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Lot 49. Gabriel Metsu (Leiden 1629 - 1669 Amsterdam), An Officer Paying Court to a Young Woman, detailsigned lower center on the foot stove: GMetsu (GM in ligature), oil on canvas, 16 by 14 in; 40.6 by 35.5 cm. Estimate 6,000,000 — 8,000,000 USD (5,397,140 - 7,196,186 EUR). Photo Sotheby's. 

NEW YORK, NY.- Sotheby’s spring auction of Master Paintings in New York will be held on 26 May 2016, featuring 102 superb works by celebrated names, including Botticelli, Gabriel Metsu and Jean-Baptiste Oudry. 

The auction will open with Property from an Italian Private Collection – a group of 18 works, nearly exclusively of the Italian school, which was brought together in the 1960s and has not been on the market since. No fewer than nine examples of Italian Renaissance depictions of the Madonna and Child are present in this group, together illustrating regional differences in interpreting the subject – Giannicola di Paolo’s The Madonna and Child in a Landscape (estimate $60/80,000) is a charming representation from central Italy, while Bartolomeo Veneto’s Madonna and Child, seated behind a ledge, a river landscape and a town beyond illustrates the Venetian treatment of the subject (estimate: $50/70,000). The collection is led by a large-scale panel from the studio of Botticelli, The Baptism of Christ, which has been hidden from public view for decades and until recently was only known scholars through black-and-white photographs (estimate $400/600,000). 

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Lot 12. Studio of Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence 1445 - 1510), The Baptism of Christ, tempera on panel, 63 1/2  by 52 1/4  in.; 161.2 by 132.8 cm. Estimate 400,000 — 600,000 USD (359,809 - 539,714 EUR). Photo Sotheby's. 

Provenance: Museo Guidi, Faenza;
Their sale, Rome, Galleria Sangiorgi, 21-27 April 1902, lot 499;
Rambaldi collection, Bologna;
Eugenio Burnath (or Bournat) collection, before 1924;
Bruno Canto, Milan;
In the present collection since at least 1963. 

Literature: C. Gamba, Botticelli, Milan 1936, p. 209, cat. no. 10 (as Workshop of Botticelli);
C.L Ragghianti, "Inizio di Leonardo," in Critica d'Arte, I, 1954, p. 118 (as Botticelli);
R. Salvini, Tutta la pittura del Botticelli, Milan 1958, vol. II, 1958, p. 78, reproduced plate 155B (as School of Botticelli);
R. Lightbown, Botticelli, Complete Catalogue, Los Angeles 1978, vol. II, pp. 151-152, cat. no. C65, reproduced p. 151, fig. C65 (under Workshop and School pictures as untraced, "no attribution can safely be made of it in its absence");
G. Mandel, L'opera completa del Botticelli, Milan 1978, p. 116, cat. no. 115, reproduced (under Workshop and School pictures as untraced and therefore impossible to give an attribution);
N. Pons, Catalogo completo, Botticelli, Milan 1989, pp. 87-88, cat. no. 122, reproduced p. 87, fig. 122 (repeating comments of Lightbown and Mandel and suspending judgement until the painting is traced).

Notes: Until now this impressive, large-scale panel was hidden from public view for decades and though published many times (see Literature), scholars were only able to opine on the basis of old black-and-white photographs.  The painting was first recorded as part of a 19th-century collection in the Museo Guidi, Faenza (see Provenance).  In 1902, when the painting was deaccessioned and sold, Adolfo Venturi published it as a late autograph work by Botticelli. Scholarly opinions in early 20th-century publications were divided until 1978 when Ronald Lightbown gave the painting to Botticelli’s workshop (see Literature). 

The composition is undoubtedly of Botticelli’s design and no other versions of the subject in this configuration survive today.   The painting itself was executed by a member of Botticelli’s workshop and, as Professor Andrea De Marchi notes, the approach to the rock face and landscape suggests an artist also familiar with the work of Ghirlandaio.1  Lightbown compared the device of the rock formation used to frame the composition with that in Botticelli’s Holy Trinity Surrounded by Seraphim with Saints Mary Magdalene and John the Baptist and Tobias and the Angel in the Courtauld Gallery, London (inv. no. inv. P.1947.LF.38). 

