At Sotheby’s | Old Masters Evening Sale

Posted in Art Market by Editor on June 28, 2019

Thomas Gainsborough, Going to Market, Early Morning, oil on canvas, 122 × 147 cm (lot 22, estimate £7–9 million).

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Press release, via Art Daily:

Old Masters Evening Sale (Sale L19033)
Sotheby’s, London, 3 July 2019

This summer, Sotheby’s will present a roll-call of the greatest names in Western art history at its flagship Old Masters Evening Sale (L19033) on 3 July in London. With an overall estimate of £4665.9m/ $59.5–83.7m, the sale next week is one of the strongest sales ever staged in this category, both in value as well as in the quality of works on offer. From some of the finest works by the three key British landscape painters remaining in private hands, to masterpieces and newly discovered works by Renaissance and Baroque masters, the sale features works by the biggest household names spanning six centuries.

British Landscapes

Thomas Gainsborough, Going to Market, Early Morning, estimate £7–9 million

Going to Market, Early Morning (lot 22) is unquestionably one of Gainsborough’s finest masterpieces remaining in private hands, and one of the finest eighteenth-century British landscapes by any artist ever to likely come to market. Painted in 1773 it is one of an important group of three major landscapes Gainsborough painted at this period that deals with the subject of travellers going to or returning from market. The subject and composition of the picture demonstrates Gainsborough’s natural affinity with, and sympathy for the rural poor and includes one of his favourite themes—rustic lovers in an idealised rural setting. Beautifully evoking the early morning journey to market of rural folk as they rise out of the still misty valley into the watery sunlight, this painting acclaimed by scholars and widely praised is one of the artist’s most ravishing landscapes.

John Constable, Study for ‘The White Horse’, estimate £2–3 million

A rare and important compositional study for one of the most celebrated paintings of the English Romantic Movement: The White Horse, which now resides at The Frick Collection in New York. The painting that launched John Constable’s career, The White Horse was the first of Constable’s great ‘Six-Footers’ which cemented the artist’s contemporary fame and which defined his art for generations. Created in 1819, the painting was immediately a critical success and led to the artist being voted an Associate of the Royal Academy the same year. Unlike most of Constable’s major landscapes, for which he produced numerous sketches and went through several drafts before settling upon the final composition, only a small number of preparatory works relating to The White Horse are known. Possibly painted en plein air, the oil sketch shows Constable responding directly to the landscape, capturing the atmosphere of the River Stour, as well as the topographical detail.

J.M.W. Turner, Landscape with Walton Bridges, estimate £4–6 million

One of a small group of ten or so proto-impressionist late pictures by the artist left in private hands, Landscape with Walton Bridges comes to the market for the first time in over 35 years. The central motif—Walton Bridges—is one that the artist had treated twice before in oils, in 1806 and 1807. Clearly a subject with significant meaning to him, in this work he sets the bridge in an idealised, Italianate landscape of his own imagining. Essentially explorations of the effects of light, Turner created the late works for himself, rather than for exhibition or for sale, retaining them for the development of his art. With their bold application of colour, their treatment of light and their deconstruction of form, these late works revolutionised the way the painted image was perceived and are considered to be the artist’s supreme achievement, and the pictures upon which his artistic significance ultimately rest.

J.M.W. Turner, Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate, 1822, estimate £800,000–1.2 million (part of the Old Master & British Works on Paper Sale)

A celebrated picture which sees the artist working at the height of his powers and on a grand scale, Sun-rise. Whiting Fishing at Margate is one the greatest and most beautiful Turner watercolours to remain in private hands. Positioning himself off the Kentish coast at Margate, a town he had first visited as a small boy and which he regularly returned to throughout his life, Turner looks east in this painting, directly into a mesmeric sunrise, whose magical light gives warmth to everything it touches, before exploding into a myriad of colours on the glass-like surface of the sea. On the left, far in the distance, a guardship announces the dawn by firing its morning gun, while in the foreground, fishermen have already struck lucky and are excitedly hauling in a plentiful catch. Through the cluster of small vessels, the town itself can be made out.

