Bernardo Bellotto (Venice 1721-1780 Warsaw), Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe above the Augustus Bridge (Detail). Oil on canvas. 37 5/8 x 65 1/8 in. (95.6 x 165.4 cm.) Estimate: £8,000,000-12,000,000 ($12,352,000 - $18,528,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
LONDON.- Christie’s Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale in London on Thursday 9 July will offer an exceptional selection of pictures from private collections, with emphasis on rarity, importance and provenance. Many of the highlights in the sale have not been seen on the market for generations. The sale is led by a masterpiece by Bernardo Bellotto (1721-1780), Dresden from the right bank of the Elbe above the Augustus Bridge, one of the last great views of the city by this artist still remaining in private hands (estimate: £8-12 million). The sale also includes six carefully selected paintings from The Alfred Beit Foundation with two superb panels by Rubens - Head of a bearded man (estimate: £2-3 million), and Venus and Jupiter (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million); and one of the greatest Kermesse scenes by David Teniers the Younger (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million).
Other sale highlights are a portrait of Sir Richard Brooke, 5th Bt. by Thomas Gainsborough, which has never been on the market before (estimate: £2-3 million); the most important oil by Richard Parkes Bonington to come to the market in a generation, A coastal landscape with fisherfolk (estimate: £2-3 million); four major works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, featuring one of his rarest and most original compositions, The Kermesse of Saint George (estimate: £2.5-3.5 million); and seven Dutch paintings from the Cunningham collection, led by an exquisite Still-Life by Jan Davidsz. de Heem (estimate: £1.5-2.5 million). Other notable works which are at auction for the first time include: Christ on the Cross by El Greco and studio (estimate: £1-1.5 million), Hermes entertained by Calypso by Jacob Jordaens (estimate: £600,000 - 800,000), Ruins of the old church at Muiderberg by Jacob van Ruisdael (estimate: £500,000-800,000), and a sublime, signed view of Venice by Francesco Guardi The Grand Canal, Venice, with San Simeone Piccolo (estimate: £1-1.5 million). A re-discovered panel by Jean-Antoine Watteau, La Lorgneuse, previously believed to be lost, will also be offered (estimate: £300,000-500,000). This auction, together with the Day Sale on 10 July and the Old Master & British Drawings & Watercolours sale on 7 July, are all part of London Art Week 2015 (3 to 10 July), which highlights the exceptional riches and unparalleled expertise available within Mayfair and St. James’s.
Celebrating the contemporary art of the past, the wealth of classical works at Christie’s from 7 to 10 July represent excellence and technical brilliance. They will be offered across the sales of Old Master & British Paintings, Drawings & Watercolours, The Exceptional Sale, the Taste of the Royal Court: Important French Furniture and Works of Art from a Private Collection sale, and The Collection of a Distinguished Swiss Gentleman. Together, the week of sales at Christie’s presents works by many of the most revered artists and craftsmen in history, who have stood the test of time and were ground-breaking and innovative in their day.
Dresden from the right bank of the Elbe above the Augustus Bridge is a masterpiece of Bernardo Bellotto’s full maturity (estimate: £8-12 million). An artist of precocious talent, Bellotto emerged from the shadow of his uncle, Canaletto, to become one of the most skilful view painters of his time. His renditions of Dresden, Vienna, Munich and Warsaw were the defining records of four of the major capitals of northern Europe in the mid-eighteenth century and have a distinguished place in the development of European topographical painting. Bellotto’s early renown led to him being called to Dresden in 1747 to work for Friedrich-August II, Elector of Saxony, where he undertook a series of views of the city during the height of its powers, in the mid-eighteenth century.
This picture, one of the most remarkable views by the artist to appear on the market in recent times, is a variant of the very first view of Dresden that Bellotto executed for the Elector. It acted as a great showcase for his talent, exemplifying a method based on the highest levels of exactitude and topographical accuracy. Offered from the Property of a Private European Collector, the painting depicts some of the greatest civic and religious buildings that made up the so-called Brühlsche Terrasse that ran along the Elbe at the time, with the domed Frauenkirche rising up to the left, next to the Brühl Library and the Fürstenburg Palace. The promenade was devastated during the Second World War, but has largely been rebuilt. Painted in circa 1751-53, this view of Dresden is distinguished from Bellotto’s two earlier pictures of the same subject in its atmospheric tone, cooler palette and the wonderful reflections in the river. It is a picture of outstanding refinement and precision, without any loss of spontaneity, presenting one of Europe’s great cities in all its splendour.
Bernardo Bellotto (Venice 1721-1780 Warsaw), Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe above the Augustus Bridge. Oil on canvas. 37 5/8 x 65 1/8 in. (95.6 x 165.4 cm.) Estimate: £8,000,000-12,000,000 ($12,352,000 - $18,528,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: Johann Heinrich Christian Spahn (c. 1710/15-c. 1776/8), Saxon auditor-general, recorded in his inventory of 1766, no. 37, requisitioned and presented to
The Kurfürstliche Gemäldegalerie, Dresden, in 1778; de-accessioned in 1926 to
The Verein Haus Wettin, the trustees of the art collection of the former royal family of Saxony.
with H.M. Drey, London, where acquired on 17 October 1960 by
George Huntington Hartford II (1911-2008), New York; Sotheby's, London, 24 March 1965, lot 92 (to the following),
with Leggatt Bros., London, where acquired on 30 March 1965 by the following,
Private collector, Atherton, California.
Acquired by the present owner in June 1994.
Literature: Vezeichnis eines in Dresden befindlichen Bilder-Cabinets. Mit einigen Anmerkungen, 1766, no. 37.
J. Hübner, Verzeichnis der Königlichen Gemälde-Gallerie zu Dresden, Dresden, 1865, no. 2339.
J. Hübner, Catalogue de la Galerie Royale de Dresde, Dresden, 1868, no. 2339.
K. Woermann, Katalog der königlichen Gemäldegalerie zu Dresden, Dresden, 1908, p. 17, no. 631.
H.A. Fritzsche, Bernardo Bellotto genannt Canaletto, Burg b. Magdeburg, 1936, pp. 53, 55-6, 77 and 109, VG51, no. 1d.
S. Kozakiewicz and W. Schumann, Bernardo Bellotto, genannt Canaletto in Dresden und Warschau, exhibition catalogue, Dresden, 1963, p. 77, no. 1d.
S. Kozakiewicz, in Bernardo Bellotto, genannt Canaletto, exhibition catalogue, Vienna, 1965, p. 98, no. 8d.
S. Kozakiewicz, 'Eine Dresdener Ansicht von Bernardo Bellotto', Pantheon, XXV, November/December 1967, pp. 405 and 445-451, illustrated.
S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto genannt Canaletto, Recklinghausen, 1972, I, pp. 86 and 104; II, pp. 108, 113 and 115, no. 143, illustrated.
E. Camesasca, L'Opera completa del Bellotto, Milan, 1974, p. 97, no. 77.
H. Keller, Dresden in Ansichten von Canaletto, Dortmund, 1985, p. 21.
A. Walther, Bernardo Bellotto genannt Canaletto: Ein Venezianer malte Dresden, Pirna und den Königstein, Dresden, 1995, pp. 23-24, no. 2.
A. Rizzi, Bernardo Bellotto: Dresda, Vienna, Monaco (1747-1766), Venice, 1996, p. 33, no. 4.
G.J.M. Weber, Dresden in the ages of splendor and enlightenment: eighteenth-century paintings from the Old Masters Picture Gallery, exhibition catalogue, Dresden, 1999, p. 56.
Bernardo Bellotto: Der Canaletto-Blick, exhibition catalogue, Dresden, 2011, pp. 16, 32, 33, 37 and 38.
Exhibited: New York, Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art (and his private collection), March 1964-1965, on loan.
San Francisco, California Palace of the Legion of Honor.
London, National Gallery, on loan.
Verona, Museo di Castelvecchio, Bernardo Bellotto: Verona e le città europee, 15 June-16 September 1990, no. 43.
Venice, Museo Correr; and Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, Bernardo Bellotto and the Capitals of Europe, 10 February-21 October 2001, no. 55.
Turin, Palazzo Bricherasio, Canaletto e Bellotto: L'arte della veduta, 14 March-15 June 2008, no. 83.
Munich, Alte Pinakothek, Canaletto: Bernardo Bellotto malt Europa, 17 October 2014-8 February 2015, no. 38.
Notes: This impressive view of Dresden is a masterpiece of the full maturity of the Venice-born painter whose pictures of Dresden, Vienna, Munich and Warsaw were unquestionably the defining records of four of the major capitals of northern Europe in the mid-eighteenth century and had a distinguished place in the development of European topographical painting.
Bellotto’s view-point is on the right (north) bank of the Elbe, in the garden of Councillor Hoffmann, whose wife the Venetian miniaturist Felicita Sartori he presumably knew. He shows, from the left, the domed Frauenkirche (1726-43, designed by Georg Bähr), towering above the nineteen-bay garden front of the picture gallery of the prime minister, Heinrich, Count von Brühl, built on the former bastion of Venus, the Brühl Library, the Fürstenburg Palace, the Georgenbau (George Wing) and the Hausmannsturm (tower) of the Electoral Palace, and the Catholic Hofkirche (1738-55, designed by Gaetano Chiaveri), with its bell tower: beside this is the great Augustusbrücke (Augustus bridge), widened and reconstructed in 1727-31 for Friedrich-August I, Elector of Saxony by his court architect, Matthäus Daniel Pöppelmann, assisted by the mason, Johann Gottfried Fehre. Lesser buildings along the far bank of the Elbe are seen over the bridge, and on the right are the garden fronts of a series of substantial houses. The buildings are bathed in cool afternoon light.
Bellotto was an exceptionally precocious artist. As a teenager he proved adept at reusing compositions evolved by his uncle, Antonio Canal, il Canaletto, developing a technique that enabled him to copy pictures and drawings by the latter with remarkable acuity and increasing confidence. He came of age as an artist in his own right in views of Vaprio d’Adda and Gazzada in 1744, and in his monumental pictures of Turin and Verona of the ensuing period. The latter, painted in all probability at much the time that Canaletto himself left for London where he arrived in May 1746, have a grandness of conception that stands comparison with the finest of Canaletto’s own compositions, and show how skillfully Bellotto could use the camera obscura to develop and refine convincing topographical statements. In the spring of 1747 he was called to Dresden to work for Friedrich-August II, Elector of Saxony (Augustus III, King of Poland) (1696-1763) (fig. 1), who had travelled to Italy in his youth and had a keen interest in Italian art. The Venetian, Count Francesco Algarotti (1712-1764), whom he invited to Dresden in 1742, helped Augustus to dramatically enlarge the picture collection he had inherited, securing masterpieces by Veronese and others and an unrivalled series of pastels by Rosalba Carriera. Algarotti left Dresden for Berlin in 1745, but the Elector continued to make significant purchases, including major altarpieces by Correggio and Raphael’s Sistine Madonna from the ducal collection at Modena. Algarotti tried, with uneven success, to secure his patronage for other contemporary Venetian painters. The Elector’s patronage of Bellotto must be seen in this context. Moreover, whether or not Kozakiewicz is correct to consider that the large replicas of the views of Verona with the Ponte Nuovo and the Ponte dei Navi (Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, II, nos. 99 and 102), first recorded in the Dresden Gallery in 1754, postdated rather than preceded the painter’s arrival at Dresden, Augustus’s acquisition of these surely demonstrated that he sought Bellotto’s services on the basis of what he himself must have understood to be the masterpieces of the painter’s Italian years.
Fig. 1. Pietro Antonio Rotari, King Augustus III of Poland / Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden / © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Bridgeman Images
Bellotto, who adopted - or usurped - his uncle’s soubriquet of Canaletto, was appointed court painter in 1748, at a salary of 1,500 thalers: he projected a sequence of thirty large-scale views of Dresden, Pirna and Koenigstein for the elector. After Augustus’s flight to Warsaw in 1756, Bellotto remained in Dresden, living in the Pirna suburb until 1758: he left for Beyreuth and in 1759-61 was based in Vienna, returning by way of Munich to Dresden late in the latter year. On Augustus’s death in 1763, Bellotto lost his position as court painter, but in 1764 he was given a position at the new Dresden Academy of Art. Late in 1766 he asked for permission to travel to St. Petersburg: in the event the Roman Marcello Bacciarelli, who had worked in Dresden from 1750 until 1756 and had then moved with the Saxon court to Warsaw, introduced him in 1767 to Augustus’s successor to the elective crown of Poland, Stanislaw II August Poniatowski, who promptly commissioned the first of a series of views and appointed him court painter in the following year.