We are grateful to Professors Laurence Kanter and Andrea De Marchi for endorsing the attribution upon firsthand inspection and to Professor Nicoletta Pons on the basis of photographs. 

1. Private oral communication with the department, 29 January 2016.

The May sale will be led by one of the finest Dutch genre scenes remaining in private hands: Gabriel Metsu’s An Officer Paying Court to a Young Woman (estimate $6/8 million). This refined interior stands as a lasting achievement of painting in the Golden Age of the mid-17th century, when Metsu and his peers – including Johannes Vermeer, Gerrit Dou and Frans van Mieris – were creating vivid scenes of everyday life. The work was formerly in the famed Rothschild collection before being looted by the Nazis during World War II and later recovered by the Monuments Men.

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Lot 49. Gabriel Metsu (Leiden 1629 - 1669 Amsterdam), An Officer Paying Court to a Young Woman, signed lower center on the foot stove: GMetsu (GM in ligature), oil on canvas, 16 by 14 in; 40.6 by 35.5 cm. Estimate 6,000,000 — 8,000,000 USD (5,397,140 - 7,196,186 EUR). Photo Sotheby's. 

Provenance: Probably Lothar Franz von Schönborn (1655-1729), Schloss Weissenstein Pommersfelden, Bamberg, by 1719;
By descent in the Schönborn collection until at least 1808;
Baron Anselm Salomon Rothschild (1803-1874), Vienna, by 1866;
Thence by descent to Baron Nathaniel von Rothschild (1836-1905), Vienna, until at least 1903;
Thence by descent to his brother, Baron Albert von Rothschild (1844-1911), 1905;
Thence by descent to Baron Alphonse Mayer von Rothschild (1878-1942), 1911 (inv. no. AR 859), as Mieris;
Confiscated from the above, 13 March 1938  and allocated for the Kunstmuseum Linz (inv. 3232), as by Mieris, and stored at Kremsmünster Abbey (inv. 954);
Munich Central Collecting Point (inv. 4392) (as "Miesis ( G. Metsu))"15 July 1945;
Repatriated to the Austrian government, 27 November 1945, and restituted to the Rothschild family, 30 November 1947;
Selected as a donation to the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (inv. 9099), 1947;
Restored to the Rothschild family, March 1999;
Their sale, London, Christie's, 8 July 1999, lot 222;
There purchased by the present collector 

Exhibited: Vienna, Österreichischen Museum für Kunst und Industrie, 1873, no. 120;
Vienna, Kunsthistorisches Museum, 1947-1999 (inv. no. 9099).

