Memorial Day weekend doesn’t quite lend itself to activities planned indoors, which begs the question as to why Sotheby’s would have scheduled this weekends preview of their minor upcoming sale of Old Masters on June 3rd. One would think that even the most discerning of Old Masters connoisseurs would find themselves taking flight from New York this weekend, however where OMNP intervenes, and poolside internet and buying opportunities come into play.
There are certainly some gems to be found in this concise sale, like the Luca Signorelli and Studio (lot 7) circular panel or an oil on copper landscape by Théobald Michau (lot 63). Above all, attention should be cast upon a group of trompe l’oeil still lifes which are on offer from the collection of the Fresno Metropolitan Museum of Art and Science.
Of the seven lots in this trompe l’oeil series ( see lots 36, 37, 38, 46, 48, 52, 69), Edwaert Collier’s work (lot 36) serves as a masterful example of this unusual genre. Here, Collier depicts a dark wooden letter-rack crammed with mail, pamphlets, newspapers, and a dog-eared London Gazette (describing a royal speech before parliament). He coyly reveals his signature on a letter, tucked into the rack: “Mr.E Collier Painter att. London.” What is fascinating about this work is that one feels that they have stumbled upon a casual collection of uncomposed thoughts when, in fact Collier’s true brilliance lied in his ability to produce an effortless mélange of objects that have exacting meaning.
Cornelis Norbertus Gijbrechts’s Trompe L’oeil of an Open Cupboard (lot 52) is another remarkable work for its refined painterly skill and sophisticated references. Looking at the composition, we see a cupboard door left ajar. Attached to the door is a medley of pamphlets, writing utensils, eye glasses, a wooden box, and so on. Together this dense assemblage of paper and nick-knacks creates something of a cabinet of curiosities, serving to pique the viewer’s interest with visuals allusions. For instance, looking at one such pamphlet, Gijbrecht shows a profile borrowed from a Jan Lievens’s print, and as you look to the left, a 1657 almanac from Liége titled “Victor...”. The Sotheby’s catalogue entry explains this reference as an allusion to the Dutch Battle of Lowestoft in June 1665, when the English triumphed over the Dutch. The sum of these references contributes to an endlessly engaging and visually intriguing work.
Another variation on the trompe l’oeil theme, a vanitas painting (lot 48), by an unknown 17th century French artist rounds out the genre in this sale. If the aim of trompe l’oeil work is to fool the eye, then the objective of a vanitas work is to strike a moral message. Lot 48 lives up to these expectations, employing typical vanitas conceits like a candle with smoke, an hour glass, and a playing card–these images conjure ideas of passing of time, the vice of gambling and perhaps fate. Together these ordinary life objects project the heedful Dutch attitude towards life’s ephemeral pleasures with disturbing clarity.
Other highlights from the sale include some well executed interpretations of Rembrandt’s style-Portrait of a Man in a Turban (lot 20) brings to mind the biblical scenes of the master, while a portrait from the circle of Michel Jansz Mierveldt could certainly pass off being from the height of his commercial appeal, executing portraits for the affluent Dutch merchant class.
Star pupil of Rembrandt, Jan Lievens makes an appearance with St. Luke and St. John (lot 53), noted for the connection Lievens was able to evoke, between the two figures, despite their lack of eye contact.
Francesco Albotto-protege of one member of the triumverate of vedusti (painter of Venetian waterways) Michele Marieschi, also makes an appearance with A view of the Molo from the Bacino di San Marco..” (lot 87)
Other quality, original pieces come via the studio of Simon Vouet, a depiction of The Virgin and Child with Angel” (lot 71) has a soothing sense of warmth and figural movement, and an elongated arm that is more charming than awkward.
Finally, Portrait of a Lady‘s(lot 13) provenance is also made all the more intriguing by a few of its infamous owners: collector Baron Michele Lazzaroni, and the Duveen Brothers art dealership. While Sotheby’s catalogue entry mentions the former’s notorious reputation for “restoration campaigns,” in which he altered works to the styles of his time, OMNP pondered whether this work would have been embellished by Joseph Duveen as a Botticelli or a Piero della Francesca.
For more details, visit Sotheby’s sales page here.