Matthäus Seutter, Map of Dresden, circa 1720.
This picture is a variant of the first view of Dresden that Bellotto painted for the Elector (fig 2; Dresden, Gemäldegalerie; Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, II, no. 140, measuring 132 x 236 cm.), and thus of the composition that immediately established his position both in the court there and indirectly as the chosen topographical painter of the courts of Vienna, Munich and Warsaw. Of almost the same size as the two views of Verona acquired by the Elector, that picture is prominently signed ‘BERNARDO BELLOTTO / DETTO CANALETO / F.ANNO 1747. IN. DRESDA’; and the artist introduces himself at work in the centre of the composition, placed between two men plausibly identified as the painter Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich (1712-1774) and the view painter whom Bellotto succeeded, Johann Alexander Thiele (1685-1752), who gestures to the right. The group of figures to the right have been identified as two other Italians at Dresden, the court physician, Filippo di Violanti and the contralto Niccolò Pozzi, and to the right a Turk and the court jester Frölich, who wears the Austrian costume of the Salzakammergut. The Hofkirche is shown prior to the construction of the upper sections of the bell tower. It is seen in the same state in the second, marginally smaller (127 x 231 cm.), picture of the composition, dated 1748, which may well have been the first of the series of twenty-one views Bellotto painted for Count Brühl (Raleigh, North Carolina Museum of Art; Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, II, no. 155): in this Bellotto omits his self-portrait and a rowing boat, and moves the boat on the extreme left backwards: there are also minor alterations in the disposition of the figures on the bridge. Both pictures must antedate the first version of the pendant composition, Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe below the Augustus Bridge, at Dresden (Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, II, no. 146), also dated 1748, in which the upper sections of the bell tower of the Hofkirche are shown under scaffold (fig. 3).
Fig. 2. Bernardo Bellotto, Dresden from the Right Bank of the River Elbe above the Augustus Bridge, 1747, Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden © 2015. Photo Scala, Florence/bpk
Fig. 3. Bernardo Bellotto, Dresden from the Right Bank of the River Elbe below the Augustus Bridge, 1748 © Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Bridgeman Images.
The two compositions were brilliantly calibrated to complement each other: as so often with pendants by Canaletto viewpoints that interlocked were chosen, but in Bellotto’s view from below the bridge, he chose to show the buildings lit from much the same angle. Both the 1747 and 1748 pictures of the subject formed part of much larger series. We do not know the precise circumstances in which the artist prepared two somewhat smaller but still rather large canvases of both subjects which must have been supplied specifically as pendants to the Saxon auditor-general, Johann Heinrich Christian Spahn. The left-hand picture of this pair is the view in question. Characteristically, Bellotto, who had been so masterful at making minor changes to his uncle’s compositions, did the same with his own. Here he has brought the boat on the left forwards again and followed the adjustments to the figures and the suppression of the rowing boat of the Brühl version, but moves a figure on the bank near the boat in the middle distance towards this and eliminates another, reintroducing one a little to the left: there are further changes to the traffic on the bridge, the carriage on which, previously above the seventh arch, is now above the eighth. More significantly the bell tower of the Hofkirche is shown complete and the gleaming white upper floor of the Brühl Library to the right of Brühl’s palace is introduced. As Kozakiewicz observed, the bell tower, work on the upper storeys of which began in 1752, is shown not as it was when finished in 1755, but as it was projected in variant drawings of 1752-3 by the surveyor, Schwarze (Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, I, p. 107, figs. C. 65-6); these drawings were, in turn, developments of Chiaveri’s design which had been engraved by Zucchi in 1740 and the model of 1738 which the architect subsequently altered. The former pendant to the present picture (fig. 4), which is still at Dresden (Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, no. 149), shows the bell tower under scaffold, and thus might be thought to have preceded both the Brühl canvas (private collection; Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, II, no. 147) and Bellotto’s dated etching of 1748. In fact, in the inventory of Spahn's collection, dated 1766 (fig. 4), it is intimated that he is unaware of any views of Dresden provided for the Elector, and perhaps believed his to be the only such compositions: 'Mr. Bellotto, who calls himself Canaletto after the English painter of perspective Canale, has in these two pieces, for which he was paid well, proven himself a true master. Currently the Electoral Gallery has nothing comparable to show by him.' ('Herr Bellotto, der sich nach dem Englischen Perspectiv=Mahler Canale Canaletto nennt, hat in diesen beyden, ihm sehr wohl bezahlten Stücken sich würklich als ein Meister gezeigt. Die jetzo Churfürstliche Gallerie hat dergleichen nicht von ihm aufzuweisen'). However, the Spahn pendant shows the Brühl Belvedere (which was finished in 1751) and, like the picture under discussion, the second floor of the Brühl Library, which had not been constructed in 1748 and appears neither in the pictures nor in the etching of that year. This topographical evidence establishes a very narrow dating of 1751-3 for the two Spahn pictures.
The present lot, with its original pendant shown to the right.
Fig. 4. Bernardo Bellotto, Dresden from the Right Bank of the River Elbe below the Augustus Bridge, 1751-53 © bpk / Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden / Jürgen Karpinski
This canvas differs from Bellotto’s two earlier pictures of the subject not only in his attention to topographical developments and in his refinements to the detached groups of figures, but also in its atmospheric tone. Working as he had since youth on a ground brushed in diagonally, he achieves a cooler palette than in the previous pictures, and the reflections in the river, particularly that of the Brühl Palace, are much more convincingly laid in, conforming more closely with those of the 1747 etching than of the Dresden or Raleigh pictures. Bellotto refines his composition, without any loss of spontaneity. Weber suggests (in the 2001 exhibition catalogue) that the absence of Bellotto’s self-portrait might imply the use of assistants. This argument would also apply to the Raleigh picture, Bellotto’s first Brühl commission and is surely equally mistaken in both cases: Kozakiewicz (op. cit., 1972, I, p. 104) persuasively argued that collaboration is only to be found in versions of the Dresden views that postdate his return to the city in 1761.
Bellotto supplied a smaller pair (50 x 84 cm.) of the same compositions as the Spahn pictures for an unknown client: these are now at Dublin (National Gallery of Ireland; Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, II, nos. 142 and 148), and agree in their cool tonality with the picture under discussion. The bell tower corresponds with that in the present work, but the upper storey of the Brühl Library is not shown: the staffage follows the Dresden picture. A further picture at Warsaw (Kozakiewicz, op. cit., 1972, II, no. 145) extends the composition to the right to show Councillor Hoffmann’s house, with in the foreground a couple who can surely be identified as the Hoffmanns themselves: that the upper levels of the bell-tower of the Hofkirche is show as in the pictures of 1747-8 suggests that this is of similar date. Bellotto’s etching, which corresponds in all other significant respects with the 1747 picture and is stated to have been engraved in that year, shows the projected bell tower is it appears in the Spahn picture, and thus implies either that the inscription on the print is misleading or that Bellotto already had access to designs for the bell tower in 1747 and perhaps followed these in his etching with a view to future sales.
Bellotto was an assiduous draughtsman. And large numbers of drawings must have been prepared in connection with his views of Dresden. These might elucidate progressive stages of the composition but were no doubt lost when Frederick the Great of Prussia bombarded Dresden between 14 and 29 July 1760 and Bellotto’s house was destroyed. He himself estimated his losses, in household furniture, pictures and engraved plates, at the very considerable sum of 50,000 thalers.
Johann Heinrich Christian Spahn (c.1710-5-c. 1778) was ‘Oberrechnungsinspektor’ (chief accountant) at Dresden. By 1766, when an inventory of his was made (fig. 5), he had already formed a substantial collection of pictures: he continued to collect until 1774, when he was arrested for embezzlement, owning a total of eighty-seven pictures, with no fewer than thirty pairs, including one by Canaletto and others by German artists including Dietrich, Faistenberger and Grund, which indicates that he, like other collectors of the time, sought to achieve strictly symmetrical picture hangs: his taste was evidently fairly conventional, although J. Brückner (on whose essay, ‘Ein vergessener Sammler des 18 Jahrhunderts. Johnann Heinrich Spahn und sein Verhältnis zur Dresdener Gemäldegalerie’, Jahrbuch der Staatlichen Kunstsammlungen Dresden, 36, 2010, pp. 93-101 the information in this paragraph is based) notes that he owned no French history or Venetian baroque pictures. His pair of views of Dresden was evidently his most significant commission. In 1770 he planned to sell the collection, as letters between the artists Johann Eleazar Schenau and Johann Georg Wille establish. However, as a result of his exposure in 1774 for the embezzlement of 8,800 thalers, Spahn was forced to surrender his pictures to the Electoral Gallery at Dresden.
Fig. 5. Inventory of the collection of Johann Heinrich Christian Spahn, 1766.
This picture thus passed to the Electoral Gallery at Dresden by 1778. The kingdom of Saxony was brought to an end with the defeat of Germany in 1918, and in 1926 this picture, but not the pendant that remains at Dresden, was made over to the Verein Haus Wettin (the foundation of the former Saxon royal family). For a period time in the 1960s, the picture was owned by the supermarket heir, George Huntington Hartford II (1911-2008). Huntington Hartford was born into one of the wealthiest families in America and was the principal heir to what was once the largest retail empire in the world. In 1950 the business had a revenue of $2.7 billion. Despite inheriting an immense fortune, Hartford gained notoriety by proceeding to spend it on a series of quixotic commercial and artistic ventures and a number of costly divorces. His most ambitious and ultimately ill-fated artistic scheme was the creation of his own museum in Manhattan. In the late 1950s he commissioned the architect Edward Durrell Stone to construct a ten storey building at Columbus Circle (now known as the Lollipop building), designed to show his art collection that was made up primarily of Impressionist, Pre-Raphaelite and Surrealist artists. He owned the Rembrandt Portrait of a man with arms akimbo, sold in these Rooms, 8 December 2009, lot 12.
THE ALFRED BEIT FOUNDATION
A group of six Old Master paintings from The Alfred Beit Foundation is led by two magnificent works on panel by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Head of a bearded man (estimate: £2-3 million) and Venus and Jupiter (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million) and also includes a masterpiece by David Teniers II, one of the finest works by the artist still in private hands. The works are being sold by the foundation in order to set up an endowment fund to safeguard the long term future of Russborough, one of the greatest Georgian houses in Ireland, built almost 300 years ago, which was gifted by the Beit family to The Alfred Beit Foundation in 1976. In 1986, Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit gifted many of the most celebrated pictures from the Beit Collection to the National Gallery of Ireland, which included masterpieces by Vermeer, Gabriel Metsu, Jacob van Ruisdael, Goya and Gainsborough amongst others. This donation transformed the Gallery’s collection of Old Master Paintings and a wing of the Gallery was fittingly named ‘The Beit Wing’ in recognition of this remarkable gift.
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp), Head of a bearded man. Oil on oak panel, unframed. 20 1/8 x 16 ¼ in. (50.9 x 41.2 cm.) Estimate: £2,000,000-3,000,000 ($3,088,000 - $4,632,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: Count Serguiew, Belgrade and Moscow.
Dr. A.C. von Frey, Paris.
with Agnew’s, London, from whom acquired in July 1930 by
Sir Otto Beit, 1st Bt. (1865-1930), and by descent to
Sir Alfred Lane Beit, 2nd Bt. (1903-1994), Russborough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.
Property from the Alfred Beit Foundation
Literature: M. Rooses, L’oeuvre de P. P. Rubens, Antwerp, 1890, pp. 23-6, pl. 253.
W. von Bode, Catalogue of the Collection of Pictures and Bronzes in the Possession of Mr. Otto Beit, London, 1913, p. 101, add. no. 163.
