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Old Masters/New Scholars: Works of art to benefit Rugby School
Study for 'Perseus and Andromeda’ by Sir Edward Poynter P.R.A. Estimate: £120,000-180,000. © Christie’s Images Limited 2018.

LONDON.- On 4 December Christie’s will present Old Masters/New Scholars: Works of Art to Benefit Rugby School, a stand-alone sale comprising approximately 200 lots from the collection of Rugby School. Carefully selected to ensure that nothing which is intrinsic to the history of Rugby School will be sold, the works to be offered span Old Master and British Drawings and Watercolours, Books and Manuscripts, Antiquities, 19th Century Paintings, Sculpture and Chinese Ceramics. Rugby School’s Governing Body will use the proceeds from the sale to benefit the School’s current and future students, including a newly designated museum space on the School site for the remaining works including the important collection of memorabilia which relate to the invention of Rugby Football.

The auction is led by one of Lucas van Leyden’s very rare surviving drawings, A young man standing (estimate: in the region of £1.5 million), and the recently rediscovered Study for 'Perseus and Andromeda’ by Sir Edward Poynter P.R.A. (estimate: £120,000-180,000), with further highlights including a copy of the popular 14th-century travel memoir ‘The Book of John Mandeville’ (estimate: £100,000-150,000), and an Attic Black-Figured Neck-Amphora, attributed to the Three-Line Group, circa 520-510 B.C. (estimate: £40,000-60,000). With estimates starting at £500, the sale presents works at all price levels and is expected to realise in the region of £3 million.

Jane Blood, Christie’s Head of Sale: “Christie’s is honoured to have been entrusted with this fascinating sale. Embracing works from antiquity to the 20th Century, illuminated manuscripts and Old Master drawings, the breadth and depth of the sale at all price levels presents a unique opportunity for new and existing collectors, institutions and Rugbeians alike to participate. The rediscovery of Sir Edward Poynter’s sublime and previously ‘lost’ masterpiece – as well as the last Lucas van Leyden drawing outside a museum – will generate excitement among collectors.”

Lucinda Holmes, Chairman of the Governing Body of Rugby School, said: “Rugby School has been generously endowed over its 451-year history, and is fortunate to have been given such an impressive collection of artworks, many of which have been held at the School for more than 100 years. The School’s Governing Body has recently had the collection assessed and in the light of this, and the advice received about the cost and expertise of preserving, insuring and storing the collection, has decided to sell those items that are not intrinsic to the history of the School. The decision to sell this part of the collection is aligned with the School’s commitment as a registered charity to use its resources to benefit current and future students.”

Little studied and never published in its entirety, the collection of drawings at Rugby School consists mostly of works given around 1880 by Matthew Holbeche Bloxam (1805-1888), a distinguished antiquarian and himself a Rugbeian. A nephew of the 4th President of the Royal Academy, the great portrait painter and drawings collector Sir Thomas Lawrence, Bloxam acquired a considerable number of drawings from his uncle’s collection, including an impressive sheet by the Italian Mannerist artist Lelio Orsi, Rest on the Flight to Egypt, with Saint Anthony Abbot (estimate: £150,000-250,000).

The rarest and most important drawing which will be offered in the sale is a figure study in black chalk of A young man standing by Lucas van Leyden, the Dutch painter and printmaker, whose fame in Northern Europe in the early sixteenth century was only equalled by that of Albrecht Dürer (estimate: in the region of £1.5 million). None of the small number of surviving drawings by the artist remains in private hands; the largest group is held at the British Museum, with other notable examples in the Musée du Louvre and the Rijksmuseum.

Showing the artist in full command of his art, Rugby School’s Lucas van Leyden – executed solely in black chalk – achieves great detail and a natural rendition of light falling on the rich drapery. Bringing alive the distinguished-looking youth and his proud pose, this drawing anticipates the direct observation for which much later Dutch art is famous. It has been associated with a figure study in black chalk at the Rijksmuseum, depicting a boy holding a sword and a stone. Both were probably drawn from life around the same time, perhaps towards the end of Lucas’s career, circa 1515-1525.

The strong selection of Italian drawings, in addition to the Orsi, includes a sketch, Studies of angels, by the Renaissance master Correggio for one of his best-known altarpieces (estimate: £80,000-120,000), and a previously unpublished group of Neoclassical drawings by Giuseppe Cades (with estimates starting from £1,500 up to £15,000). Further to the remarkable Lucas van Leyden, the smaller group of French and Northern drawings offered includes Princess Camma, a sheet from a series of ‘Strong women’ by Claude Vignon (estimate: £20,000-30,000).

The notable British artist-collector Sir Edward Poynter served as Director of the National Gallery from 1894 to 1905 and President of the Royal Academy from 1896 to 1918. A ‘lost’ work, Poynter’s Study for 'Perseus and Andromeda’ (estimate: £120,000-180,000) is the full compositional sketch for his painting of the subject, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1872. The magnificent finished work, five feet by thirteen feet, was the first of a series of four commissioned by the Earl of Wharncliffe for the new billiard room at Wortley Hall, near Sheffield. Wortley Hall was bombed during World War II and all the paintings in the billiard room were destroyed. Today they are known only from photographs and a handful of preparatory sketches. Poynter’s emphasis on narrative and dramatic action distinguishes his classical pictures from those of his contemporaries, such as Frederic, Lord Leighton, and Albert Moore. The swirling fabrics and crashing waves in the present drawing give a remarkable sense of movement and drama, aided by the richly dense chalks. A chalk study for the head of Andromeda is in the British Museum, where the sitter has been identified as Antonia Caiva, a celebrated Italian model who also sat for Burne-Jones, Lord Leighton, and William Blake Richmond.

Books and Manuscripts to be offered include two exceptional and rare medieval manuscripts produced in England at the time when books were made entirely by hand: a copy of the popular 14th-century travel memoir The Book of John Mandeville (estimate: £100,000-150,000), and a large Latin Missal (estimate: £40,000-60,000), still in its original wrap-around binding, and with elegant painted decoration. Also on offer will be a lavish 15th-century Ferrarese Pontifical (£18,000-£25,000, illustrated right).

The Antiquities are led by an Attic Black-Figured Neck-Amphora attributed to the Three-Line Group, circa 520-510 B.C., which shows the goddess Athena driving a chariot on one side, and Dionysus and Ariadne drinking, surrounded by satyrs on the other (estimate: £40,000-60,000). The painter inscribed the main scene of the vase with the name of the goddess depicted (Athena) and with a dedication to ‘Hipokrates Kalos’ (Hipokrates is beautiful). Further highlights include an Attic Red-Figured Nolan Amphora, circa 475-425 B.C. (estimate: £10,000-15,000) and a beautifully painted Egyptian polychrome wood coffin lid, dating to the Late Period, circa 664-332 B.C. (estimate: £50,000-70,000).

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