New Discoveries

Diego Rodriguez de Silva y Velázquez, Portrait of Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj, estimate £2 –3 million

Lost for nearly 300 years, this is the hitherto missing portrait of Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj (1591–1657), the most powerful woman in 17th-century Rome. Sister-in-law, reputed lover, and puppet master of Pope Innocent X, Olimpia controlled all aspects of Vatican life. Arguably one of the earliest feminists, this formidable woman, centuries ahead of her time, ruled in all but name as the de facto Pope, taking control of one of the most powerful and male dominated institutions in European history. Once part of the illustrious collection of the 7th Marques del Carpio, one of the greatest patrons and collectors of arts in 17th-century Italy, this painting was last recorded in 1724, before it disappeared without trace. The whereabouts of the painting remained completely unknown until one day, an unattributed work, sold in the 1980s as ‘anonymous Dutch school’, was brought into Sotheby’s Amsterdam office. An intriguing old cypher hidden on the back of the painting prompted Sotheby’s specialists to begin a process of research and discovery—all of which ultimately led to the realisation that this striking portrait was the long-lost original by Velázquez and one of only a handful of paintings by the great Spanish artist left in private hands.

Giovanni Battista di Jacopo Rosso, called Rosso Fiorentino, The Visitation, estimate £500,000–700,000 (part of the Old Master & British Works on Paper Sale)

This newly discovered 16th-century work by the Italian Mannerist painter is an extremely rare example of a chalk drawing by Rosso Fiorentino, and the first compositional study by the artist to appear on the market for half a century. Long thought lost, it is an important and vital addition to the artist’s corpus of drawings. Delicately executed in black chalk, the ten-figure composition was created by Rosso on the request of Aretine painter Giovanni Antonio Lappoli, who had been granted in 1524 a commission for a private altarpiece for the family chapel of the wealthy Aretine citizen, Cipriano d’Anghiari.

Although Rosso must have executed many drawings in his lifetime, almost all of his graphic works have been lost over the centuries and this work adds significantly to the understanding of the working method of an artist known for his eccentricity, and expressive, unconventional pictorial style. Interestingly, the work, which stayed undetected in the same collection since the 18th century, bears on the verso an old attribution to Michelangelo (probably from the 17th century), which may have contributed to the fact that the work is even now, still in excellent condition.

Baroque Pictures

Jusepe de Ribera, Girl with a Tambourine, estimate £5–7 million

One of Ribera’s most celebrated paintings, this arresting depiction of a girl singing a tune while tapping a tambourine embodies his extraordinary powers of expressive characterisation. Probably one of five works originally depicting the five senses, Girl with a tambourine encapsulates Ribera’s inimitable contribution to the imagery of music-making by merging allegory and genre, as well as portraiture, into one remarkable image. Dated to 1637, this painting also features the artist’s characteristic loyalty to his Spanish roots, signed ‘Ribera español’

Peter Paul Rubens, Head of a Young Warrior, estimate £2.5–3.5 million

Painted in the early 1610s, Head of a Young Warrior shows Rubens in complete control of his medium, his brush, and his subject. The characteristically vivacious and energetic study was most likely kept in the artist’s studio as a prop throughout his life for use in larger compositions, including his painting of Saint Ambrosius of Milan Barring Emperor Theodosius from Entering the Cathedral in Milan, painted ca. 1615–17, now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna.

Johann Liss, The Temptation of Saint Mary Magdalene, estimate £4–6 million

One of the finest examples of the artist’s work to remain in private hands, this captivating depiction of the Magdalene choosing Salvation over Temptation marks Liss as one of the most fascinating painters of the entire 17th century. The painting sees the artist add a personal twist to the traditional iconography of the penitent Magdalene, portraying her turning away from worldly temptation towards an angel in a design that recalls traditional Netherlandish renderings of the Choice between Vice and Virtue.