D. Bax, Hollandse en Vlaamse Schilderkunst in Zuid-Afrika, Cape Town, 1952, p. 36.
F.J.B. Watson, ‘The Collections of Sir Alfred Beit: 1’, The Connoisseur, CXLV, April 1960, p. 158.
F. Dony (ed.), Meester der Schilderkunst. Het Complete Werk van Rubens, Rotterdam, 1976,no. 643.
M. Jaffé, Rubens, Milan, 1989, p. 280, no. 761, illustrated.
Exhibited: London, Royal Academy, Flemish Art 1300-1700, 1953-4, no. 185.
London, Agnew’s, Oil Sketches and Smaller Pictures by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, 20 February-11 March 1961. no. 16.
Antwerp, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, P. P. Rubens. Paintings, Oilsketches, Drawings, 29 June-30 September 1977, no. 61.
Engraved: Paul Pontius (1603-1685).
Notes: This eye-catching painting of a gallant looking bearded man exemplifies Rubens’s genius at capturing a likeness through his practice of making spontaneous, rapid studies ad vivum from models in his studio. These records of physiognomies were used for his larger multi figural compositions, allowing him to populate them with varied, lifelike protagonists, a working procedure that he relied on for the duration his career.
In this he may have been inspired by Frans Floris, the leading Antwerp artist of his generation who is known to have kept a stock of head studies in his studio, and also by Federico Barocci who was still active in Urbino when Rubens was in Italy. Barocci’s biographer Bellori recorded: ‘when he [Barocci] was outside in the piazza or in the street [...] he would study the countenances and physique of the various people he saw there. If he happened to see someone who was in some way striking, he would try to get that person to his house in order to draw him or her’ (N. Turner, Federico Barocci, 2000, p. 189; and B. Bohn, ‘Drawing as Artistic Invention’, Barocci: Brilliance and Grace, exhibition catalogue, St. Louis Museum of Art and the National Gallery, London, 2012-2013, pp. 49-53). There are a number of remarkable, extant oil sketches by Barocci of heads, made preparatory to the execution of his large compositions, which Rubens could have admired.
Rubens’s studies, together with his compositional modelli were kept in his studio as invaluable working tools which were made available to his assistants to whom he might delegate the execution of his great figure compositions. His most gifted pupil, Anthony van Dyck, rapidly assimilated Rubens’s method and amply demonstrated his stock of fascinating physiognomies in the series of apostles he painted as a young man. Van Dyck’s head studies were left in Rubens’s studio after he embarked on his travels, and they remained there until Rubens’s death in 1640. Thus when the contents of his studio and his collection were assembled for an estate sale, one of the last items was ‘Une quantité de visages au vif, sur toile, & fonds de bois, tant de Mons. Rubens, que de Mons. van Dyck’. A good many of the studies were painted on quite restrictive fragments of panel, which were made more marketable by enlargement and/or being worked up in oils, as was the case with the head study offered in these Rooms, 2 July 2013, lot 30 (£1,741,875). The present study has a comparable composite support and it may have been embellished by the early addition of the black costume and gold chain.
A comprehensive account of Rubens’s work in this vein awaits the publication of Nico van Hout’s Corpus Rubenianum Ludwig Burchard volume. Until then that given by Julius Held in his 1980 catalogue of the oil sketches remains the most authoritative, although he limited his survey to a selection of just eighteen works. Burchard accepted the present painting in a certificate of 1960, and it appears amongst a group of twenty-five head studies in Michael Jaffé’s 1989 catalogue of the paintings. Allowing for some repetition in inventories and other period sources, there are visual records of perhaps as many as some seventy such works, but many more must have been executed.
Not all the heads in Held’s catalogue were used to enhance the large compositions executed by Rubens and his assistants. Thus of the artist’s most famous example of this genre – the four studies of a black man in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels – only two are found in subsequent paintings. It is also the case that full use of the present study was apparently not made in any extant work. A glimpse of the face has been detected among the crowd in the famous Adoration of the Magi in the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp (fig. 1), as was pointed out in the catalogue of the Antwerp 1977 quatercentenary exhibition in which it was included. Another face in the crowd of the preparatory drawing for the Adoration of the Shepherds (Paris, Fondation Custodia) shows a likeness too. But such glimpses seem hardly to do justice to its scope.
Fig. 1. Peter Paul Rubens, Adoration of the Magi, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp / Bridgeman Images
Yet the image can be securely linked to Rubens’s production from the fact that the head appears in one of the sheets of the so called Livre à dessiner engraved after Rubens’s drawings by Paulus Pontius (fig. 3), which was published not long after the artist’s death perhaps to advertise the release of his drawings collection to the market in 1658. The head in the print does not follow that in the painting exactly and is in the same direction, which would thus seem to have required the existence of a contre-épreuve as a prototype.
Fig. 3. Paulus Pontius after Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Nine Heads.
In his discussion of the Head of a bearded man owned by the Prince of Liechtenstein, Held raised the question as to whether it was not executed as a portrait; earlier he had pointed out that ‘It is not always easy to make a neat distinction between a head painted as a study and one painted as a portrait of a particular person’. Thus it can be asked whether the present study was not also a portrait and if so whether the sitter can be identified (indeed a torn, handwritten collector’s label in French on the reverse over optimistically identified the sitter as Rubens himself). One possibility, more worthy of consideration, stems from a comparison with a sitter in the extensive group of engraved portraits of notable personalities, known as the Iconography, after Anthony van Dyck. In particular there is a resemblance with the appearance of the rich, Antwerp amateur of painting, Anthonis Cornelissen (1565-1639). Van Dyck’s prototype for the engraving has been dated circa 1630; Michael Jaffé has dated the present painting circa 1622-24 in his Catalogo Completo, but it likely dates from a decade earlier, if so the putative, elegant sitter would have been about forty.
Sir Alfred Beit inherited the present work from his father who bought it from Agnew’s in July 1930, some six months before his death. Agnew’s may have been acting in partnership with the dealer Dr von Frey, then active in Paris and later in New York. The previous owner was named as Count Sergueiew (or Serguiew) of Moscow, whose identity remains obscure, though he was presumably a Russian émigré, and perhaps the painting had accompanied him from Russia. He may have been the father of Nathalie (1915-50), who was born in St Petersburg and came to Paris in 1917. She was to become an important double agent in World War II, known by MI5 as ‘Treasure’. The picture was stolen twice from Russborough, first in 1974, after which it was soon recovered, and again in 1986. It was finally returned unharmed, following a tip-off, in August 2002.
Sir Peter Paul Rubens (Siegen, Westphalia 1577-1640 Antwerp), Venus supplicating Jupiter. Oil on oak panel, unframed, 20 x 14 ¾ in. (50.8 x 37.5 cm.) Estimate: £1,200,000 – £1,800,000 ($1,852,800 - $2,779,200). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: Sir Joshua Reynolds, P.R.A. (1723-1792);his sale (†), Christie’s, London, 11-14 March 1795 [=2nd day], lot 106, as ‘Thetis supplicating Jupiter’ (25 gns. to the following),
James Townley Esq; his sale (†), Foster, Ramsgate, 22-23 August 1830 [=2nd day], lot 139(52 gns. to Farrer).
John Bligh, 4th Earl of Darnley (1767-1831), Cobham Hall, by 1830, and by descent in the collection of the Earls of Darnley to
Ivo Bligh, 8th Earl of Darnley (1859-1927), from whom acquired by the following
Otto Gutekunst (1865-1947), and by inheritance to his wife Lena, from whom acquired in 1947 by the following,
with Colnaghi, London.
Sir Alfred Lane Beit, 2nd Bt. (1903-1994), Russborough, Co. Wicklow, Ireland.
Property from the Alfred Beit Foundation
Literature: J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish, and French Painters, etc., London, 1830, II, p. 199, no. 721, as ‘Thetis supplicating Jupiter on behalf of her son Achilles’, and p. 259, no. 878, as ‘Jupiter committing to Woman the Government of the Universe... A free spirited sketch.’
G.F. Waagen, Treasures of Art in Great Britain, London, 1854, III, p. 24, no. 5, as ‘Jupiter giving up the world to the domination of Love’, ‘A very spirited sketch’.
F.G. Stephens, ‘On the pictures at Cobham Hall’, Archeologia Cantaiana, 11, 1877, p. 165.
F. Göler von Ravensburg, Rubens und die Antike, Jena, 1882, pp. 165 and 219, no. 34, as ‘Jupiter giving up the world to the domination of Love.’
M. Rooses, L’Oeuvre de Pierre-Paul Rubens, Antwerp, 1890, III, p. 167, as ‘Thetis supplicating Jupiter.’
E. Dillon, Rubens, London, 1909, p. 232, as ‘Jupiter, Venus, and Cupid.’
‘Sir Joshua Reynolds’ Collection of Pictures – II’, The Burlington Magazine, LXXXVII, 1945, p. 217, no. 106 as ‘Thetis supplicating Jupiter.’
D. Bax, Hollandse en Vlaamse Schilderkunst in Zuid-Afrika, Amsterdam, 1952, pp. 117 and 118, fig. 68, as ‘Venus supplicating Jupiter.’
M. Jaffé, ‘Review of Paintings from Irish Collections’, The Burlington Magazine, XCIX, 1957, p. 276, fig. 38, as ‘Venus supplicating Jupiter.’
F. Watson, ‘The Collections of Sir Alfred Beit: 1’, The Connoisseur, CXLV, April 1960, p. 158, as ‘Venus supplicating Jupiter.’
E. Croft-Murray, Decorative Painting in England, 1537-1837, London, 1962, I, pp. 38 and 208, under Queen’s House, Greenwich, as ‘Venus supplicating Jupiter’.
J. Held, The oil sketches of Peter Paul Rubens. A critical catalogue, Princeton, 1980, I, pp. 335-6, no. 247, as ‘Jupiter reassuring Venus’; II, pl. 265.
J. Garff and E. de la Fuente Pedersen, Rubens Cantoor: The Drawings of Willem Panneels. A critical catalogue, Copenhagen, 1988, I, no. 125 and II, pl. 127.
M. Jaffé, Rubens, Milan, 1989, p. 263, no. 658, illustrated, as ‘Jupiter reassuring Venus.’
Exhibited: Cape Town, National Gallery of South Africa, Old Master Paintings from the Beit Collection, 1949-50, no. 23.
Dublin, Municipal Gallery of Modern Art, Paintings from Irish Collections, May-August 1957, no. 53.
Notes: Rubens and his patrons were familiar with Virgil’s Latin epic, the Aeneid, which told how Aeneas left the ruins of Troy to found Rome. In this little known modello, Rubens shows how he imagined the course of the famous interview between Venus and Jupiter in Book I, in which the supreme ruler of the gods and humankind confirms that her son, Aeneas, will found the Julian race and Rome would be raised to world domination. The exchange had been provoked by Venus’s rival Juno having engineered the shipwreck of Aeneas’s fleet. Rubens’s genius enabled him to bring out the essence of the relationship between god and goddess and the significance of the episode. He at once catches the urgent anxiety of Venus in her delicately rendered profile and heartfelt gesture and Jupiter’s indulgent sympathy in his comforting gesture and pointed indication of the rudder and globe. These are symbols of the rule over the world to be exercised by Rome.
The artist’s treatment of this Olympian exchange may have been prompted by a detail in Marcantonio Raimondi’s print inspired by the greatly admired Raphael, whose central subject depicted Neptune calming the storm that had been conjured up by Juno. Above is a small roundel depicting the subsequent encounter. Into this static, unambitious treatment of the scene, Rubens has injected drama and dynamism, much influenced by other inventions by Raphael, this time in the famous frescoes in the loggia of the Villa Farnesina in Rome. There in the story of Cupid and Psyche, he devised confrontations between first Venus, and then Cupid with Jupiter which Rubens most likely had in mind when he configured the present composition (fig. 1). Furthermore above Jupiter is his symbol and attribute of the eagle, with the thunderbolt clutched in its beak rather than talons; Raphael, too, had come up with this idea in the scene of Jupiter and Cupid in the Farnesina. The god is often shown astride the eagle, but Rubens had had to elevate it to make room for the inclusion of the globe, which the putto makes available to Jupiter.
