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Rare Works by Goya, Fragonard, David and Turner at Sotheby's July Old Master Paintings
Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes, An Equestrian Portrait of Manuel Godoy, Duque de la Alcudia, oil on canvas, estimate: £2.5-3.5 million. Photo: Sotheby's.
LONDON.- Sotheby's forthcoming sales of Old Master Paintings and Drawings to take place in London on Wednesday, July 8 and Thursday, July 9, 2009 will bring to the market a superb selection of rare works by renowned French, Spanish, Dutch, Flemish, Italian and British Old Masters as well as a single-owner sale of Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from the collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson. Among the artists to feature in the Old Master Paintings Evening Sale are Daddi, Dell’Abate, Metsu, Guercino, Zurbarán, Guardi, Fragonard and Goya and the 48 lots have an estimate in the region of £24 million. A large proportion of the works come to the market with exemplary provenance, having either been in private collections for many years or actually never having been offered at auction before. The centrepiece of the Old Master Drawings sale will be a long-lost masterpiece by Jacques-Louis David, which has not been seen in public since it was exhibited in Brussels in 1925.

Spanish highlights:
An important equestrian portrait of Don Manuel Godoy, Duke of Alcudia by Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes (1746-1828), estimated at £2.5-3.5 million, will spearhead the selection of Spanish works. A remarkable political and military figure who swiftly rose to power on the strengths of his talents and much-commented-upon relationship with Queen María Louisa and King Carlos IV, Don Manuel Godoy was undoubtedly the most powerful man in Spain during the reign of Carlos IV. Goya undertook the portrait of him in 1794, at the height of his own career, following his appointment as Pintor del Rey in 1786 and Primer Pintor de Camara in 1789, and although details surrounding the precise commission of the painting are unknown, the work can be accurately dated to 1794 as Goya refers to the picture in a letter to a childhood friend.

The portrait ranks among the most important paintings by the Spanish artist ever to come to auction. With its magical Goya atmosphere and signature Goya sky, the painting has been extensively exhibited.

Francisco de Zurbarán’s (1598-1664) imposing portrait of Doctor Juan Martinez Serrano - an ecclesiastic and professor from Segovia - comes to market in remarkable condition and with superb provenance, having not been on the market for nearly 40 years. The painting in soft and subtle tones was discovered in 1969 by Jose Lopez-Rey and since this time scholars have dated it to the 1630s. It has an estimate of £800,000-1,200,000.

A third notable work with Spanish links is a depiction of St George on top of the slain dragon by Jorge Inglés (active 1455-1485), an artist of English origin who was working predominantly in the Spanish region of Castile in the third quarter of the 15th century. This work is also in excellent condition and is estimated at £400,000-600,000.

French highlights:
With an estimate of £2.5-3.5 million, a pair of portraits by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) will lead the French offerings. The two decorative portraits entitled A Young Woman Adorning her Powdered Coiffure with a Spray of Roses and A Young Blonde Woman with a Garland of Roses around her Neck are mature works by the French artist and they epitomise his skillful combination of virtuoso paintwork and Rococo elegance that made Fragonard one of the most brilliant and versatile painters of 18th century France. Almost certainly dating from the early 1770s - one of the most brilliant and fertile periods of the artist’s career - the portraits are very similar in subject and style to a number of other paintings from this date. Previously unrecorded and unpublished, the two magnificent portraits became a major addition to Fragonard’s known oeuvre when they were exhibited for the first time in New York in 2005 and the forthcoming sale will be their first appearance at auction.

Dutch and Flemish highlights:
Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s (1564-1637/8) finest version of The Massacre of the Innocents - the renowned composition devised by his father - comes to the market in fine, original condition and with an estimate of £2.5-3.5 million. Breughel the Younger produced many versions of the well-known scene, the original of which is in the Royal Collection at Hampton Court today, and the number and general quality of the younger Breughel’s works suggest that he was very familiar with his father’s original painting. The impact of The Massacre of the Innocents composition – both in terms of the horror of the narrative and the veiled political comments – was, and still remains, very powerful.

A three-quarter-length portrait by the Antwerp-born Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), estimated at £1-1.5 million, depicts Endymion Porter, the diplomat, connoisseur and courtier to Charles I who was a close friend and confidante of van Dyck. The Portrait of Endymion Porter was on loan to the York City Art Gallery for many years and more recently it was included in the Van Dyck and Britain exhibition at Tate Britain earlier this year. Never offered at auction before, the painting has descended through the same family collection since 1798.

