The first part of Sotheby's
sale in Paris, on June 22nd, will be devoted to Old Master Paintings & Drawings, offering works selected above all for their unique provenance, quality and condition. Highlights include several previously unknown paintings, such as for instance two portraits of Henri IV and a fine work by François Le Moyne, along with exciting rediscoveries of works by Gaspare Traversi and Henri Mauperché.
Coinciding with the 400th anniversary of Henri IV's assassination, Sothebys will be offering two unknown portraits of the King.
The most sought-after will certainly be the mid-16th century Equestrian Portrait of Henri IV outside a City by Marin Le Bourgeoys (est. 120,000-150,000*). Only one fragmentary work - from the Musée de Lisieux and dated 1611 - had been identified as by Le Bourgeoys, until around twenty years ago when the artists signature was discovered on our panel. The King is shown under a new light, more intimate and less official than the usual portrayals of Henri IV as Mars or Hercules.
The second, a posthumous full-length portrait of Henri IV, in the manner of Frans Pourbus (est. 20,000-30,000), comes from the Château of Villebon, south-west of Paris. The King, clad in a fleur-de-lys cloak, is shown standing in a pose reflecting his grandeur and power. It is a fine example of the type of painted imagery used as instrument of power, reinforcing the legitimacy of the controversial Protestant sovereign.
Another discovery is Henri Mauperché's Panoramic Landscape with Temple of Vesta near a Low Waterfall (est. 120,000-160,000). Few works by Mauperché are known, but he is still considered as one of the major French landscape painters of the mid-17th century. He contributed to the decoration of the Hôtel Lambert in Paris in 1646/7, along with Pierre Patel the Elder, Jan Asselyn and Herman van Swanevelt.
After reaching a world record for François Le Moyne 1,296,750 with the rediscovered Adam and Eve Sothebys Paris are offering another work by the artist known until now only from an engraving. This Allegory of Love is a characteristic example of Le Moyne's symbolic history painting, showing an emblematic image of Love. It was once owned by Baron Vivant-Denon, the first administrator of the Louvre, and is in a very fine state of conservation (est. 250,000-350,000).
The sale also includes the only portrait of Fragonard during his young age, painted by his sister-in-law Marguerite Gérard during the French Revolution(est. 80,000-120,000). The work's simplicity allows the viewer to focus on the sitter and his painterly attributes, and provides an intimate indoor portrait.
A pair of pastel portraits thought to show Madame & Monsieur de Roissy is typical of the early work of Elisabeth-Louise Vigée (future Madame Le Brun), revealing the influence of her father, the pastel specialist Louis Vigée (est. 120,000-150,000). These 1773 compositions both show Vigée-Lebrun's gifts as a portraitist and the documentary value of her art, drawing up the testimony of an age.
One of the sale's most powerful and startling images is La Rixe de Jeu (Gaming Brawl) by Gaspare Traversi, a major discovery that had been locked away in a cupboard for sixty years. It is one of the highly individual genre scenes which established his reputation, and its appearance at auction offers a rare opportunity to acquire a masterpiece by this artist (est. 100,000-150,000).
Traversi strove to record contemporary society with expressive precision and remarkable sensitivity, chronicling life in Naples and Rome by concentrating on the psychology and physical appearance of his subjects. His compositions are full of dramatic anecdotes, as in our Gaming Brawl here, and its other versions in Naples (one in the Museo di San Martino, the other in a private collection). Here as in paintings with the same subject in the Louvre and Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut, and also in other works by Traversi in French museums (notably Dijon and Rouen), we can admire Travesi's obsessive concern for truth, from the overall composition down to the smallest details.
The sale includes three paintings brought back by Vicomte de Saint-Pardoux from his Grand Tour in 1779, and held by his descendents ever since: two landscapes by Pierre-Jacques Volaire, Vesuvius Erupting (est. 40,000-60,000) and View of a Mediterranean Shore with Fishermen (est. 35,000-45,000); and Francesco Foschi's Frozen Riverscape with Figures (est. 35,000-45,000).
With its exuberant realism, Christiaen van Pol's Still Life with Vase of Flowers owned by the same Lille family since the mid-19th century is a fine example of the North European decorative tradition, with its opulent array of flowers evoking the riches of Holland's Golden Age (est. 60,000-80,000).
19th Century Paintings & Drawings
The second part of the sale is devoted to the 19th century. One highlight promises to be Camille Corot's 1852 view of The Terrace Saint-Germain-en-Laye, painted when Corot was at the height of his powers (est. 30,000-40,000). The horizontal format of this landscape 'frieze' creates a feeling of calm, stability and balance, and Corot's broad, rapid brush-strokes can be admired in the treatment of the sky and greenery. St-Germain-en-Laye is not far from Ville d'Avray, where Corot's parents had a house, and this became one of his favourite regions, inspiring many studies painted in the open air.
The sale also includes a rare 1867 drawing of Castle Ruins by Victor Hugo, lost from view since the 19th century and known only from Aglaüs Bouvenne's engraving for Sept Dessins de Gens de Lettre (Seven Drawings by Men of Letters) published in 1874. It has been kept in the same family since the end of the 19th century (est. 60,000-80,000).
Each New Year's Day, Victor Hugo would send his closest friends one of his own drawings or watercolours. Hugo sent this particular drawing to Philippe Burty on 1 January 1868. Burty was greatly touched, and thanked Hugo in a letter dated 8 January 1868, offering him a Japanese bronze toad in return. In an article published in La Liberté on 13 January 1868, Burty talked of Victor Hugo's drawings and described the one he had just received: "These drawings are made with incredible ease and attention to detail. They have the effect of a décor, and their finish is that of the work of a consummate artist. In their variety, they reply to the spirit or sentiment of those to whom they are dedicated." In another article, published in La République Française in January 1873, Burty emotionally described the beauty of Victor Hugo's Rhine Valley drawings: "Victor Hugo excels in rendering, in ink-traced drawings, [...] the wild, bold appearance of towns along the Rhine. The Middle Ages come back to life with an originality and fantasy that is all the more striking in that architectural or natural details are sometimes rendered with prodigious skill..."
A large canvas by Ladislas Bakalowicz, Flower Market Place de la Madeleine, shows how this French-based Polish artist enjoyed painting elegant females in delicate tones, using the precise brushwork of a miniaturist (est. 20,000-30,000). His detailed depiction of people and objects helped him convey human truth at its most individual level, using a highly realistic approach that reveals the influence of Ernest Meissonier; all the figures in this Paris Flower Market scene appear to have their own character.
Finally comes a rare album of 72 Views of Auvergne by David's pupil Etienne-Jean Delécluze, dating from his visit to this region of central France in 1821. Delécluze was mightily impressed by the geological phenomena, volcanoes, striking landscapes and the solitude of the almost uninhabited mountains, and sought to capture the beauty of the Auvergne's wildest and most picturesque sites in pencil and watercolour (est. 18,000-25,000).