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Medieval to Modern: Sotheby's sale of European sculpture and works of art spans 800 years
Four putti (two are shown) personifying the senses: smell, taste, sight and touch, attributed to Jan Pieter van Bauerscheit II, Flemish, Antwerp, 1733, Estimate: £150,000-250,000. Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Sotheby's sale of European Sculpture and Works of Art: Medieval to Modern on Tuesday, 6 December 2011 will showcase 800 extraordinary years of artworks that form a continuous history from the twelfth century through to the mid-twentieth century. The auction comprises medieval, Old Master, eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth century sculpture and works of art.

The department is returning to presenting Sculpture as it did from 2000 to 2005 in an uninterrupted tradition from around the tenth century to the beginning of the twentieth century. Sotheby's is unique in the auction world in offering such a rich and coherent view of sculpture as a stand-alone collecting category. Erik Bijzet has been appointed Head of Auction Sales, European Sculpture and Works of Art, and Alexander Kader, Head of Department, is to focus on private treaty sales and valuations. The department has four specialists who bring an unrivalled breadth of knowledge and experience to the selection of masterpieces for private collectors and museum curators. These sales will take place biannually during the busy summer and winter 'Old Master Week' in July and December, when the spotlight falls on London as the centre of the art world for collectors of important paintings, drawings and furniture.

Commenting on the strength of the market in sculpture and works of art, Erik Bijzet said: “The three key factors of quality, condition and provenance are of prime importance to collectors in this field and when these factors come into alignment, the artwork becomes extremely desirable. Sotheby’s recent two-day sale in Paris of the Fabius Collection saw an auction record established for bronzes by Barye and the record for sculptures by Carpeaux broken twice over. During the past year in London we have seen high prices for wood sculptures and life-size marbles. The December sale includes some exceptional pieces sourced from all over the world and the London sales platform will allow an international audience to see and bid on these works.”

Sotheby’s sale is to present an exciting rediscovery, an Italian Romanesque stone relief of The Presentation in the Temple that formed part of a lost doorway from the Cathedral of San Pietro in Bologna. The relief comes to the market from a private collection and was purchased in 1957 from the Dr Jacob Hirsh sale held in Lucerne, where it was catalogued as having come from the Church of San Stefano in Bologna. In 1999 six stone panels were discovered during work on the campanile of San Pietro Cathedral and the most significant of these depicts two scenes from the Life of Christ. The present relief compares exactly in both the stylistic treatment of the figures, architecture and in the palaeography. Originating in the workshop of Pietro di Alberico, it can be dated to around 1159. The research undertaken and published in 2008 by Michele Vescovi has provided fresh insight into the relief’s origins. The church was remodelled during the sixteenth-century, a catalyst for the different fortunes of the reliefs. The Presentation in the Temple was housed in the old hospital in Bologna, before being sold by the Bargello authorities for the relief of the hospital in 1925 and passing through a number of collections during the twentieth century. It is estimated at £80,000-120,000.

A partially polychromed limewood figure of St John the Baptist, restituted to the heirs of Jacob and Rosa Oppenheimer this year, is being offered with an estimate of £100,000-150,000. Made by the Master of the Harburger Altar, Bayerisch-Schwaben, circa 1515, the saint is represented here with a virtuosity and vigour that characterises only the very best limewood sculpture of Germany. Given its quality, and because it is almost life-size, the figure must have occupied a dominant position on a major early sixteenth-century altarpiece. The interplay of different textures employed throughout the statue demonstrates an outstanding feat of carving. One of the most important wood sculptures to come on the market in a long time, the present work is comparable to a group of carvings that possibly formed a large altarpiece for the church at Schloss Harburg, a castle belonging to the House of Oettingen-Wallerstein. The statue of St. Michael that remains there and a Virgin and Child now kept in a Baroque church on the land of the owners of the Schloss certainly display the same crispness and interchange of the winding folds and crumples of the drapery. The large animal head that rests on the base can be identified as a camel’s head and is part of an iconographic tradition based on Matthew 3:14, where the saint is described as having worn camel skin.