Joachim Antonisz Wtewael, Diana and Actaeon, estimate £4–6 million

Joachim Antonisz Wtewael was the supreme exponent of the last great phase of mannerist painting in northern Europe and the most important in the Netherlands of mythological cabinet pieces painted on copper. The intimate scale of this panel, combined with the meticulous detail and smooth finish afforded by the copper’s surface, mark it as a work intended for personal enjoyment by the spectator, who can appreciate the excitement of the extraordinary myth in tandem with the erotic elegance of its forms.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, estimate £1.5–2 million

One of the best loved of all the Brueghel compositions and, in its beautiful evocation of a winter’s day, one of the most enduring images in Western Art. This particular version of the Bird Trap is one of only a small handful that is both signed and dated by Pieter Brueghel the Younger himself, as well as being one of a few to include the figures of the holy family on the far bank.

18th-Century Masterpieces

Francesco Guardi, The Grand Canal, Venice, with San Simeon Piccolo, estimate: £1–1.5 million

Only recently brought to light for the first time, this beautiful depiction of the Grand Canal is a mature work by Francesco Guardi, most probably painted in the 1770s. The far north-western stretch of the Grand Canal, dominated by the neoclassical church of San Simeone Piccolo and its great dome, though not the most famous of Venetian views, was often chosen by Guardi as a subject for his paintings. This canvas is one of a small group of closely related vedute, probably also painted in the same decade and taken from the same viewpoint; it is moreover the only signed example known, and certainly the finest to remain in private hands. Its subtle colour harmonies of creams, pinks, blues and greys, and its wonderful capture of the atmospheric qualities of Venetian light attest to Guardi’s mastery of his subject, but equally noteworthy are his closely observed details of everyday life upon the canal.

Jean-Etienne Liotard, A Woman in Turkish Costume in a Hamam Instructing a Servant, pastel on paper, laid down on canvas, 70 × 56 cm (lot 33, estimate £2,000,000–3,000,00).

Jean-Etienne Liotard, A Woman in Turkish Costume in a Hamam Instructing a Servant, estimate: £2–3 million

This exceptional pastel is one of the most famous images created by Liotard, whose endeavours in exotic subjects such as this would have excited the senses of the 18th-century viewer, providing a window into a different world. Though his ties with his native Switzerland never wavered, there was perhaps no other 18th-century artist who was more truly cosmopolitan, with Liotard working in almost all the main cultural centres of Europe over a career that spanned six decades. His works in his preferred medium of pastel are often of startling technical and compositional originality. This portrait encapsulates all of the technical brilliance and timeless mystery that underpin Liotard’s genius and enduring appeal.

Medieval and Renaissance

Sandro Botticelli and Studio, Madonna and Child, Seated before a Classical Window, estimate £1,500,000–2,000,000

Painted in 1485, or soon after, this well preserved Madonna and Child follows the design of the central section of Botticelli’s famous altarpiece for the Bardi chapel in the church of Santo Spirito, Florence and since 1829 in the Gemaldegalerie, Berlin. Whether by Botticelli in its entirety, as believed by Prof. Laurence Kanter, or by Botticelli with some assistance from his workshop, the head and hand of the Madonna are of particular note and it seems very likely that the same cartoon, to map out the composition, was used for both this and the Bardi altarpiece.

Third Master of Anagni, The Madonna and Child, Two Angels in the Spandrels above, mid-1230s, estimate £200,000–300,000

Probably created in the mid-1230s, this is one the earliest paintings to be offered in an Old Masters sale at Sotheby’s. Executed in a deft graphic style, this remarkable early work depicts the Virgin with the Christ Child with an inset arch. Acquired for the illustrious Stoclet Collection in Brussels in the early 20th century, this work has not been offered for sale for nearly a century.


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