Fig. 1. Raphael and Studio, Loggia of Cupid and Psyche, Villa Farnesina, Rome, De Agostini Picture Library / A. de Gregorio / Bridgeman Images
Rubens is thought to have embarked on a cycle depicting the story of Aeneas early in his career, circa 1602, when he was employed by Duke Vincenzo Gonzaga in Mantua. The cycle lacks any documentation, and there is none that can be associated with the present modello, which Held has dated, on stylistic grounds, to 1618-20; but perhaps preferable would be a few years earlier. Held also pointed out that the composition was worked up in a larger format (sold at Lempertz, Cologne, 8-11 November 1961, lot 171, and subsequently with Gallery Kekko, Toronto, in 1978; present whereabouts unknown), and now most likely only a fragment. It would seem that the figure of Jupiter there shares characteristics with the bearded god in Rubens’s Venus supplicating Jupiter.
Before it was acquired by Sir Alfred Beit, the sketch under offer was in two famous English collections: that of the first president of the Royal Academy, Sir Joshua Reynolds, and of the Earls of Darnley at Cobham Hall near Gravesend, Kent. Far more obscure today is the intervening owner, James Townley, not to be confused with the homonymous possessor of the Townley Marbles. He was married to the noted female architect – and herself in fact a pupil of Reynolds – Mary Townley (1753-1839); her husband was a civil lawyer and poetaster, whose portrait by William Owen is in the Cincinnati Art Museum. With his wife acting as architect, he was also a property developer in Ramsgate, a port on the Kent coast then becoming fashionable as a holiday resort. The sale of Reynolds’s collection, organised after his death by his trustees, took in total four days to disperse under the agency not only of James Christie, who conducted the sale at which Townley bought the present sketch. Reynolds had come late in his life greatly to admire Rubens; his most important work by the Fleming was the Moonlit Landscape, left to the Courtauld Institute by Count Seilern.
The Saloon at Russborough, with the present lot in situ © ABF / James Fennell
Townley’s interest in the first Reynolds sale of 1795, was noted by the diarist James Farington (as indicated by the confused reference in the index to his diary); the sketch, sold to him for some £26, was to be hung in the drawing room of Townley House, one of his Mary’s best known buildings. In the same room was a less regarded painting of the same subject, which may have been a copy. At his son’s posthumous sale in August 1830 the sketch was knocked down – for nearly £20 more than its cost price – to Farrer, perhaps the dealer Henry Farrer (c. 1800-1866); he was probably acting for the 4th Earl of Darnley, for John Smith in his catalogue raisonné of the work of Rubens, published in that same year, recorded it already at Cobham Hall. The sketch proved to be one of Darnley’s last purchases, for he died in the following year. Some decades earlier he had bought supremely important paintings notably by Titian and Veronese. The formation and dispersal of the fine collection at Cobham Hall is described by Nicholas Penny in his National Gallery Venetian School catalogue of 2008. The latter process had begun by 1890 and continued for some sixty years or more. A letter in the Beit archive relates that the sketch was sold privately by Ivo the 8th Earl circa 1917 to the well-known dealer and partner of Colnaghi’s, Otto Gutekunst. Gutekunst died in 1947 and it was purchased in that year by Colnaghi’s from his widow, Lena, and was then sold to Sir Alfred Beit.
Fig. 2. Reynolds sale catalogue, 1795, the present lot sold as the fnal picture of the second day
Christie’s entry in the 1795 sale catalogue most likely reflected Reynolds’s own appreciation of the present sketch; it referred to ‘A singular greatness in the mind of Rubens [which] distinguishes all his works; here he has taken hints from Raphael and the antique; the colouring is rich and the whole produces a beautiful effect’ (fig. 2). The subject was given as Thetis supplicating Jupiter thus illustrating the passage in Book I of Homer’s Iliad in which the sea goddess, Thetis, persuaded Jupiter to let victory in the Trojan war tend to the Trojans until the Greeks showed her son, Achilles, respect. The difficulty in the way of this identification is chiefly the demeanour of Jupiter, who is by no means impassive as Homer describes. John Smith seems likely to have seen the sketch soon after the 1830 sale. But evidently he was not shown the sale catalogue which gave the Reynolds provenance, thus he did not associate it with the entry he had already given to the lot in that sale. He changed the title to the descriptive Jupiter committing to Woman the Government of the Universe, for he had recognised the symbols, but not the figure, of Venus. Gustav Waagen, who visited Cobham Hall with the then director of the National Gallery, Charles Eastlake, in 1851 made good this omission. Maybe these two eminent authorities discussed the work; the result was to lengthen Smith’s title to Jupiter giving up the world to the dominion of Love; here as represented by the figures of Venus and Cupid. In subsequent decades the sketch was not fully discussed in print, although it would have been admired while in the collection of Otto Gutekunst. Indeed according later to Colnaghi, Edward Dillon in 1908 had identified Rubens’s theme as a famous passage in Virgil’s Aeneid.
Only seen in public on one previous occasion, when it was exhibited in 1876, the Portrait of Sir Richard Brooke, 5th Bt. (1753-1795) by Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. (1727-1788) has descended through the family of the sitter to the present owner (estimate: £2-3 million). The picture will be included in Hugh Belsey’s forthcoming catalogue raisonné of Gainsborough’s portraits, having never previously been published in any of the monographs written on the artist. Sir Richard is understood to have commissioned the work shortly after he inherited the title and family estates in Cheshire from his father in July 1781. Refined and elegant, the portrait is a superb example of Gainsborough’s bravura draughtsmanship, and presents Sir Richard as the epitome of the sophisticated country gentleman.
Thomas Gainsborough, R.A. (Sudbury, Suffolk 1727-1788 London), Portrait of Sir Richard Brooke, 5th Bt. (1753-1795). Oil on canvas. 49 5/8 x 40½ in. (126 x 102 cm.) Estimate: $2,000,000-$3,000,000 (3,088,000 - $4,632,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: By descent in the sitters family at Norton Priory, Runcorn, and recorded as hanging in the Dining Room in 1865.
Property of Sir Richard Brooke, 12th Bt.
Literature: E.K. Waterhouse, ‘Preliminary Check List of Portraits by Thomas Gainsborough’, Walpole Society 1948–50, XXXIII, 1953, p. 12 (where mention is made, under a portrait of the sitter’s brother Thomas that subsequently proved to be a copy, of the 1876 exhibition).
To be included in Hugh Belsey’s forthcoming catalogue of the artist’s work.
Exhibited: Wrexham, Art Treasures Exhibition of North Wales and the Border Counties, 1876, no. 332.
Norton Priory, Runcorn
Notes: This portrait, together with its pendant of Sir Richard’s brother Thomas, are perhaps the most remarkable additions to Gainsborough’s oeuvre to have reappeared since Professor Sir Ellis Waterhouse published his catalogue of the artist’s work in 1958. They have remained in the collection of the family since they were painted and the only hint of their existence was the appearance of Sir Richard’s portrait at an exhibition in Wrexham, North Wales in 1876, together with copies of the two canvases (in his 1953 check list, Waterhouse listed what has subsequently proved to be a copy of Thomas as ‘Uncertain if by Gainsborough from the illustrations’, and went on to mention that a portrait of Sir Richard had been exhibited in 1876; he made no mention of Brooke portraits in his 1958 catalogue). The painting presently on offer is in exceptional condition and is a superb example of the artist’s late style that demonstrates the extraordinary bravura of handling that only appears in Gainsborough’s very best work.
The portrait of Sir Richard Brooke was painted at a time when Gainsborough’s career was undergoing dramatic changes. Gainsborough’s draughtsmanship was everything. His earliest drawings show his ability to record acutely observed details, lodge them in his visual memory and revisit them with a lyrical dexterity when he turned his attention to painting. His impetuous nature gave him little patience to delegate or to teach and, given the number of portrait commissions, which increased dramatically in the early 1760s, there was a pressure on him to paint quickly. Such a workload encouraged him to develop a technique that shows a remarkable economy and with the confidence of experience he was able to make every turn of the brush contribute to the shape and form of his subject. These features are evident in the Brooke portraits. Gainsborough rarely used preparatory drawings for his compositions as he found it more satisfactory to draw with his brush directly on to the canvas and to work out the tonal relationships as the painting progressed. Given the speed of painting he often changed the composition as he went along. The contrasting shirt ruffles of the two brothers are an exact parallel of their respective status and character. Sir Richard’s ruffles are pert and energetic with a lightening black line elucidating the form and the bow at the throat formed like an enlarged butterfly. It contrasts with Thomas’s more sober and restrained shirt frill and bow. But to understand the unique position these two portraits hold in Gainsborough’s career it is necessary to appreciate the changes in his work during the last decade of the artist’s life.
By 1780 Gainsborough had decided that he had had enough of the treadmill of the Royal Academy’s annual exhibitions and he employed a number of strategies to absent himself from the organisation. He had always been ill at ease with the institution; he saw it as promoting Sir Joshua Reynolds’s own interests and felt that it supported a philosophy that Gainsborough never fully appreciated or understood. He found the competitive display of paintings irrelevant to his own approach to painting as it disregarded the importance of likeness and in addition, like the majority of portraitists, he must have found the expectations of his clients irritating, if not overbearing, and often irrelevant. Although his income would become uncertain, his way of combating these difficulties was to reappraise his output and he began to paint fewer portraits, and redirect his energies towards landscape and the investigation of other genres. The first indication of these changes in his work can be detected in his choice of exhibits for the Royal Academy.
In 1781 Gainsborough exhibited two sea pieces at the Royal Academy, one of which was bought by Sir Richard Grosvenor, in whose family collection it remains, and the other, sadly damaged, now forms part of the Fairhaven collection at Anglesey Abbey (National Trust). The sea pieces were experimental and very labour intensive as the artist used successive layers of translucent paint to give the water depth and movement. The result as one contemporary newspaper opined, was that ‘the clouds seem in motion, the waves to be retiring from the beech [sic.], and the fishing-boats really float on the waves. . . In a word, beautiful nature calls to our feelings for admiration, and calls upon us in a voice that her admirers cannot be deceived in’ (written by a critic styled, ‘Candid’ in The Morning Chronicle, 5 May 1781, p. 2). In the same exhibition he also exhibited his first ‘fancy’ picture of a fearful shepherd boy sheltering under a tree from a storm with his dog. This picture was sadly destroyed by fire in 1810 and it is only known today through a contemporary mezzotint scraped by Richard Earlom. In the exhibition reviews the greatest praise was reserved for The Shepherd Boy. The artist’s friend and supporter Sir Henry Bate, then the proprietor of The Morning Herald, wrote on Tuesday, 1 May 1781, ‘the Shepherd Boy . . . is evidently the chef d’oeuvre of this great artist, a composition in which the numberless beauties of design, drawing, and colouring, are so admirably blended as to excite the admiration of every beholder!’ This praise and other comments bolstered Gainsborough’s confidence and encouraged him to investigate the genre further. Over the next half a dozen years he produced a dozen or so ‘fancy’ pictures and all of them were lauded in the press, though his interest in seascapes waned and he only produced a couple more.
Thomas Gainsborough, R.A., Self-Portrait, 1787, Royal Academy of Arts, London / Bridgeman Images
A limited number of portraits continued, if nothing else it provided a guaranteed income, and in his head-and-shoulder portraits he generally adopted an oval format using a slip as part of the frame to cover the unpainted spandrels of the canvas. The effect, like an enlarged miniature, gave the portrait a focused intimacy and contributed to the relationship between the likeness and the beholder. His male full-length portraits, perhaps the best is the portrait of Lord Rodney at Dalmeny, frequently use rhetoric gestures that sit uncomfortably with the artist’s innate qualities as a portraitist. The three-quarter-length portraits, such as those of the Brooke brothers, unite Gainsborough’s abilities to catch a likeness and so build a rapport with the beholder although they are laced with a certain grandeur that make his three-quarter length portraits especially successful. Referring to Reynolds’s compositional originality, Gainsborough reputedly said of his great contemporary, ‘Damn him, how various he is’ and by the 1780s he had realised that there was no point in trying to compete with his rival’s richly varied compositions. Instead it was better to flaunt his personal strengths as a painter.
