). Each work is an oil on gold ground on canvas that measures 28 inches in diameter. They are entitled "Erato, the Muse of Love and Poetry" and "Terpsichore, the Muse of Dance." According to the catalogue these are two of six roundels that Tiepolo painted for the Palazzo Labia in Venice. The lot has a conservative estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. It sold for $284,500.
The auction has numerous Italian architectural scenes. Lot 169, for example, is a very fine work by Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780) that is entitled "A Capricio of the Palazzo del Senatore, Rome." An oil on canvas, it measures 25 1/.4 by 18 1/2 inches. It has a conservative estimate of $600,000 to $800,000 as it is a very strong and interesting composition. The catalogue observes that his work "is one of three autograph versions of a composition conceived as one of a pair of palatial capricci," adding that "The companion compositon shows a free-standing flight of steps in a courtyard reminiscent of that of the Doge's Palace, Venice, but on an even larger scale with the Capitoline dioscuri surmouting the balustrate of the stair. The lot failed to sell.
Another fine architectural subject is Lot 57, "Rome: The Colosseum with the Arch of Constantine, from the Orto of the Frati di Santa Francesca Romana," a 15 1/4-by-28 1/2-inch oil on canvas by Henrik Frans Van Lint, called Lo Studio (11684-1763). This lot has an estimateof $120,000 to $180,000. It sold for $196,500.
There is a fairly substantial number of works that have been assigned to The Master of the Female Half-Lengths (active in Antwerp first half of the 16th Century) and Lot 35, "The Virgin and Child" is typical of the lyrical beauty associated with his work. The catalogue notes that this group of paintings is "now perceived to be in large part the product of a workshop," adding that "the workshop also produced a group of landscapes that clearly show the influence of Joachim Patinir, with those work they were for a long time confused. This oil on panel measures 10 1/2 by 8 inches and has an estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 36, "The Holy Family," by Gerard David (circa 1460-1523) is a jewel. The oil on panel measures 16 1/8 by 13 inches and has a modest estimate of $700,000 to $900,000. It sold for $999,500. The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"...most of his work expresses the impassive, unmannered, microscopically realistic approach peculiar to south Netherlandish art in the time of Jan van Eyck. David was adpt at combining the artistic styles of several important south Netherlandish preessors, adapting, for example, the compositions of van Eyck and the technique of Hugo van der Goes. He was also influenced by Hans Memling, whose example led him to refine and polish his cruder northern Netherlandish style and to adopt the popular theme of the Virgin and Child entrhoned."
Lot 33, "An Offering to Ceres," is a wonderful composition by Dirck van Baburen (circa 1595-1624). An oil an canvas that measures 54 by 77 1/2 inches, it has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It failed to sell. "This is one of the rare pictures (numbering roughly thirty) by Dirck van Baburen, one of the three principal exponents of Caravaggism in Utrecht, the others being Gerard von Honthorst and Hendrik Terbrugghen," the catalogue states.
Lot 10 is a rare and very handsome work by Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651 that is entiled "The Sermon on the Mount." An oil on canvas, it measures 45 1/4 by 39 1/4 inches. "This work is unique in Bloemaert's work, making it difficult to date, although the attribution is convincing," the catalogue maintained. The work has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 34 is a pair of portraits by Hans Mielich (1516-1573). The oils on panel measure 26 1/4 by 19 1/2 inches and have an estimate of $300,000 to $500,000. The lot failed to sell. According to the catalogue, Mielich "was the leading painter and manuscript illuminator in Munich in the second and third quarters of the sixteenth century," adding that he "entered the workshop of Albrecht Altdorfer in 1536...and surpassed his mentor, Barthel Beham." One of the portraits, shown above, of a day is in very good condition. The other, of a gentleman, has some cracks, but both are conjure the work of Hans Holbein.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger is best known as a copyist of his father, Pieter Brueghel the Elder. His brother, Jan Breughel the Elder or "Velvet" Brueghel, was also a famous painter. Lot 48, "A winter landscape with peasants skating and playing kolf on a frozen river, a town beyond," is a fine example of his work. An oil on panel, it measures 16 3/8 by 22 1/4 inches. According to the catalogue, this "splendid landscape is closely based upon a lost drawing by Hans Bol (1534-1593)." It has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It sold for $1,219,500.
Lot 73 is a fabulous still life by Christiaen Luyckx (1623-1653) that is an oil on copper that measures 32 1/4 by 39 5/8 inches. "One of the most accomplished seventeenth-century Flemish still-life painters, Christiaen Luyckx remains, surprisingly, virtually unknown," the catalogue stated. "Many of his works have long passed under the names of other artists, such as his contemporary, Jan Davidsz. de Heem. This lot has an estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
Another ravishing still life is Lot 70. Painted by Balthasar van der Ast (1593/4-1657), the oil on panel measures 22 1/2 by 35 3/4 inches. It has an estimate of $1,200,000 to $1,800,000.
Lot 136, "A Still Life
with Dead Hares," by José de Goya Y Lucientes is an
oil on canvas that measures 17 3/4 by 24 3/8 inches. It
has an estimate of $2,000,000 to $3,000,000. It
sold for $5,069,500.
The French selections are very impressive with very charming paintings by Antoine Watteau (1684-1721), Jean-Baptiste Pater (1695-1736), Nicholas Lancret (1690-1743), François Boucher (1703-1770), Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806).
Together with paintings by Eustache Le Sueur (1616-1655) and Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), Lots 90 and 120, respectively, this group of French paintings could easily form the core of an important museum collection.
