David Teniers the Younger, ‘The Wine Harvest’, 17th-century. Courtesy Sotheby’s
This December, Sotheby’s will bring to auction a 17th-century masterpiece which has been unseen in public since the late-19th century. Emerging from the collection of the Viscounts Gage, having been passed by inheritance since the 1770s, the momentous canvas by the celebrated Flemish artist, David Teniers the Younger, will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s London Old Masters sale on 10 December 2020, with an estimate of £3-5 million.
Measuring 56 x 104 ins (142.4 x 264.1 cms), The Wine Harvest is the largest, and certainly the finest work by Teniers to come to market in living memory. Rivalled in scale only by two other masterpieces, both of which now reside in international museums, the painting is presented in a remarkable state of preservation, undoubtedly due to its unbroken ownership having been passed by inheritance since being acquired, probably in the 1770s, by Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne. Last displayed in public when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1881, this spectacular work has seldom been seen in almost 140 years.
While not dated, it was painted in Antwerp at the apex of Teniers’ career, the mid-1640s. Margret Klinge, leading worldwide specialist on David Teniers, has described it as masterpiece of the Antwerp years and believes it to be a one-off commission for a special and unprecedented family portrait from the wine-merchant depicted in the centre with his wife and children. Given the setting and the surrounding narrative, this would appear to be a unique commission in Flemish portrait painting. The figure raising his glass prominently in the right foreground bears a striking resemblance to Teniers himself and may be a self-portrait at the age of about thirty-five.
Teniers the Younger is widely recognized for his renderings of 17th-century Flemish working class and rural life. By the mid 17th-century he was appointed the court painter of Archduke Leopold William. According to Sotheby’s, scholar Margret Klinge believes the present work was commissioned as a family portrait for the wine-merchant depicted at the painting’s center.
“True masterpieces by important painters come to the market all too rarely these days so we are particularly thrilled to offer for sale such a work by the most famous and influential painter of genre and landscape scenes working in Flanders in the 17th century. Teniers did not often paint on this scale but the result is a spectacular display of colour and activity. Painted with breathtaking confidence, the work is a dazzling celebration of Flemish baroque painting by one its finest exponents, and a celebration, too, of Flanders itself.”
A prolific and celebrated artist of his time, David Teniers the Younger is most well-known for his lively and rich depictions of 17th-century peasant life. Displaying at the same time the artist’s customary fine detail in the principle figures, alongside a vigorous and spirited technique in some of the background revellers, this work is a supreme example of Teniers’s talent in depicting the everyday life of the 17th-century working class, with the large scale of the canvas allowing plentiful room for a rich narrative. In it he displays his unrivalled talent for story-telling. In the middle-distance we see the grape harvesters, heavily laden with baskets of fruit, returning along the riverbank to unload their harvest. In the left foreground two burly individuals are treading an earlier delivery in a huge wooden vat while yet more grapes are unloaded before them. Nearby two coopers are busily fixing up barrels for the wine, the tools of their trade scattered around them. In the centre the foreman proffers a saucer of the new vintage to a well-dressed wine merchant with whom he is hoping to seal a deal, the merchant’s wife guarding his bags of money until the deal is done. To their right a throng of villagers and harvesters, one or two rather worse for wear, raise their glasses raucously towards the temple on the hilltop inhabited by the Roman God of wine, agriculture and fertility, Bacchus, which may be based on the temple of Bacchus at the vineyard of Montmartre, Paris, and perhaps suggestive of a French patron. The scene is set towards the end of a late summer’s day, the sun glowing its final embers of pinks and yellows above the distant horizon.
Peniston, 1st Viscount Melbourne, acquired the painting for Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire where it hung over the fireplace in the Saloon/Dining Room. Peniston was, with his wife Elizabeth Milbanke, one of the greatest patrons of the arts of the day. The Melbournes transformed both Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire and Melbourne House on Piccadilly (now Albany) with the aim of establishing both a country seat and London town house to enhance his title, and where they could entertain royalty. Thomas Chippendale provided furnishings for both, Sir Joshua Reynolds painted two of his finest conversation pieces for them (both still in the present family collection, by descent), one depicting Elizabeth with their son and heir Peniston, the other all three children, and they commissioned important works from both George Stubbs (National Gallery) and Joseph Wright of Derby (Yale Center for British Art). Brocket Hall was inherited by William, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s celebrated Prime Minister. The queen visited on 30th July, 1841, and recorded her awe of the house and collection in her diary. The Melbourne estates passed first to William’s sister Emily, then to her grandson Francis, the 7th and last Earl Cowper who, with his wife Kathrine, made his home at Panshanger House, in Hertfordshire, so that when Brocket was leased out in 1887, many of the most important works, including Teniers’ Wine Harvest, were moved to Panshanger. The 7th Earl Cowper, was custodian of arguably the finest collection in England at that time. Along with other highlights from the collection, including both Raphael’s ‘Small Cowper Madonna’ and ‘Large Cowper Madonna’ (both now National Gallery of Art, Washington), the Teniers was lent to the seminal 1881 exhibition at the Royal Academy, the last time the painting was lent to a public exhibition. The painting subsequently passed by inheritance into the present collection.