There are perhaps two portraits, both of which appear to have been painted for his own amusement, that he continually revised. In 1781 Gainsborough painted Mrs ‘Perdita’ Robinson. Recently the full-length portrait, now in the Wallace Collection in London, was cleaned and it provided the opportunity for the work to be given a full technical examination which shows that the composition was continually under review. The likeness was transferred from an ad vivum head-and-shoulders portrait that is now in the Rothschild collection at Waddesdon Manor, a strip of canvas was removed from the right hand side of the composition and another was added on the left hand edge and Gainsborough painted an experimental smaller version of the portrait to rehearse the revised composition of the final portrait (Royal Collection). The other canvas shows Mrs Sheridan, a painting now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC. This canvas was adjusted over many years and the sitter was first shown as a shepherdess with bonnet and crook making the canvas an unsettling marriage between a conventional portrait and a ‘fancy’ picture. The painting gradually evolved to become a brilliant synergy of an idealised sitter at one with her surrounding landscape or as John Hayes remarked, a painting of ‘agitated pastoral sentiment’. For other commissioned portraits Gainsborough adopted different strategies.
As has already been noted Gainsborough often used the same basic compositions for his portraits but he used subtle changes to reveal the character of his subjects. With the faltering health of George III and political unrest first in America and then in France, Gainsborough appears to have been the choice of painter for a number of young Whig politicians with revolutionary ideas who presumably felt that his work would best project their interest in unfettered individualism. The variety of characters shown in different portraits which all have similar formats is instructive. There are four other paintings that reflect the confident pose of Sir Richard Brooke. The portraits of Sir Thomas Whichcote, 5th Bart, Thomas Hibbert (both private collections), William Yelverton Davenport and Lord de Dunstanville (both National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.) all share the nonchalant pose of Sir Richard Brooke, and like the last of these listed paintings, it has a companion portrait. The portrait of Lord de Dunstanville is paired with a portrait of his wife and it shows Gainsborough treating the two portraits with a compositional balance and a complimentary colour scheme.
Sir Richard Brooke commissioned Gainsborough to paint pendant portraits of him and his brother, an exacting challenge as there are few precedents that show companion portraits of adult siblings. He was to face a similar opportunity later in the 1780s when the ailing Sir Edward Swinburne, 5th Bt. of Capheaton in Northumberland (private collection) commissioned head-and-shoulder portraits of himself and his two sons, John Edward, who was to become the 6th baronet in 1786 shortly after the portraits were painted, and his younger brother, the artist and patron, Edward (both Detroit Institute of Art). Sir Richard Brooke had decided shortly after inheriting the baronetcy from his father, that he should mark his inheritance by commissioning two portraits. This unusual event, together with the relative obscurity of the sitters, may help to explain why Gainsborough never brought the Brooke commission to Bate’s attention and consequently why there is no mention of either painting in the contemporary press.
Thomas Gainsborough, Portrait of Thomas Brooke, Private collection
The present lot
Sir Richard Brooke inherited the title and family estates from his father on 6 July 1781, and shortly afterwards he must have approached Gainsborough to paint his likeness with a pendant portrait of his brother. It would be more usual, however, for Sir Richard to have commissioned his portrait with a pendant of his wife whom he had married in 1780, just as Lord de Dunstanville was to do three or four years later. The two canvases must have been intended as a fine addition to the wing of the family seat, Norton Priory near Runcorn close to the Mersey in the north of Cheshire. Sir Richard’s father, also Richard, had remodelled the house in the 1770s and we know from an inventory drawn up in 1865 that at the time both canvases hung in the Dining Room, a position that may well reflect their original position. The neoclassical frames that furnish both paintings appear to have been carefully considered to compliment the decoration of the fourth baronet’s newly-built interior. There were particular reasons for Sir Richard to choose to link his ancestral portrait with one of his brother.
There was just a year between Richard and Thomas Brooke. They were obviously very close as they both matriculated at Brasenose College, Oxford on the same day, 15 November 1771, they married sisters, daughters of a local Cheshire landowner, Sir Robert Cunliffe, 2nd Bt., within two days of each other and later in their lives they were both members of the Tarporley Hunt. Their mother-in-law, Mary, Lady Cunliffe, may have made them conscious of Gainsborough’s abilities as she had employed the artist to paint her portrait in the early 1760s. Perhaps the commission marked a turning point in the fortunes of the two brothers. Now in their late twenties the elder sibling had inherited the estate and the younger one was to make his mark in other ways by representing Newton in Parliament from 1786 to 1807, serving as High Sheriff for Cheshire in 1810–11 and becoming Captain of the Cheshire Supplementary Militia in 1797.
It is constructive to compare the portraits of the Brooke brothers with the portraits of Gainsborough’s distinguished patrons, Lord and Lady de Dunstanville. The portraits of the baronet and the nobleman are almost identical in pose, the only difference being that Sir Richard holds a round hat in his left hand and Lord de Dunstanville toys with his kid gloves in his. De Dunstanville rests his right hand on a cane and instead Sir Richard holds a pair of gloves. The relationship of the sitter with the background is identical but there are subtleties that indicate the varied purpose of the two paintings. The angle of Sir Richard’s head is more commanding, while de Dunstanville appears to be in awe of his wife and the restrained colour of Sir Richard’s hands places great emphasis on his face while the diagonal of de Dunstanville’s left forearm is continued through to his right hand and makes a right angle with the background birch trunk. Both sitters are shown wearing clothes at the height of fashion. Powdered bag-wigs, high-collared coats with large brass buttons, double-breasted, horizontal-striped waistcoats with layered lapels at the neck framing a jambon completed with a skillfully tied bow at the throat. Lady de Dunstanville is seated, looking at the beholder and she is turned out as well as her husband. She wears Van Dyck dress complete with ostrich-feather fan, gathered sleeves and dog-tooth edged buffon around her neckline that is set off with a beaver hat similar to the one made famous by Gainsborough in his portrait of Mrs Siddons (National Gallery, London).
Thomas Brooke adopts a more pensive pose and he looks out of the picture towards his brother with deferential respect. He is seated on a bank, cross-legged and perhaps as reassurance he embraces a broken branch with his right arm. His wig and jabon are less stylised than his brother’s and he wears a less formal double-breasted green coat with a tangerine-coloured lining and a matching waistcoat that is set off by his black breeches and striped hose. His fingers are interlocked and he cradles his hands in a relaxed gesture over his fob, a visible mark of property and influence that is very obviously displayed in the portrait of his brother. This is a portrait of a country gentleman rather than a man of influence and position and with Sir Richard’s recent inheritance the new and distinct differences between the two brothers provide the purpose for the commission. Gainsborough has subtly used a greener, lighter palette in the portrait of Thomas Brooke and contrasted it with the more formal monochromatic tones of the portrait of his brother. The two portraits anticipate the role that each will take in the county; roles that the family had rehearsed during the previous two hundred years.
The Brooke family had been associated with Cheshire since Tudor times and after the dissolution of Norton Priory, Richard Brooke (d. 1569) purchased the estate from the Crown in 1545. The Brookes adapted the sixteenth century monastic buildings and it was only during the 1730s that Sir Thomas Brooke, 3rd Bt. rebuilt the house, though the architect he used is unrecorded. Forty years later his son, Sir Richard Brooke, 4th Bt., updated the house and possibly employed James Wyatt to design the north wing. The house was always under threat with the construction of canals and later railways through the estate and the burgeoning industry of Runcorn during the 19th century and by the early 20th century the chemical industry had encroached on the estate to such an extent that Sir Richard Brooke, 9th Bt. abandoned the property and the 18th century house was eventually pulled down in 1928. The finest artifacts from the house were placed in storage and the remains of the estate were given in trust to the local authority to use as a municipal park. During the 1970s archaeological investigations of the site revealed the extensive remains of the medieval priory.
We are very grateful to Hugh Belsey for providing us with this entry.
RICHARD PARKES BONINGTON
Constituting the grandest statement in oil by Richard Parkes Bonington to appear at auction in a generation, and one of the last on this scale to remain in private hands, A coastal landscape with fisherfolk, a beached boat beyond was painted at the height of the artist’s career (estimate: £2-3 million). It displays Bonington’s virtuoso handling of the brush and the subtle observation of light and atmosphere that he had first mastered as a watercolourist. The picture belongs to a group of coastal scenes that were celebrated during Bonington’s lifetime and have captivated artists and collectors ever since. These are considered to be among the most beautiful of the romantic period and led Edith Wharton, the American novelist, to write in 1910 that ‘surely he was the Keats of painting.’ The picture reveals the undeniable influence of Turner, whose landscapes Bonington would have seen on his trip from Paris to London in 1825. The following year, 1826, in which the present picture is thought to have been executed, was a key date in Bonington’s tragically short career, marking his debut, to great acclaim, at the British Institution in London; his works were soon much in demand from many of the great Whig patrons of the day, including John Russell, 6th Duke of Bedford, Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, 3rd Marquess of Lansdowne, and Robert, 2nd Earl Grosvenor. This picture was acquired by Henry Wellesley (1773-1847), later Lord Cowley, the younger brother of Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, who served as ambassador at Paris.
PROPERTY FROM THE CUNNINGHAM COLLECTION
The superb collection of Dutch and Flemish Old Master Paintings formed by Philip Tracy Cunningham and his wife Lizanne is a remarkable testimony to their passion for the arts and for the Dutch Golden Age in particular. The pictures being offered exemplify the Cunningham’s keen appreciation for condition and quality. Following three lots from the collection which were sold at Christie’s New York in June, the London sale will offer seven stellar Dutch paintings that have been on view at the National Gallery in Washington, D.C. for the past fifteen years. The group is led by an exquisite still-life by Jan Davidsz. de Heem (1606-1684), Grapes, peaches, blackberries, oysters, hazelnuts, and wine in façon-de-Venise glasses on a partially draped stone ledge with a snail, butterfly, and a bee (estimate: £1.5-2.5 million). The other works include a beautifully preserved example of Willem van de Velde II’s treatments of atmospheric Calms (estimate: £600-800,000), The Wedding Dance by Pieter Brueghel II, and cabinet pictures by Dirck van Delen, Jan van Goyen and Nicolaes Berchem.
Jan Davidsz. de Heem (Utrecht 1606-1684 Antwerp), Grapes, peaches, blackberries, scallops, chestnuts, and façon-de-Venise wine glasses on a partially draped stone ledge with a snail, a butterfly, and a bumblebee, signed 'J D De Heem' (upper right), oil on oak panel, 15 ½ x 18 ½ in. (39.4 x 47 cm). Estimate: £1,500,000 – £2,500,000 ($2,316,000 - $3,860,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Proivenance: (Possibly) B. Beeckman, Rotterdam; his sale, Lamme, Rotterdam, 9 June 1828, lot 7, as‘Eene tafel waarop bij eene geopende oester twee bekers met wijn gevuld staan, benevens witte en blaauwe druiven met eenige perziken en ander vrugten leggen, op dewelke verscheide insecten azen. Pan. 39=46 d.’ (85 florins to Lamme).
Woortman collection, 19th century.
P.A.B. Widener, Philadelphia by 1885; Frederick Muller, Amsterdam, 14 May 1912, lot 123(3,700 florins).
Private collection, France.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby’s, New York, 15 January 1993, lot 88.
with Richard Green, London, April 1993, where acquired by the present owners.
Property of the Cunningham Collection
Literature: P.A.B. Widener, Catalogue of paintings forming the private collection of P.A.B. Widener, Ashbourne, near Philadelphia, Paris, 1885-1900, II, no. 209.
E. Greindl, Les peintres flamands de nature morte au XVIIe siècle, Brussels, 1956, p. 171.
E. Greindl, Les peintres flamands de nature morte au XVIIe siècle, Sterrebeek, 1983, pp. 126-27 and 359-60, no. 16.
Exhibited: Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 2001-2015, on loan.
Engraved: Fr. Muller, 1912.