Literature: J.B. Descamps, La Vie des Peintres flamands, allemands et hollandois, vol. II, Paris 1764 (according to Smith);
Possibly J. Smith, A Catalogue Raisonné..., vol. IV, London 1833, p. 100, cat. no. 85;
1903 Theresianumgasse Inventory, p. 31, cat. no. 57;
G F. Waagen, Die vornehmsten Kunstdenkmäler in Wien, Vienna 1866-7, vol. I, p. 328;
A. von Wurzbach, Niederländisches Künstler-Lexikon auf Grund archivalischer Forschungen bearbeiret, vol. I, Vienna/Leipzig 1906-11, vol. II, p. 151;
C. Hofstede de Groot, A Catalogue Raisonné..., vol. I, London 1908, p. 308, cat. no. 176, and presumably also p. 294, cat. no. 145 (as '"An interior with two figures" - In the collection of the late N. von Rothschild, Vienna.');
1934 Theresianumgasse Inventory, p. 186, cat. no. 315;
G. Heinz and F. Klauner (eds.), Katalog der Gemäldegalerie, vol. II, Teil, Vlamen, Hollander, Deutsche, Franzosen, Vienna 1963, no. 245;
S.J. Gudlaugsson, 'Kanttekeningen bij de ontwikkeling van Metsu', in Oud Holland, LXXXIII, 1968, p. 26, note 30, p. 41, reproduced fig. 10;
U.M. Schneede, 'Gabriel Metsu und der holländische Realismus', Ibid., pp. 47 and 50;
K. Demus (ed.), Katalog der Gemäldegalerie, Holländische Meister des 15., 16. und 17. Jahrhunderts, Vienna, 1972, p. 57, fig. 72;
F.W. Robinson, Gabriel Metsu, New York 1974, p. 85, note 103, p. 219, fig. 215;
C. Brandstaetter (ed.), Die Gemäldegalerie  des Kunsthistorischen Museums in Wien, Verzeichnis der Gemälde, Vienna 1991, inv. no. 9099, p. 83, reproduced fig. 547;
K. Bott (ed.), Rudolf Bys, Fürtrefflicher Gemähld - und Bilder-Schatz: die Gemäldesammlung des Lothar Franz von Schönborn in Pommersfelden, Weimar 1997, p. 71, cat. no. 204;
A. Baron, "Adjugé Peinture", in L'Objet d'art, October 1999, p. 28;
Il Giornale dell'Arte, n° 187, April 2000, Rapporto dipinti antichi, p. 22, reproduced;
G. Haase, Die Kunstsammlung Adolf Hitler, Berlin 2002, p. 261;
B. Schwarz, Hitlers Museum. Die Fotoalbum Gemäldegalerie Linz: Dokumente zum "Fuehrermuseum", Vienna 2004, pp. 107-8, cat. no. III/25, reproduced p. 227, cat. no. III/25 ;
F. Kunth, Die Rothschild’schen Gemäldesammlungen in Wien, Vienna 2006, pp. 58, 102 note 191, 202-203, reproduced fig. 4;
A.E. Waiboer, Gabriel Metsu, Life and Work, A catalogue raisonné, New Haven and London, 2012, pp. 82, 219, cat. no. A-76, reproduced. 

Notes: Gabriel Metsu is among the most universally heralded and fervently collected painters of the Dutch Golden Age. Standing side by side with the work of Johannes Vermeer, Gerrit Dou, and Frans van Mieris, his incredibly refined and nuanced interior genre scenes rank among the finest achievements of that era. This work, An Officer Paying Court to a Young Woman, is one of the most accomplished examples left in private hands.

Metsu began his career in his native Leiden, where in 1648 he served as a founding member of the painter’s guild. His early technique was undoubtedly influenced by Dou, whose transformational fijnschilder style ushered in a taste for small-scale, minutely detailed pictures featuring a variety of genre subjects. Metsu attained a strong clientele in Leiden, but as with many artists and merchants of the time, he moved to Amsterdam in or around 1654. Amsterdam, Holland’s economic engine, was too strong a commercial lure, and it was in that city where he would hone a unique approach combining the greatest elements of genre picture making.  

The Rothschild Metsu represents a high point in the artist’s career, and was painted circa 1658-60, by which time he was at the peak of his artistic powers and commercial popularity. Set in a quiet moment inside of a tavern, two revelers engage in a silent yet highly communicative tête-à-tête. Metsu’s technical genius is at full strength in the depiction of the costume.  The gentleman, an elegantly dressed officer, wears a purplish blue doublet and matching hose, edged in multiple strips of elaborate gold embroidered trim.  The artist uses the tip of his brush to meticulously apply specks of paint, mimicking the play of light on the precious metal threads as a reminder of the officer’s evident wealth.  The superfluous fabric of his costly crimson stockings flops over the garter below the knee, folding back on itself to flaunt more gold thread embroidery, a further display of excess and wealth. 

