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Sotheby's to Offer Important Old Master Paintings from Rau Collection
Pierre Patel the Elder, A Landscape at Evening with Travellers and a Hunter Near Classical Ruins, oil on canvas, estimate: £400,000-600,000. Photo courtesy Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby’s announced that its forthcoming sale of Old Master Paintings, to be held in London on Wednesday, July 9, 2008, will be highlighted by a select group of works from the collection of the late Dr Gustav Rau, the great 20th century philanthropist and collector. The group of some 10 lots – all of which are representative of the quality and range of the Rau Collection – includes important works by French, Italian, Dutch and Flemish masters such as Pierre Patel the Elder, Taddeo di Bartolo and Balthasar van der Ast. Estimated at £2.1-3.3 million, the sale of the distinguished group is the result of instructions from the Court-appointed Administrator for Dr Rau’s Estate to raise funds to cover ongoing Estate expenses and provide continuing financial support for Dr Rau’s hospital in Ciriri in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

German-born Dr Rau (1922-2002), the scion of a wealthy industrial dynasty, was a truly unique collector. His love affair with the arts started as a child when, on visits to museums with his parents, he developed a particular fondness for Dutch and Flemish paintings and North European sculpture. It was not until his father died in the late 1960s, however, that he was able to fuel his immense passion for art by building a remarkable private collection that is world-renowned today.

On leaving university, Rau followed in his father’s footsteps in the family business which involved the manufacturing of automotive parts and as the years passed he gradually took more and more control of the company. In 1962, however, he decided to retrain as a doctor with the intention of working in the Third World and he attended medical school while continuing to manage the family enterprises. Following his father’s death, he sold the family business and began using a proportion of the proceeds to help diminish poverty in the Third World. Rau’s first practical experience as a doctor was in Nigeria but he soon moved to the Belgian Congo (later Zaire and now the Democratic Republic of Congo) where he lived for two decades, building a hospital at Ciriri and serving as a doctor for the surrounding community.

Over a period of 40 years Rau indulged his passion for the arts, building a remarkable private collection which serves today as a review of nearly all of the achievements of Western painting from the dawn of the Renaissance to the early 20th century. What is even more remarkable about Rau is that he acquired the principal part of his collection during the two decades that he lived in an isolated Congolese village on the border of Rwanda, regularly making the arduous journey to the salerooms of Europe. An austere man who wasted no money on himself and made no concessions to social convention, Rau collected with energy and wisdom and without the help of specialist advisors or art historians.

Rau’s purchases ranged from Italian paintings of the early Quattrocento all the way through to the modern era, and covered the output of every single major European school of painting; it encompassed all styles from the Renaissance, through the Baroque to the Rococo and Impressionism and beyond to Expressionism. The works of the Old Masters were evidently of particular interest to him though.

Alex Bell, International Department Head of Old Master Paintings, Sotheby’s, comments: “Dr Rau was a collector of enormous passion and motivation and it was a privilege to have known him and witnessed his collecting at firsthand during the 1980s and 1990s. His taste was discerning and wide reaching; he always knew what he wanted and was determined to get it. In a rare interview he gave to the New York Times shortly before his death he intimated what drew him to particular works and motivated his collecting until the end of his life. He said: “I simply started buying pieces of art because I had fallen in love with them”. I think this love for art, allied with his rare perception, is what shines through in the selection of pictures that we are presenting for sale in July.”

The outstanding group of 10 works to be presented for sale at Sotheby’s in July will be led by Pierre Patel the Elder’s (circa 1605-1676) idyllic Landscape at Evening with Travellers and a Hunter Near Classical Ruins, which with an estimate of £400,000-600,000, is the most valuable painting in the group as well as one of the French artist’s greatest works ever to appear at auction. It captures a tranquil scene with a few travellers pausing for rest in the shadow of the columns of a decayed classical temple, just as the sun’s last rays bathe the marshy landscape. With a suggested date of circa 1640 it is without doubt Patel’s most important work from the first decade of his career and it shows a clear and refined classical style that parallels with that of his more famous contemporary Claude Lorraine.

A rare, signed triptych by Taddeo di Bartolo (1362/3-1422) depicting the Madonna and Child with musicmaking angels, Saint John the Baptist and Saint Jerome is a further notable highlight of the group and is an exquisite example of the artist’s late Gothic style. Rau purchased the triptych at auction in 1971 on its first ever appearance on the open market. The triptych has an intimate scale and portable format (the central panel measures just 42cm by 21cm), which suggests that it was intended for private devotion. Although the size is by no means unique in the artist’s oeuvre, many of his surviving paintings are on a much larger scale or are fragments from more complex polyptychs. Certain elements of the painting’s composition can be found elsewhere in Taddeo’ s oeuvre and although the triptych is undated, its association with these other works suggest it dates from circa 1400, a period regarded as the very pinnacle of the artist’s career. The triptych - estimated at £300,000-500,000 - confirms Taddeo’s position as one of the leading Siena artists to successfully bridge the late Gothic and early Renaissance styles.

A second work in the group estimated at £300,000- 500,000 is a magnificent still life of fruit, flowers and exotic shells by the Dutch master Balthasar van der Ast (1593/4-1657). Painted in 1625 while the artist was resident in Utrecht, the
painting is among Van der Ast’s most successful compositions. It has much in common with other works from 1625 and the years immediately surrounding, notably in the placement of singular elements purposefully arranged before a central basket. It is unusual, however, in its use of a light background, imbuing the composition with a sense of depth that is often lacking in comparable works from this period. Van der Ast’s still lifes were initially rooted in the tradition of Jan Brueghel the Elder and Roelandt Savery but by the 1620s, with ambitious, minutely observed realistic paintings such as Rau’s still life, he soon established for himself a reputation that put him right at the forefront of Dutch still life painting.

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