Safavid - The Béhague Carpet
2010 SOLD for £ 6.2M including premium by Christie's
narrated in 2021
This wool carpet is knotted using the intricate Vase technique, suggesting that it was woven in the royal workshops of the Safavid dynasty. It measures 339 x 153 cm and is in outstanding condition except for a few tiny repairs and some corrosion of the black threads. It had been commented in 1938 by an expert who stated for its provenance the prestigious collection of the comtesse de Béhague.
The golden age of Kirman carpets is the reign of Abbas I, who died in 1629 CE. The Béhague carpet is characterized by a very elegant simplification of shapes that Christie's positions around the mid-17th century.
In a magnificent geometric regularity, parallel stems support several pairs of leaves. From top to bottom, the leaves of one stem alternate with the leaves from the adjacent stem. Tiny flowers are inserted into the spaces between the leaves. This decoration anticipates the repetition of flowers and leaves in the highly popular Herati pattern and may evoke some figures from the Iznik ceramics.
1650 Sunrise on a Roman Seaport
2013 SOLD 5 M£ including premium
On December 3 in London, Christie's sells an oil on canvas 101 x 135 cm, estimated £ 3M, recently rediscovered after having remained out of sight for more than a century.
This painting was done in 1650 on order of a cardinal. The artist honors a local saint: during the reign of the pious emperor Theodosius, a woman named Paula left Rome to live the hermit adventure under the direction of Jerome who is indeed the only recorder of her hagiography.
From the perspective of Christian iconography this action is not spectacular, but the sunrise on a fancy Mediterranean seaport is sumptuous. Much later, Turner complacently recognized the considerable influence of Lorrain on his own vision.
The antique columns that close the left edge of the picture anticipate by more than half a century the fashion of the Roman capricci and the tall ships are worthy of a van de Velde.
POST SALE COMMENT
The quality and rarity of this painting led it to £ 5M including premium.
1650 Velazquez in Rome
2018 SOLD for $ 4.1M including premium
His first stay in Italy in 1629-1630 had much contributed to his artistic training but he was still unknown in that country when he arrived in Rome in 1649. He immediately portrayed his assistant, the mulatto slave Juan de Pareja. The Romans were dazzled by the physical and psychological resemblance between man and painting. Velazquez is the best portraitist of his time, or even of all time.
The doors open wide for Velazquez. In August 1650 Pope Innocent X sits for him. The artist wants to do better than Titian and takes a great care in the attitude and in the colors. Admiring the masterpiece, the pope famously says : "Troppo vero".
Major prelates now desire a similar portrait of them. At that time Velazquez works slowly. If he accepts, he endangers the mission for his king while his return is awaited with an impatience soon to be officially notified. If he refuses, he loses his best protectors for the acquisition of the works of art promised to the king.
The portrait of Monsignor Cristoforo Segni reveals the clever solution found by Velazquez. This outstanding person sits in an armchair and holds a paper in his hand, on the model of the portrait of the pope. The paper has the same role of identifying the artist and the prelate. For Segni the name of another artist, Pietro Martire Neri, is also indicated near that text.
This double authentication has puzzled all art historians, especially since no collaboration between Velazquez and Neri has ever been documented. The sharpness and expression of the face could however not have been achieved by Neri whose personal known work is rather mediocre. Segni's head is an autograph painting by Velazquez. Neri completed the rest, possibly after the departure of Velazquez from Rome.
This oil on canvas 114 x 92 cm is estimated $ 3M for sale by Sotheby's in New York on February 1, lot 48. The image is shared by Wikimedia. Please watch the video shared by Sotheby's.
1650 Olimpia in the Vatican
2019 SOLD for £ 2.5M including premium
Throughout the pontificate of Innocent X from 1644 to 1655, the Vatican was managed by a greedy and corrupt woman. Donna Olimpia is the widow of the older brother of the pope. She takes all the decisions, constantly seeking to increase her financial gains and practicing a shameless nepotism. Her power is unlimited : Innocent X never disavowed her.
She is nicknamed La Papessa or more tastelessly La Pimpaccia, a pun on Olim Pia (once pious) suggesting that religion no longer mattered to her. This hyperactive woman also worked for assisting women prostitutes in Rome and commissioned Bernini with the fountains of the Piazza Navona.
The Papessa sits to Velazquez in July 1650. This image was engraved as early as 1653. The original art has been authenticated after nearly three centuries in anonymity. This oil painting 77 x 61 cm still on its original canvas is not in pristine condition. It is estimated £ 2M for sale by Sotheby's in London on July 3, lot 28.
This 59-year-old woman appears austere and unconstrained just as her brother-in-law is weak and devious, completing the image of the masters of the world on whom Velazquez mercilessly applied his objective vision. This painting is a signature example of Velazquez's mastering of black color.