Endymion and van Dyck first met on the artist’s initial visit to England in 1620- 1621 and this portrait, painted a few years later in Antwerp in 1628, represents the first in a series that the artist undertook of his great friend. It is also one of his earliest portraits of Englishmen and it is emblematic of his role in introducing a progressively more engaging and psycho-analytical portraiture style to England. Van Dyck portrays his friend and patron in a striking yet intimate and refined pose and his rich satin doublet and great clock are those of an elegant and dashing courtier; a man of great character and personality is clearly presented. Van Dyck later captured his relationship with Endymion in a double portrait of them together side-by-side and this work today hangs in the Museo Nacional del Prado in Madrid. Endymion was the only Englishman to receive such an honour.

The sale will also feature remarkable works by Gabriel Metsu (1629-1669) and Adriaen Coorte (1660-1707). Metsu’s A Woman Selling Game from a Stall, estimated at £1.2-1.8 million and, comes from the Fermor-Hesketh family collection at Easton Neston in Northamptonshire and is one of the most important and largest works by the artist to ever appear on the auction market. A still life of a vine twig with fruit by the much sought-after Adriaen Coorte, estimated at £300,000-400,000, was included in the first exhibition devoted to the artist in 1958 but has since been hidden away from public view in a private family collection. Works by Coorte, a painter of outstanding quality and originality, are rare to the market as only a mere 64 pictures by him are known to exist today.

Italian highlights:
A rare figurative work by Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) and a Venetian view by his near contemporary Michele Marieschi (1710-1743) are two of the most important Venetian works in the sale and they are estimated at £800,000-1,200,000 and £600,000-800,000 respectively. Guardi’s dazzling interior is a relatively early work by the artist – it is believed to date from the 1750s – and it is one of only a small number of the artist’s paintings that depict the interior of a Venetian palazzo. Although best known for his landscapes, Guardi was a skilled narrative painter, as is shown in A Ridotto with Masked Figures Dancing and Conversing. In this work he captures the Sala grande of the ridotto in Palazzo Dandolo in the San Moise district of Venice and he delights in intimating the relationships between characters through gesture and pose. The ridotto was a public space of entertainment where aristocrats, the middle-class and prostitutes could interact and given that most attendees wore masks, they often became a location for illicit amorous liaisons and conspiratorial plots. Guardi painted several similar views of the ridotto at Palazzo Dandolo and all are closely related in terms of the figures they contain. Marieschi’s beautiful and well preserved Venetian cityscape captures The Grand Canal from the right bank and the Church of San Stae.

Nicole dell’Abate’s (1509/12-1571) large-scale oil on canvas The Taking of Carthage: Hasdrubal’s Wife Denouncing Her Husband Before Scipio, estimated at £800,000-1,200,000, will offer a rare opportunity to acquire a work from the artist’s time in France as, with the exception of a number of drawings, very few painted works from this period in his career survive today. After a successful career as a painter of large-scale decorative schemes in his native Modena and in Bologna, dell’Abate was summoned to France in 1552 to assist Francesco Primaticcio at the Court of Henri II and he worked extensively at Fontainebleau.

Three panels by Luca di Tommè (active in Siena 1356-1389) dating from circa 1350 are each estimated at £400,000-600,000. The panels - which portray Saint Michael, Saint Bernardo degli Uberti and Saint Giovanni Gualberto - were almost certainly commissioned by the Arte della Lana or Wool Merchants Guild for the Vallombrosan Church of San Michele in Siena and originally formed part of the central register of a larger polyptych dedicated to the Virgin and Child. Neither the church nor the complete altarpiece survived but the panels did and they exist today in an extraordinary state of preservation.

Further Italian highlights will be two gold grounds by Bernardo Daddi (1290-1348) depicting St John the Evangelist and St Francis, estimated at £600,000-800,000, and a life-size portrayal of the penitent Magdalen by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Il Guercino (1591-1666). The Penitent Magdalen, estimated at £600,000-800,000, is one of a series of five life-size paintings of saints commissioned by Cardinal Fabrizio Savelli in Bologna in 1649; Savelli was appointed Papal Legate in Bologna in September 1648. The five pictures in the series are all of similar dimensions but the Penitent Magdalene is the only female in the series.

