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Sotheby's London to present only Botticelli drawing to appear on the market in 100 years
Bartolomeo Cavarozzi, The Sacrifice of Isaac, oil on canvas, 116 x 173 cm (est. £3-5 million). Photo: Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Over the course of 30 years, Barbara Piasecka Johnson (1937-2013) – art connoisseur, philanthropist and wife of the late John Seward Johnson, co-founder of the Johnson and Johnson medical and pharmaceutical firm - assembled one of the most remarkable collections of Old Master paintings, drawings and works of art in recent times. On 9 July 2014, Sotheby’s London Evening sale of Old Master and British Paintings will present a group of nine Renaissance and Baroque masterworks from her Estate, led by three remarkably rare Florentine drawings, including the only Botticelli drawing to appear on the market in a century (est. £1-1.5 million).

The proceeds of the sale, expected to fetch over £8.6 million, are to benefit the Barbara Piasecka Johnson Foundation, the primary focus of which is helping children with autism.

In addition to the Renaissance drawings, the selection features an extraordinarily powerful depiction of The Sacrifice of Isaac by Caravaggio’s gifted follower, Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (est. £3-5 million) and an astonishing Madonna and Child on a grassy bench by The Master of the Piasecka Johnson Madonna (est. £600,000-800,000).

Discussing the forthcoming sale, Alex Bell, Joint International Head and Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings Department said: “These masterworks bear eloquent witness to Barbara Piasecka Johnson’s trained art historian’s eye and her unique and deeply personal aesthetic. This is particularly evident in these three Florentine Renaissance drawings and Cavarozzi’s Sacrifice of Isaac which is the most important and powerful Italian Caravaggesque painting to appear on the open market in a generation.”

Commenting on the drawings, Cristiana Romalli, Senior Specialist of Sotheby’s Old Master Drawings Department, said: “The core of the Italian Renaissance lies in the second half of the quattrocento. Almost all the key drawings from this astonishingly creative artistic moment are by now in public collections, so it is extraordinary to be able to present three extremely important sheets of this type in one single sale”.

An undeniable highlight of this group is the only drawing by Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) in private hands1. Dating from the end of the Quattrocento, Study for a Seated St. Joseph, his head resting on his right hand is also the only sheet by the great Renaissance Master to have come to auction since the 19th century and the only drawing which can be clearly linked with one of Botticelli's painted compositions. The man depicted is a study for the figure of St. Joseph to the left of The Nativity with adoring St John the Baptist, at Buscot Park, a tondo dating from the late 1480s and now believed to be a substantially autograph work by the Florentine master. In addition to its rarity, this extraordinarily moving work is hugely significant in the way it enriches our knowledge of Botticelli's drawing method (est. £1-1.5 million).

The Botticelli drawing is complemented by two other Florentine Renaissance masterworks: two major drapery studies executed circa 1470 in one of the most important workshops of the Renaissance, the bottega of Andrea del Verrocchio (1435-1488) (est. £1.5-2 million each). These remarkable drawings are the only two works still in private hands from a hugely important group of 16 drapery studies, the other 14 of which are in European public collections. Although it is impossible to attribute these studies with certainty to any individual artist active in the workshop of Verrocchio, these two works are supreme examples of a technique developed by the young Leonardo da Vinci when he was a pupil of Verrocchio.

Many works in the Barbara Piasecka Johnson collection explored the profound significance of the spiritual aspects of the greatest works of art. This is emphatically demonstrated in the monumental Sacrifice of Isaac by Bartolomeo Cavarozzi (1587-1625), one of the most accomplished followers of Caravaggio. After spending his formative years in Rome, in 1615, Cavarozzi travelled to Madrid where he painted this masterwork (probably in 1617). Rivalling Caravaggio's commitment to realism and use of dramatic contrasts of light and shade, the painting depicts a crucial episode in the Old and New Testaments, in which the Angel of God stops Abraham from sacrificing his only son, Isaac (est. £3-5 million).

The selection is further distinguished by a beautiful Madonna and Child on a grassy bench by the Master of the Piasecka Johnson Madonna. Inspired by Cranach and, to a lesser extent, Dürer, this exquisite 16th century oil painting is remarkable for its quality, refinement and superb untouched condition (est. £600,000-800,000).

Born in Staniewicze, in Eastern Poland (now Belarus) in 1937, Barbara Piasecka Johnson studied History of Art in Poland and Italy before moving to America in 1968, where she met and married in 1971 her husband John Seward Johnson (1895-1983), one of the co- founders of the Johnson and Johnson medical and pharmaceutical firm.

The art collection she started building with her husband in the early 1970s was internationally renowned for its quality and focus on Renaissance works of art, culminating in an astonishing group of Italian and Spanish Baroque paintings. This exceptional ensemble formed the basis of a number of exhibitions, notably the Opus Sacrum show held at the Royal Castle in Warsaw in 1990, the success of which led to exhibitions in Liechtenstein, Monaco and most recently, in Warsaw once more.

Mrs Piasecka Johnson’s collection included outstanding works, including the famous Badminton cabinet, now in the Liechtenstein collections in Vienna and Andrea Mantegna’s masterpiece, The Descent into Limbo, sold for $28.6 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2003. In July 2009, Sotheby’s London single-owner sale of Renaissance & Baroque Works from the Collection of Barbara Piasecka Johnson surpassed pre-sale expectations, achieving $10.5 million. The top-selling lot was Jusepe de Ribera’s dramatic Prometheus which sold for £3.8 million and established the current auction record for a work by the artist.

The Barbara Piasecka Johnson Foundation
Mrs Piasecka Johnson’s collecting activities were matched by her commitment to the arts and to sponsoring numerous scientific, educational and humanitarian projects around the world. One of her best known initiatives is perhaps her extensive financial support for Solidarity and attempt to rescue the Gdansk Shipyard. Through her foundation, established in 1974, she was also an active supporter of Art for Autism and funded numerous philanthropic initiatives in her native Poland, including a school for children with autism in Gdansk.

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