Gerrit Dou, An Elderly Woman, Seated by a Window at her Spinning Wheel, Eating Porridge. Estimate: $2/3 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s auction, on January 27, 2011, of Important Old Master Paintings & Sculpture in New York will feature significant works by artists from across Europe. The morning session of Important Old Master Paintings is led by Titian’s monumental Sacra Conversazione, a rare work by the artist still in private hands (est. $15/20 million*). The afternoon session of Old Master Paintings and Sculpture is led by An Italian Marble Relief Portrait of Cosimo I de ‘Medici by Baccio Bandinelli, executed just prior to the future Grand Duke’s rise to power in 1537. The sale will be on exhibition in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning 22 January, alongside the full calendar of Old Masters Week auctions.
Important Old Master Paintings – 10am
The morning session of Important Old Master Paintings is led by A Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria by the Renaissance master Titian. The work is one of only a handful of multi-figured compositions by the 16th-century artist that remain in private hands, and is the most important to appear at auction since 1991. The painting was shown in public for the first time in more than 30 years at Sotheby’s New York this past October, and has since been on exhibition at Sotheby’s galleries in Paris, Amsterdam and London.
Painted circa 1560, Sacra Conversazione is a mature work executed by Titian at the height of his artistic abilities. He had established his reputation as the leading artist of his time, and his profound use of color and innovative technique have since made him one of the most influential figures in the history of Western art. While historically referred to as ‘The Mystic Marriage of Saint Catherine’, the present canvas’s subject lies within the more traditional representation of a ‘sacra conversazione’–a ‘holy conversation’ between the Madonna and Child and saints. The main focus of the composition is the tender representation of the Madonna and Child as they engage Saint Catherine, and in particular the gesture between the female saint and the Christ Child.
Another highlight of the morning session from an Italian artist is The Virgin and Child by a Window: “Madonna of the Cherries” by Leonardo da Vinci’s most faithful and productive interpreter in Lombardy: Giovanni Pietro Rizzoli, nicknamed Giampietrino (est. $700/900,000). Madonna of the Cherries represents one of the artist’s finest works, and certainly one of the best left in private hands. The painting is essential in understanding both Giampietrino’s career and his master Leonardo’s time in Milan, whose presence fundamentally transformed 16th century Lombard painting.
Portrait of a Lady, Three-Quarter Length, in a Green Velvet and Orange Dress and a Pearl-Embroidered Black Hat is an elegant portrait characteristic of the style Lucas Cranach the Younger perfected during his years in Wittenberg studying with his father (est. $3/4 million). The sitter is very clearly from the aristocracy, and Cranach takes great pains to describe her costume’s splendid variety of color and texture. From the late 1940s to the early 1960s, Pablo Picasso turned to similar portraiture by Cranach in developing a series of linoleum cuts, and indeed the contemporary aspect of the present painting is remarkable.
The January sale is highlighted by an expressive modello by Sir Peter Paul Rubens with a notable history. The Martyrdom of Saint Paul (est. $1.5/2 million) is the only known, complete study for Rubens’s large altarpiece painted for the High Altar of the Church of the Augustinian Priory of Rood Klooster near Brussels, of which St. Paul was the patron saint. The actual altarpiece was destroyed during the French bombardment of Brussels in 1695, leaving the present sketch as the primary surviving visual record of its composition. The beautiful work condenses the story of Paul’s martyrdom into a single dramatic and emotional moment, with Paul kneeling at the center of the composition while an executioner holds him roughly by the collar and the Roman woman Plautilla wraps a blindfold around his eyes.
Brothers Pieter Breughel the Younger and Jan Breughel the Elder lead the Flemish Renaissance works on offer in the January sale. Pieter Breughel’s Return from the Kermesse is one of the finest known versions of this composition, which was very popular during his lifetime and appears to have been entirely designed by the artist (est. $2/3 million). The scene depicts a merry procession of villagers returning from a kermesse, still in the throes of revelry. Jan Breughel the Elder’s Panoramic Landscape with a Covered Wagon and Travelers on a Highway is a quintessential example of the artist’s mature landscapes (est. $1/1.5 million). The work is dated 1612, a time when he was enjoying great success with the various courts of Europe, including Arhdukes Albert and Isabella, the Habsburg regents of the Netherlands, and Emperor Rudolph II and King Sigismund II of Poland.
Dutch Golden Age artist Gerrit Dou entered Rembrandt’s studio in 1628, originally having been trained as a glass engraver. An Elderly Woman, Seated by a Window at her Spinning Wheel, Eating Porridge is an early painting by the artist, and he continued to use its basic compositional form throughout the remainder of his career (est. $2/3 million). Little-seen until the Dutch Genre Painting exhibition of 1984 that traveled to Philadelphia, Berlin and London, this picture was formerly thought to be a copy after a painting in Scherwin. That picture is now widely acknowledged to be a replica or copy of the work currently on offer.
Also from the Dutch Golden Age is Willem van der Vliet’s A Scholar in his Study with Figures with Masks, possibly an Allegory (est. $1.2/1.8 million), which has been the subject of enormous interest since its appearance on the market in 1983. One of only six known history paintings by van der Vliet, the work continues to puzzle scholars and collectors in regards to its subject. Various explanations have been offered–a playwright surrounded by his characters; a philosopher rejecting the sexual advances of earthly love–but to this day none are totally satisfactory. A grand and impressive picture, it stands as one of the most unique images of Dutch 17thcentury art.