Notes: Displaying an elegant blend of material opulence, visual richness, and meticulous execution, this still-life is an exquisite work from Jan Davidsz. de Heem’s maturity. With soft rays of light beaming through an unseen opening in the upper left, De Heem has carefully arranged the various components on a stone ledge, draped with a blue silk cloth on the right-hand side. Characteristically, the artist has created a balanced composition, built around a strong diagonal axis leading the eye from the beautifully drawn, crumpled vine leaf at the upper left to the delicate ‘Atalante’ butterfly, down to the discarded scallop shell in the lower right. This line is broken by the bunch of crimson red grapes, with their serpentine tendrils, and the two precious façon-de-Venise glass chalices, shimmering in the dark background. The apparent stillness and the sense of silence conveyed by the supreme harmony of the composition is disrupted by hints of movement: insects of all sorts populate the scene while the apricot and the blackberries in the foreground are in danger of toppling over the ledge.
It is no coincidence, of course, that the objects and foodstuffs so artfully assembled were all rare luxury items in seventeenth-century Holland. It is an example of the genre of pronk still-life painting that flourished at the height of the Dutch Golden Age; as a conspicuous display of wealth and refinement for the new mercantile classes in the Netherlands, it was hard to surpass. Here, there may be a coded moral message too: the wine served in the glasses and the grapes are a reminder of licentious pleasures, while the scallops were considered a notorious aphrodisiac at the time. For De Heem, it was a genre in which he excelled and there was no better stage on which to demonstrate his consummate observation of nature. His rendering of difference surfaces, his suggestion of texture and form are exemplary: from the translucent, reflective glass to the furry bumblebee; from the spiky husk of the chestnut to the grape’s opaque skin; from the scallop’s watery flesh to its rugged shell. The exactitude and precision of technique required to achieve such a range of effects, on such a limited scale, still produces a sense of wonder.
The decision to arrange the composition such that the corner of the stone ledge is placed in the centre, angled towards the viewer, seems unique in De Heem’s oeuvre. This clever device, receding in space, increases the sense of depth in the whole picture, while its sharp edges create a further contrast with the soft shapes of the fruits above. Some key motifs can be found in other pictures by De Heem. The butterfly became a quite common trope in the artist’s work from 1648 onwards, and the same bumblebee can be found in several pictures. Fred Meijer has pointed out that both glasses also feature in a still-life (England, private collection) in which comparable graceful vine leaves and tendrils appear as well. Two pictures, Garlands of fruits and flowers (The Hague, Mauritshuis; and formerly Berlin, Kaiser Friedrich Museum, destroyed during the war) include chestnuts, peaches, blackberries and grapes rendered in a very similar fashion to the present painting. These three pictures also bear a signature that is calligraphically comparable to the one in our picture. These strong stylistic connections allow for a dating of the present work to circa 1670, like the Mauristhuis panel and that formerly in Berlin. This period marked a moment of transition in De Heem’s oeuvre, prompted by his return from Antwerp to his native Utrecht, in the northern Netherlands, where he is documented as an inhabitant in 1665. There, he moved away from the more painterly and baroque Flemish style he had adopted in Antwerp, and developed a smoother and finer technique, close to the Dutch fijnschilders, which enhanced his ever-present attention to detail, as is manifest in the present picture. The absence of panel maker’s mark – a very frequent feature of panels made in Antwerp – supports the theory that this work was painted in Utrecht.
At the turn of the century, this picture belonged to the legendary American industrialist, philanthropist and patron of the arts Peter A.B. Widener. A founding benefactor of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., Widener collected old masters in the princely tradition. He parted with this still-life in 1912, four years after the visit that the great connoisseur, Cornelis Hofstede de Groot, had paid to his collection. During that visit, de Groot unveiled many misattributions, but this picture was not amongst them; in fact, he praised it in a note kept in his personal archive.
We are grateful to Fred Meijer of the RKD, The Hague, for his kind assistance in cataloguing this lot.
Willem van de Velde II (Leiden 1633-1707 London), The Evening Gun - Shipping in a calm with a Dutch Bezan yacht, signed with initials 'WVV' (lower left, on the mooring post), oil on oak panel, 14½ x 12 3/8 in. (37 x 31.5 cm.). Estimate: £600,000 – £800,000 ($926,400 - $1,235,200). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: Edward William Lake; his sale, Christie’s, London, 11 July 1845, lot 58, ‘An admirable production of matchless quality’ (230 gns. to Farrer).
Samuel Sandars (1837-1894), by 1879, and by inheritance to
Mrs. K.D. Sandars; Christie’s, London, 21 December 1951, lot 99 (1,700 gns.).
Eric B. Moller, Thorncombe Park, Surrey; Sotheby’s, London, 8 December 1993, lot 25 (£177,500).
with Richard Green, London, April 1994, where acquired by the present owners.
Property of the Cunningham Collection
Literature: J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch, Flemish and French Painters etc., London, 1835, VI, p. 508, no. 263; 1842, IX, Supplement, p. 772, no. 55, ‘An admirable production’.
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné of the Works of the Most Eminent Dutch Painters of the Seventeenth Century etc., London, 1923, VII, p. 47, no. 165.
M.S. Robinson, The Paintings of the Willem van de Veldes, London, 1990, I, pp. 317-8, no. 620, ‘Painted perhaps entirely by the Younger for the Van de Velde studio’.
Exhibited: London, British Institution, May 1836, no. 46.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Works by Old Masters and by deceased Masters of the British School, 6 January-15 March 1879, no. 72.
London, Royal Academy, Exhibition of Dutch Pictures, 1450-1750, 1952-3, no. 480.
Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 2001-2015, on loan.
Notes: Dated by Michael Robinson to the mid-1650s, this is a beautifully preserved example of Willem van de Velde II’s treatments of atmospheric Calms, painted during the early phase of his career in the Amsterdam studio of his father Willem van de Velde I. It demonstrates his supreme ability at rendering light and atmosphere, here capturing the essence of a still, bright summer’s day on the water as a private yacht fires a salute, a plume of smoke billowing up across its starboard bow. Typically, a large portion of the painting is devoted to the sky which the artist fills with voluminous, cumulus clouds depicted variously in light and shadow to dazzling effect, with their reflections subtly caught in the water below. The sun and a light breeze are coming from the left. Although the boats appear to have been casually arranged, the composition is calculated with careful precision to elicit an effortless sense of spatial harmony.
Van de Velde began painting scenes such as this in the early 1650s, no doubt inspired both by Simon de Vlieger (1600/01-1653), under whom he is thought to have trained in the years around 1648/49, and also by Jan van de Cappelle (1626-1679), who was probably also active in De Vlieger’s studio in Weesp at the same time. By 1652 he had returned to Amsterdam to work in his father’s studio. His younger brother Adrian was also active in the studio around this time, although only briefly and in a limited capacity, as he showed little interest in marine painting and soon moved to Haarlem to train with the landscape painter Jan Wynants. Robinson made the suggestion that Adrian might have had a hand in the present work, although this idea has resolutely been dismissed by Professor Jan Kelch, to whom we are grateful. Kelch dates the present work to the same period, circa 1655, and considers it wholly autograph, in the rendition of the figures as well as the ships, seeing no affinities with either of the two marines in which Adrian did irrefutably have a hand – the Dutch Yacht Mary with other yachts off Amsterdam, which bears both Willem and Adrian’s initials (Harcourt Collection); and Yachts and the Mary Yacht in a breeze (formerly with Duits, London). Judging from photographs, Kelch does question whether the present composition has been cut on the left side, although the well-preserved, chamfered panel gives no indication that the current format is not original.
GUARDI – A NEW ADDITION TO HIS OEUVRE
The Grand Canal, Venice, with San Simeone Piccolo by Francesco Guardi (estimate: £1-1.5 million). Previously unrecorded, this exquisite canvas is an important discovery, exemplifying the captivating, atmospheric qualities for which Francesco Guardi is most renowned. It has been in the possession of the present European family for more than a century and is signed prominently on the left. Datable to the 1770s, the picture is a work of Guardi’s full maturity, when his mastery of vedute painting in Venice was unrivalled. The view is taken from a bustling stretch of the Grand Canal, near to the church of the Scalzi, then the main route into the city from the mainland. Though the present-day scene is somewhat changed, the vibrancy of Guardi’s view is immediately recognisable. He renders the tranquil, shimmering beauty of the city with an incomparable touch, a superb addition to the oeuvre of one of the greatest of view painters.
Francesco Guardi (Venice 1712-1793), The Grand Canal, Venice, with San Simeone Piccolo. Oil on canvas. 25 ¾ x 31 3/8 in. (65.3 x 79.5 cm.) Estimate: £1,000,000-1,500,000 ($1,544,000 - $2,316,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: In the family of the present owners for more than a century.
Notes: This apparently unrecorded canvas, which exemplifies the atmospheric qualities for which Guardi is most admired, is a work of his full maturity as a view-painter, datable to the 1770s. It shows from the left, on the Fondamenta di San Simeone Piccolo, a house now remodelled and the now-reconstructed Casa Asoldo: beyond this is Giovanni Antonio Scalfarotto’s domed neo-classical church of San Simeone Piccolo and a sequence of houses, including the Palazzo Emo Diedo, with the Ponte della Croce leading to the Fondamenta della Croce, the houses on which were to make way for Piazzale Roma. Opposite are a sequence of now-demolished buildings on the Fondamenta Santa Lucia and the church of that saint, the name of which is preserved in that of the railway station. The view point is from the Canal close to the church of the Scalzi. On the right is a long boat with passengers standing to cross the Canal, the traghetto. These crossed from fixed points and some survive, but that near the Scalzi became obsolete when the modern bridge was built.
Canaletto had painted two pictures of the subject at the same angle but from further back, thus including the Scalzi on the right, one in the Royal Collection, the second in the National Gallery: Guardi would have known Visentini’s engraving of the former, published in 1735 and reissued in 1742 and 1751. Guardi’s earliest exploration of the subject is in a large (37.5 x 62.5 cm.), signed drawing in a private collection at Zurich (fig. 1; A. Morassi, Guardi, I disegni, Venice, 1973 [reprinted 1984], no. 385), which Morassi regarded as part of a series intended for engravings. This follows Canaletto’s composition in showing additional houses on the left and the church of the Scalzi opposite these. That this picture follows the drawing is demonstrated by the fact that the two most prominent boats here, including thetraghetto, correspond with two in the drawing, although the gondola to the right of the centre appeared below San Simeone in the drawing. Both vessels, with that seen near the centre from the stern and the gondola crossing the canal beyond this which do not appear in the drawing, are found in the picture of the subject in the Museo Thyssen, Madrid (A. Morassi, Guardi, I dipinti, Venice, 1975 [reprinted 1984], no. 580, measuring 48 x 78 cm., in which the boat behind the traghetto in the drawing is also introduced). That masterpiece is presumably more or less contemporary with the reduced composition of the subject at Philadelphia (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 579, measuring 67.3 x 91.5 cm.), in which the traghetto, that seen diagonally behind this, and the boat seen from the stern also appear. A further, perhaps marginally less vibrant, picture in the Accademia, Venice (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 578, measuring 63 x 90 cm.) agrees even more closely with the drawing in the arrangement of the boats, but adds the boat seen from the stern which is not found in this. Guardi thus is likely to have referred to the same drawing for all four pictures as well as for reduced variants of the view (e.g. Morassi, op. cit., 1975, nos. 581-3).
Fig. 1. Francesco Guardi, The Grand Canal, Venice, with San Simeone Piccolo, private collection, Zurich.
Other variants of the view extend further to the right, showing the flank of the church of Santa Lucia and a small pedimented structure to the right of this (see Morassi, op. cit., 1975, nos. 578-9 and 583), while the Thyssen picture shows an additional house on the extreme right: significantly in these compositions the stern of the traghetto is below or close to the façade of Santa Lucia, while in that once with Tooth (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 582), in which only a narrow section of the side of Santa Lucia is shown, this is aligned on the corner of the second house beyond this. That the boat is placed in much the same position in the picture under discussion suggests therefore that the composition did not extend significantly further to the right, and indeed the careful balance between the façade of Santa Lucia on the extreme right of this canvas and the sunlit façade of the house on the extreme left is surely deliberate, as is that between the prows of the two incompletely seen gondolas which advance into our line of vision. Moreover, in this picture the viewer is set somewhat further back, and as a result the dome of San Simeone seems more monumental than in the related pictures, none of which, it should be noted, was signed by the artist.