To his right the officer has discarded his sword on a richly brocaded pillow, focusing his attention directly on the young woman beside him. Fully engaged in the encounter, she is dressed with equal elegance in a fur-trimmed coral jacket with matching petticoat and a linen apron tied at her waist.  Her head uncovered, she wears her hair pulled back in a fashionable chignon to the back, whose curls and ringlets cascade around her face. Her role in the scene is only fully illuminated upon viewing the wine glass which she coquettishly hands to the officer. The playing cards and broken clay pipe drive home the realization that she is a high-class prostitute engaging the officer in seduction. Indeed, the fleeing spaniel at lower left (a typical iconographic symbol of fidelity), as well as the velvet draped bed in the background, make clear the true nature of the dialogue. 

Metsu’s preference for portraying elegantly dressed figures and upper class subjects was a deliberate choice, and a shift from subjects of his earlier Leiden period which featured a greater number of peasant scenes, religious, historical and allegorical subjects. See, for example, the early (circa 1652) Triumph of Justice (Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis, The Hague, inv. no. 95) which fully articulates his movement away from a more diversified style towards a targeted and bourgeois vernacular. Though Gerrit Dou especially acted as Metsu’s earliest technical influence in Leiden, it was Gerard ter Borch who demonstrated the commercial appeal of aristocratic and sophisticated genre scenes such as this. Indeed, graceful and refined works by ter Borch such as A Lady at her Toilette (Detroit Institute of Arts, acc. no. 65. 10) demonstrate the path which Metsu found himself gravitating towards as he carved out a commercial niche for himself in Amsterdam. 

In addition to ter Borch’s influence in moving Metsu towards depicting, and thus marketing to a higher end clientele, it was Amsterdam itself that presented a great deal of artistic as well as economic opportunity towards this end. In Leiden, Metsu found himself in a smaller, but no less competitive artistic environment. Rembrandt and his immediate followers were fully devoted to, and in reality dominated the market for, large-scale historical, allegorical, and religious subjects. Furthermore, both Gerrit Dou, the founder of the fijnschilder technique, and Frans van Mieris served as significant commercial competitors to Metsu in Leiden where works in that style were most in demand. Thus it was in Amsterdam where Metsu found his niche as the preeminent genre fijnschilder. There he found the ideal combination of an exploding marketplace and an underrepresented collecting category. 

With the realization that works such as The Rothschild Metsu would be his key to commercial success, Metsu honed a unique style that drew from the very best elements of Dutch genre painting. This technique can be summarized as achieving a level of refinement and crispness of draftsmanship which rivals the work of Dou, van Mieris, and even Vermeer, while maintaining a certain level of looseness in areas that allowed him an expressive creativity sometimes missing from his contemporaries’ work. Compare, for example, Metsu's mature hybrid approach to painting with that of Vermeer's, as seen in Officer and Laughing Girl (fig. 1; New York, The Frick Collection), which embraces the complete absence of the brush. Such comparison of two works of near identical subject but marked technical differences illuminates Metsu's deliberate innovation within the genre. The apotheosis of this innovation reveals itself in works such as the Rothschild Metsu, as well those from proceeding years in Amsterdam, notably his celebrated Man Writing a Letter from (fig. 2; Dublin, National Gallery of Ireleand, inv. NGI.4536). As Adriaan Waiboer has observed, “Metsu’s technique never became as rigid as Dou’s, let alone van Mieris’s. It maintained a visible looseness that allowed him to model forms, surfaces and textures with a pictorial vividness sometime lacking in paintings by his Leiden contemporaries.”1  Such an observation reveals itself here in the complementary techniques employed. The officer’s doublet is meticulously rendered, with every square millimeter described with precision and exactitude. Conversely, the paint strokes which make up the protagonists’ faces are still discernible and not fully blended, which imbues their character with a more vivacious and dynamic personality. E. Melanie Gifford has keenly synthesized this approach: “A sensitive observer of his fellow artists, he profited from and adapted their discoveries as he developed his own painterly vocabulary. Metsu served a clientele that appreciated ever more refined depictions of luxury materials. Yet while building an identity as a fine painter, he resisted the fashion for a smooth surface that suppressed evidence of the artist’s presence. Metsu’s eloquent imprecise technique conjured ‘wool and silk and silver’ while celebrating the act of painting.”2

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fig. 1: Johannes Vermeer, Officer and Laughing Girl,  Frick Collection, New York, USA / Bridgeman Images.

