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Lot 48. Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun (Paris 1755 - 1842), Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, full-length, holding his sword in a landscape, signed and dated lower right: L. Vigée Le Brun / 1788, oil on canvas, 88 3/4  by 55 1/2  in.; 225.5 by 136 cm. Estimate $4,000,000 - $6,000,000Courtesy Sotheby's

NEW YORK, NY.- As major retrospective exhibitions have been mounted around the world on female artists including Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun, Michelina Wautier and Artemesia Gentileschi, Sotheby’s will bring together a group of works by Old Master female artists that celebrates the life and work of some of these groundbreaking women. 

Cf.my post: Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, full-length, holding his sword in a landscape, 1788

Incorporated into Masters Week in New York in January 2019, the offering will assemble major paintings, drawings and sculpture created by leading female artists from the 16th through the 19th centuries. 

Recently Sotheby's announced two works that will highlight The Female Triumphant in our Master Paintings Evening Sale on 30 January: 

Fede Galizia’s A glass compote with peaches, jasmine flowers, quinces, and a grasshopper (estimate $2/3 million) is a beautiful example of the revolutionary female artist’s contributions to the Italian still life genre, which she helped to invent in the early 17th century. Exhibited internationally, the work was described as one of Galizia’s finest paintings in the second edition of Flavio Caroli’s definitive monograph of the artist’s work, A glass compote with peaches. Despite the intimate size of the panel, Galizia has created a sense of monumental scale with her placement of objects. Her close observation of details – such as the softness of the peaches, the modulations in the green on the leaves, and even the stripes on the grasshopper’s abdomen – continues to enchant viewers today. 

Daughter of the miniaturist and painter, Nunzio Galizia, Fede (c. 1578 – 1630) trained under her father. Her precocious talent was already on full display as a young teenager, and by the age of 20, she had achieved international renown as a painter of portraits and devotional compositions. Like Clara Peeters (c. 1589–1657) in the Netherlands, Fede was one of a small number of female artists who would play a vital role in the emergence of the relatively new genre of still life. Although she produced fewer than 20 refined, naturalistic still life compositions on panel, these works inspired followers in her lifetime and are considered her most important paintings. 

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Lot 42. Fede Galizia (Milan 1578 - 1630), A glass compote with peaches, jasmine flowers, quinces, and a grasshopper, oil on panel, 12 by 17 in.; 30.5 by 43.2 cmEstimate $2,000,000 - $3,000,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Cf. my post: Fede Galizia, A glass compote with peaches, jasmine flowers, quinces, and a grasshopper

One of the most cultured and influential women of her generation, Angelika Kauffmann (c. 1741-1807) holds a place of particular importance in European art history. A talented musician, she was both a brilliant history and portrait painter. Born in Switzerland and trained in Rome, she first came to England in 1766. In London she quickly became a close friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, who she is rumored to have nearly married at one point, and many of the most prominent cultural figures in England, including David Garrick. Fluent in English, French, Italian and German, her charm, wit, intelligence and skill attracted much attention, and she was highly sought after as a portraitist by many of the foremost connoisseurs of the day – including members of the Royal family. In 1768, Kauffmann cemented her status as one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy. In her later years, following her marriage to the Italian decorative painter Antonio Zucchi, she returned to Rome where her studio became a popular stop for fashionable visitors on the Grand Tour, including artists, writers, aristocrats and dealers from across Europe. Her clients included many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Catherine the Great of Russia, and she was close friends with international luminaries such as Goethe, Canova and Sir William Hamilton. 

One of the wealthiest families in England, the young generation of Spencers depicted in Angelika Kauffmann’s Portrait Of Lady Georgiana Spencer, Henrietta Spencer And George Viscount Althorp were prominent figures in the English aristocracy, and amongst the artist’s earliest British patrons (estimate $600/800,000). Seated at left with a handful of flowers is Georgiana Spencer, later Duchess of Devonshire upon her marriage to William, 5th Duke of Devonshire in 1774. As Duchess, she became one of the most famous and powerful women in 18th century British society. Her sister, Lady Henrietta Frances, later the Countess of Bessborough, is depicted at the center holding an arrow. To her right is George John, Viscount Althorp, later 2nd Earl Spencer, who would become a Member of Parliament for Northampton and later for Surrey.

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Lot 52. Angelika Kauffmann RA. (Coira 1741-1807 Rome), Portrait of three children, almost certainly Lady Georgiana Spencer, later Duchess of Devonshire, Lady Henrietta Spencer and George Viscount Althorp, oil on canvas, 44 3/4  by 57 in.; 113.6 by 144.8 cmEstimate $600,000 - $800,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

Provenance: Colonel Norman Colville, M.C. (1893-1974);
Anonymous sale ("The Property of a Gentleman, formerly in the collection of Colonel Norman Colville M.C."), London, Christie's, 13 June 2001, lot 3;
With Richard Green, London, 2001;
From whom purchased by the present collector.

Note: This elegant portrait by Angelika Kauffmann almost certainly depicts the young generation of Spencers, one of the wealthiest families in England.  The children were prominent members of the English aristocracy who grew up to become important and influential social figures in their own right, particularly Lady Georgiana, later Duchess of Devonshire, pictured at left.  The Spencers were amongst Angelika Kauffmann’s earliest British patrons; this portrait was painted soon after the artist’s arrival from Rome in 1766.  By the late 1770s, Kauffmann was one of the most sought-after painters in England and was one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy. 