Lot 90, "Marcus Curtius
Leaping Into the Void," is the most dramatic work of this
group, a very vivid oil on canvas by Le Sueur. It measures 44
by 36 inches and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It
sold for $361,500. The catalogue notes that the work might
have been executed to decorate a chimney piece with "the
actual fireplace below providing the flames that were to engulf
the hero." "A masterpiece of perspectival complexity
and baroque composition, Marcus Curtius was painted while Le Sueur
was still working in the studio of his mentor, Simon Vouet, the
central figure is based on a drawing by Vouet, today in the Hermitage,
St. Petersburg," the catalogue entry continued.
Lot 120, "Portrait
of François Mellinet (1741-1793), is a marvelous oil on
canvas by David. It measures 20 by 16 ½ inches and has
an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. It failed to sell.
David is best known for his Classical scenes and this sensitive
portrait is more typical of the work of Ingres.
The Le Sueur and David bracket the auction's superb group of romantic and fête galante French paintings.
Lot 98, "Le Nymphe
de Fontaine," by Watteau is a 29 ¼-by-30 7/8-inch
oil on canvas that has a modest estimate of $700,000 to $900,000.
It failed to sell.
The catalogue notes that the painting may have been cut slightly on both sides.
"Although it is not surprising that no drawings for the picture have survived," the entry continued, "Caylus noted that Watteau destroyed his `obscene works before he died, and this might have included drawings of the female nude a lost drawing by Watteau that must have been associated with the Nymphe de Fontaine was engraved by Carle Vanloo for the Figures de différents caractères, the posthumous compendium of prints made after Watteau's drawings that was published in 1726-28.Although it displays some of the weaknesses that are usually to be found in Watteau's rendering of anatomy, La Nymphe de Fontaine is a work of great assurance and maturity: the summary but vivid evocation of landscape, the warm, subtle glazing in the subject's flesh, and the extraordinarily sensitive modeling of her face and hands, all commend Roland Michel's later dating of 1717-18."
The catalogue also observed that the Goncourt brothers described Watteau as the "great poet of the 18th Century" and that in his review of the 1860 exhibition at the Galerie Martinet this painting was lavishly praised by "Thoré-Bürger the legendary critic responsible for `rediscovering' Vermeer as a `masterpiece equal to the most striking Rubens'"
Lot 99 "The Bathers;
The Swing," is a delightful pair of paintings by Pater that
was formerly in the collections of Alfred de Rothschild of Longon
and the Honorable Murtogh Guinness. Each oil on canvas measures
22 ½ by 25 ½ inches and the lot has a modest estimate
of $400,000 to $600,000. The lot sold for $669,500.
Pater was a pupil of Watteau and the catalogue notes that "this splendid pair of paintingsdisplay the charms of Pater's art at its most seductive," adding that the pair is "exceptional in the refinement of their execution and their beautiful state of preservation." "They amply display Pater's feathery brushwork and easy humor, but especially the palette of pearly pinks, silvery greys and acid blues that make his paintings unmistakable."
Lot 100 is another lovely pair of paintings. Executed by Nicolas Lancret, each oil on canvas measures 32 by 42 inches. La Sérinade shows one of Lancret's favorite subjects, a man wooing a woman with a serenade, and the other shows a boy and two girls playing a popular kissing game known as "pied-de-boeuf."
The lot has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. The lot failed to sell.
Lot 103 is a handsome work
by François Boucher that is entitled "Le Repos près
de la fontaine. It measures 55 by 39 inches and has an estimate
of $600,000 to $800,000. It was once in the collection of Baron
Anselm de Rothschild. It failed to sell.
The catalogue provides the following commentary:
"This rustic idyll was almost certainly painted in the early 1730s, immediately after Boucher returned to Paris from his years of study in Italy. A work of gentle poetry and nostalgia, it evokes the tranquil world of Claude Lorrain as much as it does the more bumptious peasant scene of Italo-Dutch painters like Berchem. The little boy playing the flute is deeply influenced by the figures of Abraham Bloemaert, whose works Boucher copied extensively in the 1720's and early 30s. In style, Le Repos près de la fontaine is closely related to an important series of large pastoral decorationsand now divided among the Alte Pinakotek, Munich, the Walter P. Chrysler Museum, Norfolk, Virginia, and the Frick Art Museum, Pittsburgh."
"Venus and Cupid," is a sensational and vibrant painting
by Boucher. The oil on canvas measures 36 3/4 by 64 1/8 inches.
It has a conservative estimate of $600,000 to $800,000. It
sold for $548,500.
Lot 109 consists of three paintings by Boucher, "Le Bonheur au village," "Le Retour du marché," and "L'Heureux pecheur." The first two measure 55 ¼ by 25 7/8 inches and the third measures 55 by 39 inches. The trio was once in the collection of Baron Anselm de Rothschild. The suite has an estimate of $1,000,000 to $1,500,000. The lot failed to sell.
Boucher was the teacher of Jean-Honoré Fragonard, the most lyrically romantic of the 18th Century painters. Lot 108, "Venus Crowning Love," a 28 7/8-by-50-inch oil on canvas is, according to the catalogue, an "autograph replica " of the Venus and Cupid" today in Dublin, one of four overdoors Fragonard painted for chateau of Louveciennes and that were purchased by the royal mistress, the Comtesse du Barry. The lot has a modest estimate of $200,000 to $300,000. It sold for $273,500.
Lot 135, "The Three Witches, or the Weird Sisters," is a rare work by Henry Fuseli (1741-1825). The oil on canvas measures 24 3/4 by 30 1/4 inches and has a conservative estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $365,500.
Another rare artist on the market is Joseph Wright of Derby (1734-1797). Lot 140, shown above, is entitled "The Gulf of Salerno." An oil on canvas, it measures 16 1/4 by 23 1/4 inches and has an very conservative estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $339,500.