#AuctionUpdate Lost for nearly 300 years, Velázquez’s missing portrait of Donna Olimpia Maidalchini Pamphilj - sister-in-law, reputed lover and puppet master of Pope Innocent X – commands the saleroom, hammering down at a formidable £2,495,000. #SothebysOldMasters pic.twitter.com/UVtk1OiTAu— Sotheby's (@Sothebys) July 3, 2019
1651 The Baroque Myths of Guercino
2010 SOLD 5.2 M£ including premium
Born in Italy but masterfully continued by Rubens, the Baroque art is rooted in an unconditional Christianity which is however questioning other sources of mysticism.
Guercino, who works in Bologna, is a typical Italian painter of this movement. We discussed him recently in this column, illustrating a Tasso's theme about the impossible relationship between Christians and Muslims during the Crusades. His work is characterized by the emotion in the action, and catches the eyes through the quality of colors.
In 1651, in the purest Baroque trend, an Italian knight places an order to him for a pair of paintings, a Prophet and a Sibyl. The prophet will be King David, considered in the Bible as the ancestor of Christ. The Sibyl is a classical theme recovered from paganism, by the fact that their exegetes saw Christian announcements in some of their words.
The pair of paintings came in 1768 to adorn Spencer House, the London residence of the rich and powerful family who wanted to be the arbiter of taste. On July 6 in London, Lord Spencer and his trustees put up for sale at Christie's the King David of Guercino, estimated £ 5 million.
This large oil on canvas, 223 x 170 cm, shows the Hebrew prophet in his middle age, seated, calm and dignified, displaying a tablet with a text of the Psalms.
POST SALE COMMENT
This large size painting by Guercino was probably the most important work of this artist to be presented at auction, and it was fresh on the market. The estimate was too high, but the sale is successful: £ 5.2 million including premium.
1653 Marine by van de Cappelle
2005 SOLD for £ 3.6M including premium by Chrristie's
1655 Vermeer's Pigments
2014 SOLD 6.2 M£ including premium
His early works are copies: Diana and her companions from Jacob van Loo, and Christ in the House of Martha and Mary from Erasmus Quellin. The young artist exercised his skills in mythological and Christian themes.
In 1969, the discovery of the ancient unretouched inscription 'Meer 1655' in a copy of a Florentine painting starts a long series of analyzes and assumptions. This oil on canvas 102 x 82 cm on the theme of Saint Praxedis is accepted since 1986 as a genuine Vermeer. The isotopic analysis of lead white pigment later confirmed this attribution.
Lead white enables to compare the location. This color was common and artists did not carry it in their travels. Particles collected in the white of Diana and Praxedis reveal a strictly identical composition.
The ultramarine blue paint in the sky of Praxedis is also interesting because it was a very expensive pigment. Its use by a novice painter is a proof of his commitment to perfection and of his ambition.
The image shows Praxedis wringing a sponge soaked with the blood of a beheaded martyr visible in the background. Her hands clasped in that action also hold a crucifix. This rare and poignant scene has certainly moved Vermeer who had converted to Catholicism when he married two years earlier.
The three works mentioned above are the whole of the known work of Vermeer before he specialized in the contemporary themes that will ensure his glory.
The Saint Praxedis by Vermeer is estimated £ 6M for sale by Christie's in London on July 8.
POST SALE COMMENT
This very interesting and extremely rare example from the formative years of Vermeer was sold for £ 6.2 million including premium.
Please watch the video shared by Christie's. The image is shared by Wikimedia.
1655 Marine by Willem van de Velde II
2012 SOLD for £ 4.1M including premium by Christie's
1655 The Art of Dry Point
2018 SOLD for £ 2.65M including premium
His solutions are innovative. The dry point was used until then in addition to etching and chisel for minor reworks of the drawing. Rembrandt attempts compositions entirely in dry point. Applied obliquely like a pencil, his needle improves the variety of the line. The incision of the point in the copper is shallow, allowing a harmony between the drawing and the inkings left voluntarily on the plate to bring contrasts and shadows.
A fine image deserves a great paper. Rembrandt was seduced by a stock recently imported in Amsterdam by the Dutch East India Company, with a beautiful light brown-yellow hue and a fibre that does not absorb ink and provides a sharpness comparable to vellum.
His first masterpiece in these improved techniques is The Three Crosses (Christ crucified between the two thieves), 38 x 45 cm, made in 1653. He prepares shortly after in the same size another scene of the Passion, Ecce Homo (Christ presented to the people). The oriental paper is smaller than his copperplate and he adds a narrow extra stripe at the top of the image.
An impression of the first state of Ecce Homo is for sale by Christie's in London on July 5, lot 22. The press release of April 30 announces an estimate in the region of US $ 3M to 5M. It is the only copy remaining in private hands from the first four states of this image.