British highlights:
A Portrait of Baron de Robeck Riding A Bay Hunter by George Stubbs (1724-1806) is one of the undoubted highlights of the British pictures in the sale and the magnificent painting - one of Stubbs most heroic images - carries an estimate of £2-3 million. The painting dates from 1791, the year in which the artist’s fortunes greatly improved; in 1790 he had received a commission to paint a series of famous racehorses to illustrate a history of The Turf and then early 1791 saw the beginning of his substantial patronage to the Prince of Wales. John 2nd Baron de Robeck was a colourful Swedish nobleman whose father had been ennobled in 1750 by Frederick I of Sweden and the heroic pose in which he is captured - showing him on a rearing horse - has its origin in several famous equestrian portraits by earlier Old Masters such as Velázquez, Titian and Van Dyck.

J.M.W. Turner’s (1775-1851) Virginia Water, estimated at £500,000-700,000, dates from the late 1820s and it is one of two watercolours of the same title that were engraved for The Keepsake Annual in 1830. The second watercolour, which also shows the Chinese fishing pavilion, was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1886 but its whereabouts are unknown today. The watercolour on offer captures Virginia Water in Berkshire from an easterly direction; it takes the view from near the road (now the A30) and shows the lake looking towards the Chinese pavilion, which was demolished in 1936. Close to the pavilion is a fishing boat fitted with an awning and the Royal Standard, indicating that the King is onboard and in the foreground a military band plays onboard an elegant barge being towed by a rowing boat. On the calm water’s surface are two buoys decorated with the Cross of St George, which is also shown on the flag at the stern of the bands elegant barge. Such ceremonial elements suggest the date to be April 23, which is St George’s Day, the King’s official birthday and also coincidentally, Turner’s birthday. The watercolor has superb provenance having descended through the same family collection since 1913 - a period of almost a century - and having never appeared on the auction market before.

John Constable’s (1776-1837) dramatic landscape Storm Clouds over Hampstead, estimated at £300,000-500,000, depicts a windswept day and the full powers of Mother Nature. The dark blue and grey storm clouds are captured being driven by a strong westerly breeze and the merest hint of tree tops on the lower right hand horizon serve to emphasise the enormity and scale of the view. Rarely found in other such cloud landscapes, two birds are depicted joyously wheeling on the wind. Constable is known to have painted more than 100 cloud studies during his career but few examples are as significant in scale and power as Storm Clouds over Hampstead. The sky is a key component in all of Constable’s landscape works.

OLD MASTER DRAWINGS
The centrepiece of the dedicated Old Master Drawings sale at 11am on Wednesday, July 8 will be a long-lost masterpiece by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825), which has not been seen in public since it was exhibited in Brussels in 1925. Entitled Alexander Watching Apelles Painting Campaspe, the drawing is a large, elaborate and highly sensual composition that dates from 1813 and it is the most important work by the artist to appear on the market for many decades. It is estimated at £600,000-800,000. No other work of comparable quality and significance by the artist is currently known to remain in private hands.

Very soon after it was executed, the drawing was acknowledged as one of David’s masterpieces and the artist himself clearly thought very highly of it as he presented it in 1820 to his most respected pupil, Baron Gros. Thereafter the drawing passed, by way of further presentations, through several illustrious hands, but subsequently disappeared from public view and throughout much of the 20th century it was known only from various admiring mentions in the literature. In 2001, however, the drawing was rediscovered in a private collection, but although it has since been widely published, it has not been on public exhibition since 1925 – some 84 years ago.

David first explored the potential of subjects from classical history nearly two decades earlier, when making his iconic 1780s paintings that defined the image of the French Revolution. By 1813, however, he seems to have been less interested in the political messages to be derived from classical subjects, and more interested in their purely visual potential. This drawing is the definition of what Ancient Greece meant to David during the latter part of his career, and represents the culmination of his relationship with the classical world. It sees him revel in the classical purity of both the beautiful figure of Campaspe and of the setting, while also apparently relishing the contrast with the erotically charged nature of the subject.

Sotheby's | Metsu | Guercino | Zurbarán | Guardi | Fragonard | Goya |




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June 12, 2009

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