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fig. 2: Gabriel Metsu, Man Writing a Letter, Beit Collection, National Gallery, Ireland.

The Rothschild Provenance:

The history of the Rothschild Metsu is one which highlights the taste for Old Masters by one of the most important collecting dynasties in modern times. The picture entered into the Viennese Rothschild collection by 1866, when it was first recorded with Baron Anselm von Rothschild (fig. 3) (1803-1874). Anselm was the son of Salomon Mayer von Rothschild (1774-1855), founder of the family banking house, and created the K. K. Priv. Österreichische Credit-Anstalt für Handel und Gewerbe, which became the largest bank of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. From the moment of their earliest success, each generation demonstrated a diverse yet equally passionate and astute aptitude for collecting, whose cumulative efforts rival the greatest European noble collections including those of the Habsburgs, Medici, and Bourbons. 

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fig. 3: Anselm Salomon von Rothschild.

This Metsu undoubtedly hung in Anselm’s palatial home on the Renngasse in Vienna, and specifically in the aptly named ‘Gemäldesaal’ or ‘Museum’ room of the home. It was in this home that the core of the Rothschild family’s Dutch painting collection hung, and it was Anselm who was the first member of the family to truly engage with Dutch pictures on a high level. The core of the collection began with Anselm’s 1842 purchase of the entire collection of the Dutch businessman Klerk de Reuss. This acquisition en bloc brought into the family collection important pictures by the best names from the Dutch Golden Age. From this moment Dutch pictures became a priority for Anselm and indeed in his posthumous inventory, 116 oil paintings were recorded, 93 of which were Dutch old masters, and of those, 40 were genre pictures, including the present Metsu. 

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Rothschild Family Coat of Arms

The picture passed into the collections of Anselm’s sons, first Nathaniel von Rothschild and shortly thereafter to Nathaniel’s brother Albert von Rothschild. Baron Alphonse de Rothschild inherited this Metsu from his father Albert, and it was during his period of ownership, within days of the Anschluss in March 1938,  that the collection of the Viennese branch of the family was seized by the Nazi authorities. The Metsu was earmarked for Hitler’s never-realized museum complex in his native Linz.  Following the conclusion of the War, the picture was recovered by the American 42nd Division from the Nazi storage facilities in the Salt Mines in Alt Aussee before being restituted to Baroness Clarice de Rothschild, Alphonse’s widow, in 1947.  The Metsu was one of eleven key paintings from the Rothschild collection which the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna selected in exchange for the grant of a license to export the remainder of the collection to New York. The Metsu hung in the Kunsthistorisches Museum from 1948 until 1999 when it was restituted by the Austrian State to Clarice’s daughter Bettina Looram.

1. A. Waiboer, Gabriel Metsu: Rediscovered Master of the Dutch Golden Age, exhibition catalogue, Amsterdam and Washington 2011, p. 18.
2. E. Melanie Gifford in Ibid., p. 177. 

Jean-Baptiste Oudry’s striking Still Life with a Violin, a Recorder, Books, a Portfolio of Sheet of Music, Peaches and Grapes on a Table Top, is an outstanding example of the artist’s work in still-life (estimate $600/800,000). The beautifully balanced composition incorporates music and musical instruments, which at the time proved enormously popular and in high demand. The present work falls into the first half of Oudry’s career, when the artist gradually stepped away from portraiture and began to explore the genre of still-lifes, which would make him one of the most successful and versatile artists of the 18th century. 

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Lot 88. Jean-Baptiste Oudry (Paris 1686 - 1755 Beauvais), Still Life with a Violin, a Recorder, Books, a Portfolio of Sheet of Music, Peaches and Grapes on a Table Top, signed lower right: J.B. Oudry, oil on canvas, 23 3/4  by 30 1/4  in.; 60.3 by 76.8 cm. Estimate 600,000 — 900,000 USD (539,714 - 809,571 EUR). Photo Sotheby's. 