The copper plates wear out, preventing large printing. The artist deliberately blurs some damaged areas of Ecce Homo after its fourth state. The eighth and last state is dated 1655. For the fourth and penultimate state of the Three Crosses around 1661, he works differently, replacing the subtle smoky contrasts by diagonal streaks.
This solution could not satisfy the artist because of the painstaking preparation of the ink shades and of the necessarily incomplete and frustrating repairs to the worn plates. He will not reuse this technique, giving up the possible project of a dry point series on the Passion of Christ.
1658 Rembrandt and Experts
2009 SOLD 20.2 M£ including premium
It is a half-length portrait of a man, painted in 1658. It had not been seen publicly since 1970 and has not participated in the major exhibition made by the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam in 2006 to celebrate the 400 th anniversary of the birth of the artist. It is estimated £ 18 million.
Rembrandt is the best studied artist in the world. Under the name of Rembrandt Research Project, a multidisciplinary team has been working since 1968 to authenticate or refute all the works that could be attributed to the master. This team, which was renewed several times, includes art historians and scientists.
Among the scientific methods used, we first think of the X-ray, of course. Do not neglect the dendrochronology, which allows to date the felling of the oak trees whose panels were used by the master. Historians, meanwhile, compared the artworks together by considering a consistency of style in order to separate the works of the master from those of his employees.
This work sponsored by the University of Amsterdam is extremely important. Thanks to these pioneers the ancient art has become the most exciting area of artistic expertise.
Small precision now that the official press release from Christie's is available on the web: the artwork for sale is on canvas, 107 x 87 cm.
My comments on dendrochronology do not apply to this work.
POST SALE COMMENT
The release by Christie's on Twitter expresses the essential: Rembrandt sells for £ 20.2M : the world auction record for a Rembrandt and the 4th highest price for an old master painting at auction.
The quoted price includes the premium.
I would add that this Rembrandt was important but not to the point of being described as historic. It is therefore quite understandable that it has not exceeded its estimate.
The image is shared by Wikimedia.
The Dyer of Amsterdam
2019 SOLD for $ 4.8M including premium
Van de Cappelle observes the reflections of gray clouds in the rippling waters of shores and harbors. The blue sky and the storms as well as wars and shipwrecks do not concern him. Like Heda in Haarlem for still lifes, he follows with great realism the complex paths of light.
He does not belong to any guild and therefore in principle does not have the right to sell his art. Yet very few of his own paintings are found in the fabulous inventory of his deceased estate. He certainly had a practice of exchange with the greatest masters. His art evolves little, making it very difficult to date his works.
He is the only person whose portrait was painted by both Rembrandt and Hals. He owned more than 500 drawings by Rembrandt, acquired in the opportunities of the financial difficulties of the artist, plus 1300 by de Vlieger, 900 by Avercamp and 400 by van Goyen. His collection of nearly 200 paintings included Dutch, Flemish and German top masters.
On January 30 in New York, Sotheby's sells an oil on panel 62 x 83 cm painted by van de Cappelle probably in the 1650s. It is estimated $ 4M, lot 61. An oil on canvas 48 x 53 cm dated 1653 has been sold for £ 3.6M including premium by Christie's on July 8, 2005.
In the same 2019 sale and from the same collection, other rare paintings by independent or dilettante artists are offered : one by Joachim Wtewael and two by Jacobus Vrel. They also have been discussed in this column.
The Hermit of Anhui
2021 SOLD for HK$ 128M including premium
Jiang Tao participates in the Ming resistance in the south. In 1646, when the situation is desperate, he becomes a monk and seeks the Zen Buddhism in the mountains of Anhui, his native province. His monk name is Hongren meaning Vast Humanity. He will express the infinite tranquility of nature by taking as a master the artist Ni Zan of the later Yuan.
In 1836 CE a traveler found Hongren's abandoned tomb at the foot of a mountain in Anhui and restored it while replanting plum trees, the blossoms of which the hermit painter had so loved. A few months later, one of his friends, who was an antiquarian monk, bought in a shop an album signed and dedicated by Hongren. It is complete except for the last page of calligraphy and they are remounting it while adding colophons.
The 19 x 13 cm album is made up of ten leaves of paintings and nine leaves of calligraphy, plus the colophons. The paintings in inks and colors feature the mountains rising to the sky in the best Chinese pictorial tradition. The scenery includes a few houses but no mankind except for a fisherman in his boat in the third image. The line is thin, with a geometric simplification of the rocks. The calligraphy is a poem from the early Ming period by Shen Zhou. The terminus ante quem is the artist's death around 1664.
It is estimated HK $ 45M for sale by Sotheby's in Hong Kong on April 19, lot 3076. Please watch the video shared by the auction house.