A set of Flemish Baroque eighteenth-century terracotta sculptures depicting Four Putti Personifying The Senses: Smell, Taste, Sight and Touch are a delightful addition to the sale, and the highest value lot in the auction. Estimated at £150,000-250,000, the rare and well-preserved set of large sculptures, each measuring 93cm and sensitively individualised and finished to the highest degree, is attributed to Jan Pieter van Baurscheit II (1699-1768) and dated to 1733. Ensembles of putti in the guise of temporal subjects such as the senses, seasons or elements were particularly sought after in the Netherlands, where they adorned the town houses and country seats of the wealthy merchant population. Terracotta was highly favoured as a material due to its malleability. This quality allowed the craftsmen to successfully render the figures’ varied characters in detail. In the present work, the coy demeanour of Taste and the pleasure with which Sight peers through her telescope are exquisitely described and this would have been much appreciated. Several drawn designs for allegorical putti by Jan Pieter van Baurscheit the Younger closely resemble the quartet. One of the most successful workshops which produced this type of sculpture was that of the Van Baurscheit family in Antwerp and Jan Pieter the Younger assumed responsibility at the time of his father’s death in 1728. He also designed mansions for prominent members of the West India Company in the major port cities of Middleburg and Vlissingen. Assuming he provided interior decorations around the same time the houses were finished, these putti could have come from the country house Sint Jan te Heere (1732-1736) which was demolished in the nineteenth century.

A rock crystal Tazza, attributed to Giovanni Battista Metellino (active second half seventeenth century), dates to a Milanese workshop circa 1700 (est. £60,000- 80,000). It can be closely compared with a number of pieces in the Louvre dating between 1685 and 1700, as well as two documented vases in the Grunes Gewolbe Dresden. These objects were highly prized by King Louis XIV. Metellino’s distinctive style often includes a lobed gadrooned bowl, a renaissance inspired zoomorphic handle together with the inclusion of incised insects amidst tiered foliate branches, as in the present example. The tazza was later engraved with the arms of Johann Friedrich Karl, Graf von Ostein, who was Archbishop of Mainz between 1743 and 1763 and at one time on the elector’s list of the Holy Roman Emperor.

Nineteenth-century marble sculpture at its most sublime is represented by Nu assis de dos (Seated Nude) by Alfred Boucher (1850-1934). A very rare model within the oeuvre of the artist, the marble is one of only three versions known. Estimated at £80,000-120,000, the sculpture passed from Boucher’s studio at the time of his death to the collection of Monsieur Fagot- Creuzevault, Boucher’s executor. Until very recently the model was only known through two old photographs, one showing the present marble in the artist’s studio and the other showing another version which is unlocated. The motif of a figure emerging from the rocks is typical of Boucher’s work but here the emphasis on the curved back of the girl is unusual. The sensual carving of the body, with the spine, shoulder blades and curves of flesh sensitively drawn from the stone, vividly demonstrates a celebration of the female form. Nu assis de dos will be included in the catalogue raisonée on Boucher, due for publication next year.

A good selection of ‘New’ sculpture includes several works by Alfred Gilbert (1854-1934), among them Comedy and Tragedy, a pair of bronzes estimated at £15,000-20,000 . The sculpture forms one of Gilbert’s most complex and academic compositions, and the pose requires the viewer to continually shift perspective in order to gain a complete view. The nude young man holds out a large comic mask in both hands. Its large laughing mouth frames the youth's head when the sculpture is viewed from the left. However, his body twists towards the right and the expression on his own face reveals a startling contrast to the comic mask as he grimaces in pain, a reaction to the bee sting on his leg. The half-mask which he wears like a head band emphasises the tragic face. Head facing downwards, arms engaged in the opposite direction and with one foot off the ground, the work is reminiscent of Mannerist sculpture, in particular Giambologna’s Apollo, whilst also acknowledging Frederic Leighton’s 1886 composition Needless Alarms.

Bringing the sale full-circle is a set of mid-twentieth century bronze reliefs by Gilbert Bayes (1872-1953), known as The Aveling-Barford Reliefs (est. £10,000-15,000). The set of four are each entitled: The World’s First Steam Roller ; Mechanization / Aveling Steam Sapper; The First Motor Roller; and Mechanization / Aveling Barford Bren Gun Carriers. These hitherto unpublished bronze reliefs commemorate the technological innovations of Aveling-Barford, an engineering conglomerate formed in 1934 from the merger of two firms with distinguished histories, Aveling & Porter of Rochester and Barford & Perkins of Peterborough. The reliefs celebrate the invention of the first steam roller in 1867; the 'Steam Sapper' in 1871; the first motor roller in 1904; and the 'Bren Gun Carrier' in 1942; all of which were developed by the company and its predecessors. Cast during the Second World War, they bear testament to the resilience of engineering firms during wartime and to Britain's role as a manufacturing leader during the first half of the twentieth century. Bayes was one of the leading British sculptors of the early twentieth century and is perhaps best known for his monumental 1925 Queen of Time clock on the façade of Selfridge's department store in London.

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