Both the Thyssen and Accademia pictures were paired with views looking in the opposite direction showing Santa Lucia and the Scalzi from the Fondamenta west of San Simeone Piccolo (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, nos. 585 and 584 respectively). No obvious pair for this picture is known, but the Grand Canal at San Geremia in the Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh (fig. 2; Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 574), which allowing for differences in modes of measuring is fairly close in size (62 x 78.7 cm.), may be a candidate. The implied horizon line is at roughly the same level, and, significantly perhaps, noticeably higher than that of the more horizontal variant of the composition at Munich (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 573).
Fig. 2. Francesco Guardi, The Grand Canal, Venice, at San Geremia © The Frick Art & Historical Center, Pittsburgh
FOUR MAJOR WORKS BY PIETER BREUGHEL THE YOUNGER
The sale presents an exceptional selection of four major works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. The Kermesse of Saint George (estimate: £2.5-3.5 million) is one of his rarest and most original inventions, entirely independent from any of his father’s works and more accomplished than any of his other original compositions. Including this picture, only four securely autograph versions are known. Georges Marlier, the pioneering Breughel scholar, dated the picture to before 1626-28. He praised it for brilliantly affirming the younger Brueghel’s personality, calling it ‘one hundred percent “Breughelian”, not only for the dramatic rhythms that pervade it, but also in the stylisation of the figures and in the colour harmonies. While maintaining the continuity of Pieter the Elder’s art through these themes, his son Pieter gives rein to his own particular vigour, his own taste for anecdote and his own mastery of his profession that is equal to those of the greatest artists.’
Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp), The Kermesse of Saint George. Oil on oak panel. 28 3/8 x 40 5/8 in. (72.1 x 103.2 cm.) Estimate: £2,500,000-3,500,000 ($3,860,000 - $5,404,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: Maliroux collection, Namur, by circa 1922.
with Robert Finck, Brussels, 1967.
Frantz L.C. Pottiez, Brussels, from 1967until after 1980.
Anonymous sale [The Property of a Gentleman]; Sotheby’s, London, 8 April 1981, lot 80 (£250,000).
Anonymous sale [The Property of a Trust]; Sotheby’s, London, 7 July 2005, lot 6 (£2,248,000).
with de Jonckheere, Paris,where acquired by the present owner.
Literature: Weltkunst, 15 November 1967.
G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels, 1969, pp. 381-6, figs. 234-8.
H.-J. Raupp, Bauernsatiren, Entstehung und Entwicklung des bäuerlichen Genres in der deutschen und niederländischen Kunstca. 1470-1570, Niederzier, 1986, p. 228, fig. 209.
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere(1564-1637/38): Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen, 1988/2000, II, pp. 871-2 and 909, no. E1242, fig. 705.
Exhibited: Brussels, Galerie Robert Finck, Tableaux de maîtres du XVe au XIXe siècle, 1967, no. 17.
Brussels, Galerie Robert Finck, Trente-trois tableaux de Pierre Brueghel le Jeune dans les collections privées belges,1969, no. 18.
Ghent, Centrum voor Kunst en Cultuur, Eenheid en Scheiding in de Nederlanden 1555-1585, 9 September-8 November1 976, no. 111.
Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruegel: Une dynastie de peintres, 18 September-18 November 1980, no. 100.
Notes: The picture is intrinsically “Breughelian”, not only in the dramatic rhythms that pervade it, but also in the stylisation of the figures and the colour harmonies. Whilst maintaining the continuity of Pieter the Elder’s art through these themes, his son Pieter gives free rein to his own particular vigour, his own taste for anecdote and his own mastery of his profession that equals those of the greatest artists.’
Thus wrote Georges Marlier, the doyen of Pieter Brueghel studies, of this ambitious composition (Marlier, op. cit., p. 381). Unlike the majority of Brueghel’s oeuvre, it is entirely independent of any of his father’s works and more assured and accomplished than any of his other original compositions. It ranks amongst his finest works. A drawing generally thought to be by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Kermis at Hoboken, 1559 (now London, Courtauld Gallery) also depicts aKermesse, yet can only be deemed a rather distant model for Pieter the Younger, if he ever indeed encountered the sheet at all. As Jacqueline Folie pointed out, the façade of the inn to the left of the painting seems to be loosely based on an engraving of the same subject attributed to Hieronymus Cock after an original design by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (op. cit., p. 160). Yet given that it is seen in reverse in the print, it is more likely that the Younger had access to a stock drawing by his father, or that both father and son knew the same inn, and incorporated it from memory.
Only three other autograph versions of this composition are known, making the painting one of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s rarest inventions. The prime version, larger in scale, is believed to be the one signed and dated 1628, which came to the market more than a decade ago (formerly Wittouck collection; Sotheby’s, London, 8 December 2004, lot 11, £3,701,600; see Ertz, op. cit., p. 909, no. E1239). Another version, of similar dimensions to the present lot, also signed but not dated, is in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten in Antwerp and the last, which may also be autograph, is recorded in the Oberlander collection before 1993, but is known only from a photograph (ibid., no. E1244). Although all four pictures are similar, Klaus Ertz divides the compositional type into two groups: Type A, the ex-Wittouck and the ex-Oberlander pictures, and Type B, which includes the present picture and the one in Antwerp. The most noticeable differences are that in Type B the bagpipe player no longer occupies the lower corner of the composition but has been moved to the doorway of the inn; and the seated glutton does not rest on the open basket full of produce, but on the closed bag by a wooden plank. Other differences include the omission of the cockerel on the roof, the change is posture of the onlooker below the flag, and the fact that the archers have not fired their arrows yet. The composition shows the Kermesse at a slightly different stage of events, and the fact that it seems ‘emptier’ has led Marlier to believe Type B to be the earlier invention of the two (Marlier, op. cit., p. 385). While this panel does not bear a date, the signature ‘BREVGHEL’ places the picture in Brueghel’s output post-1616, when he changed the letters from ‘EV’ to ‘VE’. Bearing Marlier’s argumentation and the dating of the largest version to 1628 in mind, the present picture can firmly be placed within his output of the 1620s.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger has avoided the temptation of populating the composition with a myriad of minuscule figures, but has varied their scale so that those in the foreground are unusually large and complete. He has arranged the composition around two diagonals, leading the viewer’s eye from the crammed inn on the left, across the figures sitting at outdoor tables, past the fool and the glutton and through the dancing couple onto the next plane, via the merry-go-round group in the centre, ending in the procession into the church in the background. Like hardly any other picture of this subject, this Kermesse of Saint George gathers together all that one delights in seeing in Flemish depictions of this subject: richness of motifs, their pleasing, spirited arrangement, an abundance of colour reflecting the liveliness of the feast, combined with honest depictions of human behaviour, folkloric customs, hidden meaning, humour and moral commentary.
From a European Private Collection, The Birdtrap (estimate: £2-3 million) is a superbly preserved example, painted on a single panel, of what is arguably the Brueghel dynasty’s most iconic invention, and one of the most enduringly popular images in Western art. The Birdtrap is a composition of distinctive poetic beauty: in a hilly landscape, blanketed with snow, a merry band of country folk are skating, curling, playing skittles and hockey on a frozen river, in apparently carefree fashion. Yet there are hidden perils, serving as pertinent reminders of the precariousness and transience of life itself: the fishing hole in the centre of the frozen river is a sign of the dangers that lurk beneath the light-hearted pleasures of the Flemish winter; and to the right of the composition birds surround the eponymous trap, seemingly oblivious to its imminent threat. In this remarkable work, executed with poise and great delicacy, Brueghel delivers a message of lasting poignancy about the fickleness and uncertainty of life.
Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp), The Birdtrap, oil on oak panel, 15 3/8 x 22 ¼ in. (39 x 56.5 cm.). Estimate: £2,000,000 – £3,000,000 ($3,088,000 - $4,632,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: Auguste Coster, Brussels; his sale, J. & A. Le Roy, Brussels, 4 April 1907, lot 122.
Anonymous sale [The Property of a Foreign Collector]; Sotheby's, London, 8 July 1981, lot 30, where acquired by the father of the present owner.
Literature: G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels, 1969, p. 244, no. 19.
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38): Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen, 1988/2000, II, p. 617, no. E706, illustrated, where described as ‘besonders hell und lichtblau in der Farbe, eine gute eigenhändige Arbeit Pieters II’.
Notes: This picture is an exquisite and beautifully preserved example of what is arguably the Brueghel dynasty’s most iconic invention and one of the most enduringly popular compositions of the Netherlandish landscape tradition. Although no fewer than 127 versions from the family’s studio and followers have survived, only forty-five are now believed to be autograph works by Pieter Brueghel the Younger himself, with the remainder being largely workshop copies of varying degrees of quality (see K. Ertz, op. cit., II, pp. 605-30, nos. E682 to A805a). Painted on a single, uncradled panel, Klaus Ertz rightly praises this picture as ‘besonders hell und lichtblau in der Farbe, eine gute eigenhändige Arbeit Pieters II’ (‘exceptionally luminous and light blue in colour, a good autograph work of Pieter II’; op. cit.).
Debate remains as to which member of the Brueghel family devised the prototype for this successful composition. Traditionally, the prototype has been thought to be a painting attributed to Pieter Bruegel the Elder, signed and dated 1565, now in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels. That view is not, however, beyond dispute: although Friedländer considered it to be an autograph work by the Elder, authors as early as Groomann and Glück were doubtful of the attribution, and the question remains open. Another signed version, dated by Shipp to 1564, formerly in the A. Hassid collection in London, has also been considered to be the original by the Elder. Moreover, the invention of this popular composition could be entirely Pieter the Younger’s or alternatively that of his younger sibling Jan (for a summary of the debate, see Ertz in Breughel-Brueghel, exhibition catalogue, Essen, Antwerp and Vienna, 1997-1998, pp. 169-71). Beyond doubt is that the design of the Birdtrap was inspired, to a great degree, by Pieter the Elder’s celebrated masterpiece Hunters in the Snow of 1565, belonging of the artist’s famous cycle of the Seasons (fig. 1; Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum; the others: Prague, Lobkowicz Palace; and New York, Metropolitan).
Fig. 1. Pieter Bruegel I, Hunters in the Snow, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna.
Whatever the prototype, the distinctive beauty of the composition remains unchallenged. After the Vienna picture, the view is one of the earliest pure representations of the Netherlandish landscape (in the catalogue of the exhibition Le siècle de Brueghel, Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, 27 September-24 November 1963, p. 69, George Marlier identified the village depicted as Pède-Ste-Anne in Brabant, the silhouette in the background being that of Antwerp) and one of the seminal examples of the theme of the winter landscape. In contrast to the Elder’s Hunters in the Snow, where the figures walk through rather sombre, still countryside, where the air is clear and biting cold, in Pieter the Younger’s Birdtrap, the figures are enjoying the pleasures of winter in a more welcoming atmosphere. The painting offers, indeed, a vivid evocation of the various delights of wintertime: in the landscape blanketed in snow, a merry band of country folk are skating, curling, playing skittles and hockey on a frozen river. The cold winter air, conveyed with remarkable accuracy by the artist’s muted palette, mainly made up of blues and earthy tonalities, is intelligently broken up through the bright red frocks worn by some of the figures, enlivening the whole picture. Yet the most characteristic feature of the composition is the almost graphic, intricate network of entwined bare branches set against the snow or the light winter sky. It creates a lace-like, almost abstract pattern of the utmost decorative effect.
But beneath the seemingly anecdotal, light-hearted subject lies a moral commentary on the precariousness of life: below one of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s engravings, Winter – Ice skating before St. George’s Gate, Antwerp, is the inscription Lubricitas Vitae Humanae. La Lubricité de la vie humaine. Die Slibberachtigheyt van’s Menschen Leven, that is the ‘Slipperiness [or fragility] of human life’ was added. This label invests the Birdtrap with new meaning: the picture emphasises the obliviousness of the birds towards the threat of the trap, which, in turn, is mirrored by the carefree play of the skaters upon the flimsy ice. Likewise, the fishing hole in the centre of the frozen river, waiting for the unwary skater, and the figures of the two children running heedlessly towards their parents across the ice despite the latter’s warning cries, function as a reminder of the dangers that lurk beneath the innocent pleasures of the Flemish winter countryside. Brueghel delivers with this fine work a message of lasting poignancy about the uncertainty and fickleness of existence.