Luis Meléndez’s Still Life with Tomatoes, a Bowl of Aubergines and Onions leads the Spanish paintings in the January auction (est. $1.5/2 million). With its glowing-red tomatoes and just-ripening aubergines artfully arranged on a sunlit table, the painting is characteristic of the work that made Meléndez the greatest Spanish still life painter of the 18th century. Romantic landscape painter Joseph Mallord William Tuner R.A.’s Mountain Landscape, Bonneville, Savoy is a highlight of the works on offer by British artists ($1.2/1.8 million). Purchased by Turner’s most devoted patron and friend Walter Fawkes, this landscape marks a turning point in the young painter’s career. The canvas illustrates his ability to liberate his work from a reliance on topographical imitation, instead edging toward a new manner of representation where value is based on color and a poetic sensibility.
Works from prominent foundations and institutions also highlight the sale. Property of the Beaverbrook Foundation in New Brunswick, Canada, formerly in the collection of press baron, business tycoon and politician Lord Beaverbrook, is led by Claude-Joseph Vernet’s A Grand View of the Sea Shore Enriched with Buildings, Shipping and Figures (est. $1.5/2 million). William Petty, 2nd Earl of Shelburne, later 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, who was already a notable collector, commissioned a pair of grand views from Vernet in 1774 for a substantial sum. The size was to be comparable to the Ports of France, Vernet’s most important paintings, though the artist had not attempted a picture on the same scale since. The work, which presents a serene seascape at sunset, is signed and dated 1776, and was later in the collection of Robert, Earl Grosvenor, and then descended to the Dukes of Westminster until 1959.
Works sold by the J. Paul Getty Museum to benefit future painting acquisitions are highlighted by The Madonna and Child Enthroned with Angels and Flanked by Saint Bridget and the Archangel Michael, erroneously known as “The Poggibonsi Triptych” (est.$200/300,000). The authorship of this arresting triptych has in the past been ascribed to numerous artists, but the work has most convincingly been attributed to the as-yet-unidentified Master of Pratovecchio, who worked in and around Florence in the mid-15th century. Another highlight of the Getty works is Portrait of Laura Pisani by Gabriele Cappellini, called Calzolareto (est. $150/200,000). While the precise identity of the young woman in the painting has been debated by scholars, she appears to be a member of the large and powerful Pisani family, which had branches in Italian cities including Ferrara and Venice, and possibly a poet.
Property of the Cleveland Museum of Art, also being sold to benefit future acquisitions, is led by the pair of paintings Horatius Cocles Defending Rome against the Etruscans; the Wounded Horatius Cocles Swimming the Tiber (est. $200/300,000). The grand and imposing pair is attributed to a Follower of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, possibly The Master of Jerusalem Liberated, and depicts the exploits of the Roman hero Horatius Cocles. Another highlight of the works on offer from the Cleveland Museum of Art is Philips Wouwerman’s Dune Landscape with Figures (est. $100/150,000). The prolific artist produced over one thousand paintings in his lifetime, despite dying at the relatively young age of 48. In the present work, the horses and figures seem secondary to the beautiful, serene dune landscape in which they travel.
Old Master Paintings and Sculpture – 2pm
The robust afternoon session spans medieval enamels and sculptures to neoclassical bronzes, and features a large group of Renaissance and Baroque bronzes from the Abbott Guggenheim collection, among other private collections. Leading the works of art on offer is An Italian Marble Relief Portrait of Cosimo I de ‘Medici, attributed to Baccio Bandinelli, circa 1537 (est. $300/500,000). This portrait of the young Cosimo I de ‘Medici was apparently executed when the future Grand Duke of Florence was 17 years old, just prior to his rise to power in 1537. While the combination of simple clothing and the lack of a beard suggest his age, the portrait nonetheless captures the subject’s authority and commanding presence. Baccio Bandinelli was a faithful servant to Cosimo throughout his career, essentially becoming his official court sculptor.
Other marble works include An Italian Marble Relief of the Madonna and Child by Domenico Rosselli, circa 1480 (est. $200/300,000). The serene and charming relief appears to be the marble from which the polychrome stucco relief of the same composition in the Victoria and Albert Museum in London was made. An Italian Marble Bust of Christ the Redeemer Depicted as Zeus, attributed to Giovanni Angelo Montorsoli, mid-16th century derives from the ancient sculptures of Zeus or Zeus-Serapis that the artist would have encountered during his sojourn in Rome (est. $120/180,000). Montorsoli worked for Michelangelo on some of the master’s most important sculptural commissions, including the Medici chapel in Florence and the Medici tomb in San Lorenzo.
Leading the bronze sculpture on offer is A Rare French Bronze Bust of Gilbert De Motier, Marquis de Lafayette, by Pierre-Jean David d’Angers, possibly cast by Charles Crozatier, dated 1829, Paris (est. $200/300,000). This previously unpublished bust, showing General Lafeyette as an ancient philosopher en hermès, is the only known full-sized bronze version of the portrait made by David d’Angers in 1828-29. The work is a masterpiece of portraiture, capturing not only the physical likeness of the subject, but also his moral character. Another highlight of the sale is A Life-Size South German Gilt and Painted Lindenwood Group of the Madonna and Child, from the Circle of Hans Multscher, circa 1480 (est. $120/180,000). The sculpture was probably at the center of an altar or shrine, common in Southern Germany and Austria in the late Gothic period.
The afternoon sale also features The Stowe Cistern: A Massive George I Silver Two-Handled Wine Cistern, Jacob Margas, London, 1714 (est. $1/2 million). Cisterns, enormous reserves of precious metal formed into objects of display and ostensible use, represent the height of conspicuous consumption in the late Baroque period. The imposing English cistern on offer in January is one of only eight known to have survived from the reign of George I. This baroque masterpiece was created by Jacob Margas, one of the Royal goldsmiths, and later formed part of the collections of the Dukes of Buckingham at Stowe.
Titian, Sacra Conversazione: The Madonna and Child with Saints Luke and Catherine of Alexandria. Estimate: $15/20 million. Photo: Sotheby's