Provenance: Henry Didier, Paris, by 1860
His sale, Paris, Hôtel Drouot, 15-17 June 1868, lot 72, for FF 1,200;
Madame Denain, Paris;
Her sale, Paris, Galerie Georges Petit, 6-7 April 1893, lot 20, for FF 2,550, to Coblenz;
With Galerie Cailleux, Paris;
George Encil;
By whom sold, London, Sotheby's, 12 December 1990, lot 111;
Anonymous sale ("Property of a French Bank"), New York, Sotheby's, 30 January 1998, lot 94;
There acquired by the present collector.

Exhibited: Paris, Tableaux et dessins de l'Ecole française principalement du XVIIIe siècle tirés de collections d'amateurs,catalogue by Ph. Burty, 1860, no. 217;
Paris, Galerie Cailleux, Peintres de la réalité au XVIIIe siècle, 1945, no. 27;
Rennes, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Natures mortes anciennes et modernes, 30 September - 30 October 1953, no. 20;
Saint-Etienne, Musée d'art et d'industrie, Natures mortes de l'antiquité au XVIIIe siècle, 1954, no. 51;
Rotterdam, Boymans Museum, Vier Eeuwen Stilleven in Frankrijk, 10 July - 20 September 1954, no. 39;
London, Royal Academy, European Masters of the Eighteenth Century, 27 November 1954 - 27 February 1955, no. 163;
Zurich, Kunsthaus, Schönheit des 18. Jahrhunderts, September - October 1955, no. 225;
Bordeaux, Musée des beaux-arts de Bordeaux, Paris et les ateliers provinciaux au XVIIIe siècle, 10 May - 31 July 1955, no. 11;
Paris, Galerie Heim, Hommage à Chardin, 5 June - 10 July 1959, no. 47

Literature: J. Locquin, "Catalogue raisonné de l'Oeuvre de Jean-Baptiste Oudry," in Archives de l'Art Français; Société de l'Histoire de l'Art Français, vol. II, 1912, cat. no. 56;
J. Vergnet-Ruiz, Les Peintres Français du XVIIIe Siècle; Histoires des Vies et Catalogue des Oeuvres, Paris and Brussels 1930, vol. II, p. 171, cat. no. 286;
J. Cailleux, Le Dix-Huitième Siècle. Collection Connaissance des Arts, Paris 1956, p. 20, reproduced;
M. Faré, La Nature Morte en France, vol. II, Geneva 1963, reproduced pl. 335;
M. and F. Faré, La Vie Silencieuse en France; La Nature Morte au XVIIIe siècle, Fribourg 1976, p. 113, reproduced pl. 182;
H. Opperman, Jean-Baptiste Oudry, New York 1977, vol. I, p. 562, cat. no. P.532, and vol. II, p. 947, reproduced fig. 130;
V. Prat, in Experience and Adventures of a Collector, Paris 1989, pp. 180-81, reproduced in color p. 181;
Sotheby's Highlights, London 3 December 1997 and New York 30 January 1998 sales, reproduced.

Notes: Oudry was one of the most successful and versatile artists of the 18th century.  Initially trained as a portrait painter under Nicolas de Largillierre, he went on to make great contributions to the genres of landscape, animal, and still life painting.  Through the Marquis de Beringhen, Premier Ecuyer du Roi, he was introduced to Louis XV and obtained his first royal commission in 1724.  Oudry exhibited at the Place Dauphine (1722-25) and subsequently in the Salon, beginning with twelve paintings in the Salon of 1725.  The present still life has been dated to around this same moment.  In a beautifully balanced composition, Oudry depicts a violin propped against a stack of books; a recorder rests between music sheets positioned precariously close to the table ledge, ready to tumble out of the picture plane.  Offsetting these objects on the left side are four peaches and a bunch of deep purple grapes.  The simplicity of the composition and subtle lighting bring to mind the works of Chardin who, thirteen years Oudry’s junior, had just begun producing still lifes and was certainly aware of the works of the elder master.  Indeed, the two artists would mutually influence one another from the mid-1720s onward, always mindful of what the other was doing.1  Oudry’s still lifes incorporating music and musical instruments proved enormously popular and were much in demand.  The music depicted in this painting has not been identified but is, most likely, beginning practice notations. 

