Tuesday, July 3, 2012


The cream of the Old Masters crop
Works by Constable, Rembrandt and Hans Baldung Grien come to the block at Sotheby’s and Christie’s

By Paul Jeromack. Published online: 02 July 2012

London. Christie’s is due to offer a splendid selection of works in its evening auction of Old Master paintings on 3 July, crowned by Carmen “Tita” Thyssen’s Constable, The Lock, 1824 (est £20m-£25m), a last-minute addition to the sale.

The auction house received a consignment of 15 works from the Pieter and Olga Dreesmann collection of 17th-century Dutch paintings in early spring, including Rembrandt’s A man in a gorget and cap, 1626-27 (est £8m-£12m), and The interior of the Nieuwe Kerk, Haarlem, 1658, by Pieter Jansz. Saenredam (est £1.2m-£1.8m). These works acted as a powerful magnet for more Dutch pictures, the most notable being a lush, beautifully preserved masterpiece by Jan Davidsz. de Heem, Flowers in a glass vase on a draped table, with a silver tazza, fruit, insects and birds, late 1660s. The work’s estimate of £1.2m to £1.8m seems curiously restrained, given that the painting has long been acknowledged as one of De Heem’s masterpieces.

One of the other Dutch paintings in the sale is an accidental discovery: a Christie’s representative in Paris went to visit a grand household in case there were any worthwhile paintings tucked away. A thorough search yielded nothing, and the disappointed representative was just about to leave when the lady of the house said: “Oh, you might as well check this cabinet.” Inside was Joachim Wtewael’s Mars and Venus Surprised by Vulcan, 1610, which has been untraced since its acquisition by the family in around 1836.

Several fine pictures by Wtewael have been discovered in recent years, most notably Adam and Eve, 1610-15, which brought a record price of $6.2m at Sotheby’s New York in January 2011. This season’s erotic masterpiece is related to earlier compositions of the subject in the Mauritshuis and the Getty, and is confidently estimated at between £2m and £4m.

Following the record sale of Charles-Antoine Coypel’s modello for a tapestry of Roland at the Marriage of Angelique, 1737, which went for $3.5m at Sotheby’s New York in January, Christie’s is presenting a modello of The Destruction of the Palace of Armida, 1737, which is an example of Coypel at his maddest and most floridly histrionic. It features a wild-eyed, spurned enchantress sitting astride a dragon and summoning lightning and spike-winged demons to rip apart the palace she had planned to live in with her ex-lover. The fact that the work seems to have been trimmed a bit on both sides (a less fine version at Nancy preserves the entire composition) has kept the estimate low, at between £500,000 and £750,000.

Sotheby’s evening sale on 4 July is due to feature a good selection of Italian pictures, of which the most beautiful are Orazio Borgianni’s Christ Among the Doctors (est £400,000-£600,000) and a small panel of The Resurrected Christ With An Angel, around 1510 (est £200,000-£300,000), by the early 16th-century Ferrarese master Giovanni Francesco Maineri. But my favourite picture of the sale is The Virgin as Queen of Heaven Suckling the Infant Christ, around 1517, by Hans Baldung Grien. The work is consigned by the German pharmaceuticals millionaire Diethelm Doll, who bought it in the sale of works from the Robert von Hirsch collection at Sotheby’s London in 1978 for £245,000. One of the greatest and most individual masters of the German Renaissance, Baldung is perhaps best known for his woodcuts and visions of fleshy, carnal witches casting spells and making mischief. There is usually a twisted tweak to even his religious pictures, and the Sotheby’s Virgin is crowned by a glowing white halo floating in a dark blue sky. Although drawings by Baldung occasionally surface (the most recent being an expressionistic black-chalk Head of a man, around 1525, which sold at Christie’s New York in 1997 for a record $3.7m), paintings by the artist are rare and mostly unobtainable. The Sotheby’s Madonna is the last notable picture by the artist in private hands, and is estimated at an inexplicably cheap £1m to £1.5m.

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