Lot 21. Valentin de Boulogne (Coulommiers-en-Brie, Seine-et-Marne Bapt 1591 (?) - 1632 Rome), A fortune teller, bravo, lute player, drinking figure, and a pick-pocket, oil on canvas, 53 3/8 by 73 3/8 in.; 145.7 by 187.6 cm. Estimate 1,000,000 — 1,500,000 USD. Lot sold 1,935,000 USD. Photo: Sotheby's.
Provenance: Marchese Raffaele Soprani (1612-1672), Sestri Levante, and thence by descent;
Anonymous sale, Genoa, Casa di Riposo/Chiostro del Santuario di San Francesco di Paola, 3 March 1985 (as anonymous);
Giorgio Balboni and Ettore Viancini, Geneva, 1985;
With Patrick Matthiesen, London, 1989;
Private collection, Geneva, since 2002.
Exhibited: Rome, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Antica di Palazzo Barberini, and Siena, Santa Maria della Scala, Colori della Musica: Dipinti, strumenti e concerti tra Cinquecento e Seicento, 2000-2001, no. 43;
Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales and Melbourne, National Gallery of Victoria, Darkness and Light: Caravaggio and His World, 29 November 2003 - 30 May 2004, no. 62;
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Valentin de Boulogne, Beyond Caravaggio, 7 October 2016 - 16 January 2017, no. 11.
Literature: B. Nicolson, Caravaggism in Europe, 1979, edited by L. Vertova, Turin 1990, vol. I, p. 205, reproduced vol. II, fig. 675;
M. Mojana, Valentin de Boulogne, Milan 1989, pp. 192-93, and p. 239, cat. no. 70, reproduced in color p. 193 (as unsure whether it is autograph or a period copy, her confusion based in part on the background that at the time was overpainted as a cloudy sky);
S. Macioce in Colori della Musica: Dipinti, strumenti e concerti tra Cinquecento e Seicento, exhibition catalogue, Siena 2000, p. 202, cat. no. 43, reproduced in color;
2001: An Art Odyssey, London, Matthiesen Gallery, 2001, pp. 222-231, reproduced in color;
R. Beresford in Darkness and Light: Caravaggio and His World, exhibition catalogue, 2003, pp. 202-03, cat. no. 62, reproduced in color;
P. Bell and D. Suckow in Repräsentation - Inklusion - Exklusion. Zur Semantisierung der 'Zigeuner' ed. I. Patrut and H. Uerlings, Trier, Universität Trier, 2008;
'Valentin de Boulogne, réinventer Caravage,' in Dossiers de l’Art, 246, March 2017, p. 2, reproduced;
K. Christiansen in Valentin de Boulogne, beyond Caravaggio, exhibition catalogue, New York 2016, pp 108-110, cat. no. 11, reproduced in color.
Note: Valentin’s Fortune-teller, from circa 1615, is one of the artist’s earliest works and was included in the important recent exhibition in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art dedicated to the artist. Depictions of card players and tavern drinkers were popularized by Bartolomeo Manfredi soon after Caravaggio’s stay in Rome at the turn of the seventeenth century, and this new form was rapidly taken up by the plethora of Northern artists working in the city at the time. Few of them though absorbed the innovations of Caravaggio and Manfredi as quickly and as successfully as Valentin, who must surely be considered one of the finest of all of Caravaggio’s followers.
In the present work Valentin provides a development to the standard depiction of bohemians and crooks by portraying the victim of the intrigue, that is the soldier being duped, with his back to us, creating a greater spatial complexity, while the figures facing us are presented in a harmonious and fluid dynamic which underscores their complicity. By almost entirely concealing the soldier’s face, however, the artist further allows us as viewers to identify as this very figure. Not one but two of the thieves look out directly at us, drawing us into the action, particularly by the knowing gesture of the man on the far right who taps his nose with his finger. This figure reappears in several other works executed roughly at the same time as the present work: as the servant in the Return of the Prodigal Son, in the Museo della Venerabile Arciconfraternità della Misericordia, in Florence;1 as the bystander at the far right in the Denial of Saint Peter, in the Fondazione di Studi dell’Arte Roberto Longhi, in Florence;2 as the figure pouring wine in the Fortune-Teller with Soldiers, in the Toledo Museum of Art.3The youth playing a lute recurs as the soldier at the far left of the Christ and the Adulteress, in the Getty Museum, Los Angeles.4 The inclusion of the chicken, or pollo in Italian, introduces a note of humor and word play, for in Italian pollo also means a dupe.
While the work itself was only rediscovered in 1985, the composition was already known through two copies, one in the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen, and a more modest copy in a private collection formerly on the London art market. Since the Copenhagen copy has a pendant, which in turn is a copy after Valentin’s Musicians and Soldiers from 1625-27, in the Musées des Beaux-Arts in Strasbourg, scholars including Benedict Nicolson assumed that the present work and the Strasbourg painting must have also been pendants.5 As the recent exhibition in New York made quite explicit, however, the two works date from different decades in the artist’s career, and so cannot be considered true pendants. As the exhibition catalogue reasonably suggests, they were likely at one point owned by the same collector who commissioned the copies. The aforementioned other copy in a private collection is also paired with a copy after the Strasbourg Musicians and Soldiers, lending further credence to the idea that the two prototypes must have once hung in the same collection.
1. Valentin de Boulogne, beyond Caravaggio, pp. 114-15, cat. no. 13, reproduced.
2. Ibid., pp. 117-19, cat. no. 14, reproduced.
3. Ibid., pp. 120-22, cat. no. 15, reproduced.
4. Ibid., pp. 122-25, cat. no. 16, reproduced.
5. Ibid., pp. 166-68, cat. no. 32, reproduced.