BY JENNIFER JOHNSON AND JAMES WILENTZ
OMNP begins a comprehensive look at everything Old Masters in London taking place next week, starting with July’s auctions of Old Master Paintings and Drawings at the major auction houses, along with the collaborative events being thrown by dealers for Master Paintings and Drawings week. For those attending,we will look to cover such a febrile amount of activity in such a short peiod of time by marking some of the highlights. We start with a look at Sotheby’s sales of Old Master Drawings, taking place July 6th.
Sotheby’s Sale L10040/Old Master & British Drawings
There is something special about drawings; perhaps it is the old cliché of the ‘human touch’, the artist’s hand that shows through the drawing often as clearly as a signature – and so much harder to forge. The initial, sometimes quite raw, thoughts about a work-to-be, or a practice sketch can be fun, full of brevity and idea, and on occasion have an edge of fallibility that is both reassuring and exciting.
In the most outstanding piece from this sale, such stimulation is also the stuff of nightmares. “The Eagle Hunter” (see image #8) by Francisco Goya de Lucientes shows the moment of the theft presumably of eggs, the return of the eagle, and the Heath Robinson-esque contraption that the hunter hangs from, unaware of his imminent danger. Stranded between life and death, the scene is tense and dark. The date is debated a little in the catalogue notes, but is probably circa 1812-1820. Not to be viewed late at night perhaps, if you could come up with the £700,000-900,000 to take it home.
“Two Studies for the Vision of Saint Philip Neri” (see image #3) by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri called Il Guercino – is an expressive piece in a style that captures the twisting movements of the figures and displays the fluidity and intensity of his draughtsmanship.
Other highlights from the sale include a charming harbor scene (see image #11) by William van de Velde-which feels like a lazy afternoon doodle. Charles Natoire’s “The Toilet of Venus” (see image #5) is worth mentioning for the commotion and interaction taking place between Venus and her attending angels, and the rough, almost distressed marks of Natoire’s process..you get the feeling Natoire was hard at work here, sketching out a draft for something bigger.
If there was a piece best suited for display however, our money would have to be on a florid depiction of “Diana and Acteon,” by Cavalieri D’Arpino (see image #2), whose color has been immaculately preserved.
On the British side is the Mansel Lewis Collection of Drawings by Edwin Landseer, which have not been offered for auction since the artist’s sale in 1874. These are superb drawings – anatomically and stylistically a testament to Landseer’s skill as a draftsman.
The travel sketchbooks of David Roberts and Edward Lear have to be of the best from the later grand tour in Europe, and the examples from each here are not disappointing. Towards the end of the price range, these are often under-appreciated, especially from the latter artist who is usually associated with humorous illustration.
And what is there to say that could top the surprise of an impeccable mature watercolor by J.M.W. Turner (see image #15), that seems to fall out of nowhere in this sale? The works seems a bit out of place in terms of its quality, carrying an estimate of £300-500,000 GBP that dwarfs any of its adjacent lots. It seems more appropriate for a grander stage..does Sotheby’s want this particular piece to fly under the radar for some reason?
Whatever the reasoning, this is a charming showcase of Turner in a more naturalistic mood, capturing a bucolic view of the ruined Flint Castle amidst an early morning sunrise. The work could be likened to the praise of John Ruskin, the great British art critic of the time, who owned an accompanying view by Turner and called it “‘the loveliest piece of pure-watercolour painting in my whole collection; nor do I know anything elsewhere that can compare..”
Sotheby’s Sale L10042: Master Drawings from a Distinguished European Collection
It’s a bit of a coup to think how the quality of one singular collection (in this case an anonymous one) can rival the combined quality of all the select sources of consignments that Sotheby’s drew from its main sale, yet this is more common in a smaller niche like Old Masters, in which works long held in private hands infuse the market with new energy.
Italian Mannerism is strong in this undertaking, and our star pick from the sale comes by way of a early chalk exercise (see image above) by the great Paolo Veronese. If Veronese was a rock star of his age- a member of the painterly trinity consisting of him, Titian, and Tintoretto that ruled Venetian painting during the 16th century; than the study here could be likened to a demo recording for a classic debut.
This preparatory study of a woman’s head from below, made its way into “St. Mark Crowning the Theological Virtues,” (see above image) a ceiling painting done in collaboration with other artists for the Sala della Bussola in the Palazzo Ducale- the first major Venetian commission in Paolo’s legendary career. The drawing is also notable as one of Veronese’s first forays using chalk-a medium which would define his preparatory process in the years to come, making this lot all the more a steal at £30,000 – 40,000 GBP.
Other notables from the Renaissance varsity include a vivid study of women in anguish by Guercino (see image #26), which could be seen as an acerbic glimpse into the emotion conveyed in the Lamentation of Christ scene that the artist completed for a major altarpiece that is now housed the Musée Condé in Chantilly, France-one of the greatest collections of European art that most people have never heard about.
Other opportunities for major artists feel a bit more unorthodox-a drawing study by Parmigianino, of “A Canephoros in Profile to the Left,” (see image #19) left OMNP grinning, as a possible overreaction to a previous sale result. As we reported two years ago, Sotheby’s put a paltry estimate on a beautiful Parmigianino profile of a woman, that ended up selling for nearly eight times its high estimate. In turn, a value of 120,000 – 180,000 GBP seems a bit hefty for this piece, a drawing for a commission that not only did Parmigianino finish, but was imprisoned for by his patrons in the Confraternity, who lost patience with the artist’s delays.
A Deposition study by Jean-Antoine Watteau (see image #32) also produces unsettling feelings, not by way of its price, but by content. We are a long way off from Watteau’s fête galantes; this is a harrowing image that brings a new angle to such a well-documented scene-the thick, sludgy mixture of brown and reds that compose Watteau’s marks feels morbid and almost vile. Yet this is what makes it so great, as Watteau is able to interject the piece, which was a copy of “The Deposition” by Leandro Bassano, with his own introspection.
Other lots to watch from this sale include a scene of the Virgin and Child with Saints (see image #16) carrying an attribution to a minor Pontormo-influence painter named Domenico Puglio. We wonder if a dealer will jump at the chance to get this redirected to the hand of the real Mccoy. A similar opportunity can be found with a study of woman (see image #22) that has been listed by a follower of Caravaggio; which bears a heightened sense of realism and haggard emotion that makes it ripe for a second opinion.
For those just looking for sublime works along the more affordable end, a beautiful wash of “The Mystic Marriage of St.Catherine,” (see image #27) by Domenico Piola exhibits a delicate interplay of shades brown and white and looks to be had for a relatively modest £5,000 – 7,000 GBP. Piola is another one of art-history’s slept on figures-a highly prolific and leading painter in Genoa during the Baroque period, who was simply overshadowed by the artistic titans to the East and South.
We are also a fan of “Hannah and Eli”, (see image #31) by Ferdinand Bol sheerly for its modern feel, as its horizontal profile of the subjects against a wall, and generous amount of space between them has a minimalist sense to it that is befitting of a white cube loft in Soho.