One of the most cultured women of her generation, and one of the most influential women of the eighteenth century, Angelika Kauffmann holds a place of particular importance in European art history. A talented musician, as well as one of the first truly great professional female artists, she was both a brilliant history and portrait painter. Born in Switzerland, she trained in Rome, where she befriended the English neo-Classical painters Gavin Hamilton and Nathaniel Dance and first met the Spencer family.  She arrived in England in 1766. In London she quickly became a close friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, whom she is rumored to have nearly married at one point, as well as many of the most prominent cultural figures in England. Fluent in English, French, Italian and German, her charm, wit, intelligence, and skill attracted much attention, and she was highly sought after by many of the foremost connoisseurs of the day, including members of the Royal family. In 1781, following her marriage to the Italian decorative painter Antonio Zucchi, she returned to Rome where her studio became a popular stop for fashionable visitors on the grand tour, including artists, writers, aristocrats and dealers. Her clients included many of the crowned heads of Europe, such as Catherine the Great of Russia, and she was close friends with international luminaries such as Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Antonio Canova, and Sir William Hamilton. 

John Spencer, 1st Earl Spencer (1734-1783) of Althorp, Northamptonshire, and his wife Georgiana (d. 1814) traveled to Italy in June 1763, where they first met Angelika Kauffmann.  The Spencers' commission of the present portrait of their three children would have been completed within the first few years of Kauffmann's arrival in England, and it is unsurprising that the Spencers, particularly Mrs. Spencer, would have been interested in supporting a female artist's career.  The Spencers again commissioned Kauffmann to paint their children a few years later, circa 1774, when they had grown into young adults (fig. 1).  In that full-length portrait their wide-eyed innocence has been replaced by an evocative solemnity and seriousness in each of the children’s poses.  The Earl and Lady Spencer, their children, and in turn many of their friends continued to support the artist for decades to come, even after she left England for Italy.  

Angelica (74)

In the present group portrait, Kauffmann depicts the three young Spencer children dressed in elegant costumes and seated on a ledge within a sprawling landscape, each holding a different object.  Seated at left with a handful of flowers is Lady Georgiana Spencer (1757-1806), the eldest of the three children, who was likely ten or eleven years old in the present painting.  A comparison of her likeness can be made to a portrait of her by Thomas Gainsborough in 1763, which would have been completed just a couple of years before the present work (fig. 2).  The similarities in the parting of her hair and hairline as well as the placement of her eyes is almost identical in the two portraits, though Kauffmann has emphasized the reddish tones of her hair more than Gainsborough.  

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Thomas Gainsborough, Lady Georgiana Spencer, 1763. Althorp Collection, England.

At the age of seventeen, Lady Georgiana became Duchess of Devonshire upon her marriage to William Cavendish, 5th Duke of Devonshire, one of the few men whose wealth exceeded that of the Spencers'.  As Duchess, she became one of the most famous and powerful women in London, exhibiting enormous influence on the day’s fashion trends as well as political life, and making Devonshire House a center of upper class society.  The Duchess of Devonshire would gain notoriety not only for her considerable intellect and wit, but also for her provocative choices at home.  Georgiana’s acceptance of her husband’s relationship with her close friend Lady Elizabeth “Bess” Foster turned their marriage into a shocking ménage à trois, as Georgiana and Bess continued their close friendship despite the obvious complicationsIn 1785, in the midst of this scandalous affair, Lady Elizabeth sat to Angelika Kauffmann (fig. 3), a commission perhaps encouraged by Georgiana who had likely continued a relationship with the artist.  Georgiana wasn’t without her own extramarital affairs; after producing three children with the Duke, including a male heir, she began a relationship with the young politician Charles Gray and secretly bore his illegitimate child, living abroad and away from the Duke for two years.  After her return to London, she lived for another twelve years though she only gradually reentered society.  Upon her death in 1806, the Duke married Lady Elizabeth.  

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Angelika Kauffmann, Portrait of Lady Elizabeth Foster, 1785, Ickworth House, Suffolk.

To Lady Georgiana’s right is her brother George John, Viscount Althorp (1758-1834), who became 2nd Earl Spencer upon his father’s death in 1783.  He holds a bow, perhaps alluding to his interest in archery; he won the “Silver Arrow” prize at Harrow School in 1771.  Viscount George would later serve as a Member of Parliament for Northampton and Surrey, and later became the Home Secretary under Lord Grenville, amongst other public positions.  He married Lady Lavinia Bingham in 1781 and together they had nine children.  

The youngest of the Spencer children, Lady Henrietta Frances (1761-1821) is depicted at the center of the painting holding an arrow and delicately pricking her finger.  Lady Henrietta would marry Frederick Ponsonby, then the Viscount Duncannon, who later became 3rd Earl of Bessborough.  She bore him three children, though the marriage was an unhappy one and Lady Henrietta was known to have numerous affairs and at least two illegitimate children.  As Countess of Bessborough, she again sat to Angelika Kauffmann in 1793 when she was on a trip to Italy (fig. 4). 

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Angelika Kauffmann, Portrait of Henrietta Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough, 1793. England, Stansted Park.

We are grateful to Charles Noble, Curator of Fine Art at Chatsworth, for his assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.  We are also grateful to Wendy Roworth and Bettina Baumgärtel, both of whom fully support the attribution to Angelika Kauffmann.  Roworth agrees with the dating to the late 1760s, confirming the sitters as the Spencer family, though Baumgärtel dates the work stylistically to the late 1780s, after the artist had returned to Italy.