Hal Opperman (see Literature) has suggested that this still life may have been en suite with Still Life with a Musette and Music, which is of almost the same dimensions (65 by 80 cm.), in a private collection, Paris;2 he dates both pictures to circa1725 and suggests that they were, perhaps, part of the same decorative scheme. Opperman corrects all previous literature and exhibitions concerning the present work, from 1860 on and including Prat (see Literature), with regard to the painting’s provenance and that it was said to bear a date of “1725.”  There is no evidence, as had been previously recorded, that this painting was owned by the Marquis de Beringhen at the Château d’Ivry or that it was shown in the Salon of 1741.  The Marquis’ painting, a devant de cheminée, which was exhibited at that Salon (no. 34), is traceable to a sale at Paris, Hôtel Drouot on 26 February 1942, lot 42, but has since disappeared.3

1.  See H. Opperman, J.-B. Oudry, exhibition catalogue, Fort Worth 1983, pp. 75-77.
2.  See Opperman, under Literature, vol. I, p. 563, cat. no. P533, vol. II, p. 947, reproduced p. 1037, fig. 129; and Georges de Lastic (1927-1988): Le Cabinet d'un amateur collectionneur et conservateur, exhibition catalogue, Paris, Senlis and Clermont-Ferrand 2010-2011, no. 36, reproduced.
3.  See Opperman, op.cit.,vol. I, p. 565, cat. no. P538.

A rare discovery, Botticelli’s An Angel, Head and Shoulders, is a delightfully engaging depiction of an angel (estimate $300/500,000). The painting dates to circa 1495-1500 and marks a significant moment in Botticelli’s late career when he was beginning to experiment with the medium of oil. The distinct crispness of the drapery folds and the sharpness of the outlines are distinguishing characteristics of Botticelli’s late works. Infrared reflextography provides additional insight into the panel’s original format – most notably the hair of the angel. Once more voluminous, the angel’s hair in the upper right corner was tamed and brought closer to his head as we see it today. 

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Lot 34. Alessandro di Mariano Filipepi, called Sandro Botticelli (Florence 1445 - 1510),  An Angel, Head and Shoulders, oil on panel, transferred to canvas, laid down on panel, a fragment; overall: 16 3/8  by 12 5/8  in.; 41.7 by 32 cm.; painted surface: 16 by 12 1/8  in.; 40.6 by 30.8 cm. Estimate 300,000 — 500,000 USD (269,857 - 449,762 EUR). Photo Sotheby's. 

Notes: A rare discovery, this delightfully engaging depiction of an angel is a new addition to the corpus of Sandro Botticelli, one of the greatest painters of the Italian Renaissance.  The painting dates to circa 1495-1500 and marks a significant moment in Botticelli’s late career when he was beginning to experiment with the medium of oil.  While by this point oil had been used in Italian art for some time and had even been employed by assistants within Botticelli’s workshop, the master himself had traditionally preferred to work in tempera.  It is intriguing to see Botticelli’s exploration of the new medium as he interweaves with the techniques required for both tempera and oil. 

The fragment once formed part of a tondo, most likely depicting the same composition as the Madonna and Child with Saint John the Baptist and an Angel, executed by members of Botticelli’s workshop, in the National Gallery, London (fig. 1; inv. no. NG275).  The London tondo depicts the same angel at right, his head tilted forward in a similar manner to allow for the inward curve of the panel’s rounded edge.  At some point in the last century, the present painting was modified and an addition was appended to the upper right corner, giving the panel a rectangular format.  When observed in raking light, the curve of thetondo’s original edge is still faintly visible beside the angel’s hair. 

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fig. 1: Workshop of Sandro Botticelli, The Virgin and Child with Saint John and an Angel, The National Gallery, London.