Infrared refectogram of the present lot (detail) © Art Access & Research (UK Ltd.)
The other works include The Wedding Feast, which is offered from the property of a European Family (estimate: £1.5-2.5 million). The Wedding Feast is not only one of the most iconic images in the Brueghel canon, it is one of the most famous banquet scenes in the history of Western art by virtue of the prototype, the masterpiece by Pieter Bruegel the Elder now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna. The picture offered for sale is one of only four recorded autograph versions by Brueghel the Younger and this will be the first to come to the market since the late 1970s. And the final picture by Brueghel the Younger comes from The Cunningham Collection, The Outdoor Wedding Dance, dated 1621 (estimate: £1.2-1.8 million).
Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637 Antwerp), The Wedding Feast, oil on oak panel, 28 ¼ x 41 ¼ in. (71.8 x 104.7 cm.). Estimate: £1,500,000 – £2,500,000 ($2,316,000 - $3,860,000). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: with Galerie de Jonckheere, Paris, 1978, where acquired by the father of the present owners.
Literature: K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38): Die Gemälde mit kritischem Oeuvrekatalog, Lingen, 1988/2000, II, p. 709, no. E859, illustrated.
Notes: The Wedding Feast is not only one of the most iconic images in the Brueghel canon, it is one of the most famous banquet scenes in the entire history of Western art by virtue of the prototype – the extraordinary masterpiece by Pieter Bruegel the Elder now in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (fig. 1). Given the great renown of the Vienna picture it is somewhat surprising that The Wedding Feast is one of the rarer subjects in the oeuvre of the artist’s son, Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Klaus Ertz records only four autograph versions and this will be first one of them to come on to the market since the late 1970s (K. Ertz, op. cit., nos. E857-E860).
After Sir Anthony van Dyck, Pieter Brueghel II, from The Iconography.
In this panel Pieter Brueghel the Younger has recorded the details and colour scheme of the Vienna picture with such meticulous precision that he must have worked directly from the original, as Klaus Ertz has demonstrated (see K. Ertz, in Brueghel-Breughel, exhibition catalogue, Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten, Antwerp, 1998, p. 384-6, under no. 140). Yet he cannot have known the Vienna picture from his father’s studio for Brueghel the Elder died in 1569, when his son was merely five years old. The exact circumstances of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s artistic training remain a mystery. Van Mander suggested that he received his formation from Gillis van Coninxloo III, a claim that is not generally accepted. It is also possible that, like his younger brother Jan Breughel the Elder, he was trained in watercolour painting by his talented grandmother Mayken Verhulst, reputedly an accomplished miniature painter. In any event, the original Wedding Feast is documented in Brussels in the mid-1590s, having been acquired by Archduke Ernst of Austria in 1594 and remained there until the following year. Pieter Brueghel the Younger may therefore have had the chance to see the Vienna picture in the flesh on that occasion.
Fig. 1. Pieter Bruegel I, The Wedding Feast, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna
Of the other three versions, the signed picture in Ghent (Museum voor Schone Kunsten), has been dated to the mid-1620s, which is close to the date of 1622 on the only dated version (private collection, Belgium). By comparison with these works, it is clear that the present work was executed in the same period.
By no means should the present panel be seen as a slavish replica after the Vienna picture. Departing from his father’s rather muted palette, Pieter Brueghel the Younger has opted for more vivid, saturated colours: distributed across the picture, loud red tones enliven the composition; the greenish-blue of the cloth of honour placed behind the bride echoes the bright blue shirt of the servant in the foreground. While the Elder Brueghel left the clay floor rather uniform, his son has meticulously rendered the cracks in the drying mud, creating an ornamental, almost modern, pattern of craquelure throughout. The same interest in detail and anecdotal incident can be found in every face.
The composition revolves around a strong centripetal perspective running along a diagonal line linking the crowd entering the doorway in the upper left to the two monumental figures carrying the plates in the right foreground. Brueghel has placed the spectator at eye level, which has created a very different effect to many other Wedding Feasts such as that of Pieter van der Borcht (etching, 1560, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York). The subject is thought to represent a reasonably faithful rendition of a village wedding without satirical undertone. The table has been set inside a barn stacked to the ceiling with straw, underlining the fact that the preferential time for a peasant wedding was after the harvest. The bride sits at the centre of the table, flanked on her left by a man in a fur-trimmed jacket who is thought to be a notary or judge, and a friar conversing with an aristocratic man bearing a sword, perhaps the local landowner.
The groom appears to be absent from the banqueting table, which accords with the contemporary tradition that while the bride would customarily sit at the family table, the groom would entertain the guests. This reversal of roles, with the wife freed of all kitchen duties, was one of many customs which persisted well into the 19th century, as described by the German writer and composer Annette von Droste-Hülshoff in her Westfälische Schilderungen of 1842.
There has been much discussion as to which of the figures may represent the groom. While some believed him to be the man pouring beer into the jugs on the left, similar to the foreman in the Wedding at Cana, Demus, due to that figure’s non-boorish features and elegant attire, believes it to be a servant of the local landowner (K. Demus, in Pieter Bruegel d. Ä. im Kunsthistorischen Museum, Milan/Vienna, 1997, p. 129). He considers the groom to be the figure in the white apron, carrying the bowls of porridge. Amongst other customs, von Droste-Hülshoff (op. cit.) specifically mentions the groom having to wear a kitchen apron to serve the guests (unlike work aprons, a kitchen apron was always white). In many other depictions the groom is also wearing a red hat, which in the Wedding Procession by Jan Brueghel the Elder (Brussels, Musée Communale de la Ville) is topped by the paper crown. In the present picture, this prop is show hanging above the bride.
Another accessory worn by this serving figure – a detail which incidentally does not appear in any of the other versions – further strengthens the argument for him to be the groom. A bundle of laces or ‘Nesteln’ has been fixed on his cap. While they were commonly used to hold up men’s trousers, and can be seen on two of the seated figures and on the piper, they took on quite a different connotation during wedding rituals. The ‘Nestelknüpfen’ was a much feared and widespread binding-spell, a sort of superstitious counterpart to certain fertility rites, which was purported to render the groom impotent and sterile. Whether the groom has already been cursed by wearing the laces on his hat, or whether he wears them to prevent these spells, remains unresolved (see U. Middendorf, ‘Breughel-Brueghel, oder: Hochzeit ohne Bräutigam’, Weltkunst, February 1998, pp. 286-7).
The picture abounds with humorous anecdotal details that are typical of Brueghel’s art, such as the boy scraping leftovers from a pan, the musician who gazes wistfully at the food, and the couple who can be seen in an amorous embrace in the hayloft. The composition sets out to create as much variety as possible, not only in the characters’ poses and expressions, but also in depicting people of different ages and social standing, the beautiful and the plain, the lowly peasant and the elegant gentry. This apparent cross-section of society makes the scene as universal and familiar today as it did four hundred years ago.
Pieter Brueghel II (Brussels 1564/5-1637/8 Antwerp), The Outdoor Wedding Dance,signed and dated '·P· BREUGHEL · 1621' (lower left), oil on oak panel, stamped on the reverse with the coat-of-arms of the City of Antwerp and the clover leaf panel-maker's mark of Michiel Claessens (active Antwerp 1590-1637), 16 x 20½ in. (40.5 x 52 cm.). Estimate: £1,200,000 – £1,800,000 ($1,852,800 - $2,779,200). Photo Christie's Image Ltd 2015
Provenance: Stift Klosterneuburg, Austria, by 1894, where recorded as hanging in the Riesensaal, and in a later inventory under no. GM 204, until after 1956, when given in exchange [for another object] to the following,
with Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, 1950s.
Private collection, Austria, 1998.
with Galerie Sanct Lucas, Vienna, where acquired by the present owners.
Property of the Cunningham Collection
Literature: (Probably) K. Drexler, Das Stift Klosterneuburg. Eine kunsthistorische Skizze, Vienna, 1894, pp. 186-7, as Pieter Breugel the Elder.
K. Ertz, Pieter Brueghel der Jüngere (1564-1637/38), Lingen, 1988/2000, II, pp. 684, 687 and 723, no. E 924, fig. 563, as ‘gehört zu den besten, unzweifelhaft eigenhändigen Versionen des Themas.’
Exhibited: Washington, D.C., National Gallery of Art, 2001-2015, on loan.
Notes: The Outdoor Wedding Dance has long been celebrated as the high point of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s oeuvre and has rightly been described by Georges Marlier, the great early twentieth-century scholar of Flemish art, as ‘one of the most popular of all subjects in Flemish painting at the beginning of the seventeenth century’(G. Marlier, Pierre Brueghel le Jeune, Brussels, 1969, p. 188). The present panel had escaped scholarly attention until it reappeared on the art market in the 1950s, and has subsequently been praised by Klaus Ertz as ranking amongst the best and unquestionably autograph versions of the subject (‘gehört zu den besten, unzweifelhaft eigenhändigen Versionen des Themas.’; op. cit., p. 723). This subject belongs to an iconographic tradition depicting the various episodes occurring throughout a Flemish peasant wedding day. This visual tradition was largely founded by Pieter Breugel the Elder, whose Wedding Feast of circa 1568 (Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum) is the most iconic example of the genre. The Vienna composition was also taken up by the Younger Brueghel in four surviving panels, one of which is being offered as lot 14 in this sale.
The present composition, on the other hand, derives from a lost drawing or painting by Bruegel the Elder, known from an engraving by Pieter van der Heyden, and published by Hieronymus Cock (fig. 1). Pieter the Younger however developed and elaborated on this engraved composition and, unlike the print, placed considerable emphasis on the outdoor landscape setting, in which the vertical tree trunks act as repoussoirs and frame the scene. It has been suggested that Pieter the Elder’s original is a painting in the Detroit Institute of Arts, dated to 1566 (fig. 2). This claim should however be questioned on the basis of numerous differences in composition, and the fact that the picture is oriented in the same direction as the print – thus suggesting it was made after the engraved model. In his monograph, Ertz proposes that the Detroit picture may actually be a contemporary copy after a lost work by the Elder (Ertz, op. cit., p. 689). The most important difference is that in the Detroit picture the bride has mingled with the dancing guests, whilst in this panel, she sits in the background before a canopy.
Fig. 1. Pieter van der Heyden, after Pieter Bruegel I, The Wedding Dance.
Fig. 2. Pieter Bruegel I, The Wedding Dance, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit
Displayed before her is a plate bearing coins given to her as wedding gifts. A clue to her more reserved position may lie in the inscription accompanying van der Heyden’s print, describing the bride as ‘full and sweet’ – in other words, pregnant.
Pieter the Younger’s works of this type can be divided into two groups: those painted in the same arrangement as van der Heyden’s engraving, and those in reverse. The present picture, together with the majority of autograph versions, belongs to the latter group, believed to derive directly from his father’s lost work rather than from the print.
The earliest known paintings of this subject by Pieter the Younger are those in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, and the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore, both of which are signed and dated 1607. The present lot belongs to the later treatments of this theme, which were executed until 1626. The picture bears the mark of the panel maker Michiel Claessens, who was active in Antwerp between 1590 and 1637, and dean of the guild of St. Luke in 1617.
Pieter Brueghel the Younger must have worked closely with him over the years as his brand can also be found on another panel of the same subject, dated 1625, which sold in these Rooms on 3 July 2012, lot 40 (£1,553,250) as well as on examples of The Good Shepherd of 1616 (Brussels, Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Belgique and Christie’s, London, 2 December 2014, lot 17).
The Outdoor Wedding Dance is one of the Brueghel family’s most enduringly popular compositions, with at least 30 recorded autograph versions by Pieter the Younger. This spectacular success has been credited by some to the serious moral undertone of this seemingly joyful celebration, warning of the attendant perils of over-indulgence, lust or greed. Yet this interpretation is far from certain. Instead, these works can be regarded as exemplifying the witty and intelligently observed combination of naturalism and humour that has ensured their undiminished popularity and relevance from the seventeenth century until the present day.