Property from an Important English Private Collection. Lot 12. David Teniers the Younger (Antwerp 1610 - 1690 Brussels), The Wine Harvest, signed lower right: D. TENIERS f, oil on canvas, in a Panshanger frame, 142.5 x 267 cm.; 56 x 105 1/8 in. Estimate: 3,000,000 - 5,000,000 GBP. Courtesy Sotheby's
Note: ‘In the clarity of the composition, the beauty of the landscape, the handling of the finest gradations of color; in the narrative rich in figures both from the harvesting of the grapes to the enjoyment of the wine, in the middle of which is the portrait of a wine merchant with his family, The Wine Harvest is a masterpiece of artistic creation from the Antwerp years of David Teniers the Younger. It is unique in its special approach to the commission and, it seems to me, also unique in Flemish portrait painting.’ Margret Klinge
Rich in narrative detail, this monumental painting by one of the finest exponents of the Flemish baroque is a celebration of wine, viticulture and the cult of Bacchus. Unseen in public since 1881, it is the finest, and largest, work by David Teniers the Younger to emerge from a private collection in living memory. On a scale rivalled only by two other masterpieces, Popinjay shooting in Brussels at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, and the Kitchen scene at the Hermitage, St Petersburg, it is painted with breath-taking confidence, displaying Teniers’ customary attention to detail to the principal figures, alongside a vigorous and spirited technique in the landscape and in many of the background details. It was very likely commissioned from Teniers by the wine-merchant, seen in the centre with his family, as a unique family portrait.
The painting has passed by inheritance through several families since being acquired, probably in the 1770s, by Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne (1745–1828) for his family seat of Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire. In 1869 it passed to Lord Melbourne’s great-grandson, the 7th Earl Cowper and was subsequently moved to the Cowper family seat of Panshanger House. In 1881 Earl Cowper lent a group of the family’s finest paintings, including the two Raphaels (the so-called ‘Small Cowper Madonna’ and the ‘Niccolini-Cowper Madonna’, both now Washington, National Gallery of Art, figs 1 and 2) to the Royal Academy exhibition of that year and this was the last time the Teniers appeared in public. Since then it has passed by inheritance to the present owner. Its unbroken ownership over the past 250 years is doubtless to thank for its remarkable state of preservation, the paint surface being beautifully intact and animated by rich passages of impasto throughout.
Left: Fig.1. Raphael, The Small Cowper Madonna, c. 1505, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Right: Fig.2. Raphael, The Large Cowper Madonna, c. 1505, oil on panel, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
It is hard to think of a painting by Teniers with a richer narrative than the Wine Harvest. While he is well-recognised as a chronicler of peasant life, both indoors and out, the majority of his scenes follow similar patterns: a view of a village fair with peasants dancing, playing bowls or otherwise enjoying outdoor summer life; interior views of inns with peasants and boors drinking and gaming; or highly finished kitchen scenes or guard rooms. However there is seldom, if at all, such a fulsome and detailed story as we see here, even in his other harvest scenes.1
Teniers did not often paint on this scale but the result is a riot of colour and activity. The scale allows plentiful room for storytelling: in the middle-distance we see the grape harvesters, heavily laden with baskets of grapes, returning along the riverbank to unload their fruit. In the left foreground two burly individuals are treading an earlier delivery in a huge wooden vat while yet more grapes are unloaded before them. Nearby two coopers are busily fixing up barrels for the wine, the tools of their trade scattered around them. In the centre the foreman proffers a saucer of the new vintage to a well-dressed wine merchant with whom he is hoping to seal a deal, the merchant’s wife guarding his bags of money until the deal is done. To their right a throng of villagers and harvesters, one or two rather worse for wear, raise their glasses raucously towards the temple on the hilltop inhabited by the Roman God of wine, agriculture and fertility, Bacchus. The scene is set towards the end of a late summer’s day, the sun glowing its final embers of pinks and yellows above the distant horizon. Winter will be upon the revellers soon. It is a dazzling celebration of Flemish baroque painting by one its finest exponents, and a celebration, too, of Flanders itself.
The subject of the autumn harvest had been commonplace in Flemish painting since the time of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, particularly in the work of Sebastian Vrancx and Joos de Momper amongst others, but almost always as part of a series of works depicting the seasons, and usually focussing on the hay or corn harvest. The grape or wine harvest is less common in such series of painting, though not unknown. Perhaps the best and most famous example is the canvas Lucas van Valckenborch painted for Archduke Matthias in 1585 (fig. 3).2 Though not as large as the Teniers, at nearly two metres wide it is impressive in scale and includes many of the wine-making details we see here. The Valckenborch was painted as one of a series of twelve works illustrating the months of the year, whereas the Teniers was almost certainly painted as a work in its own right, there being no record of a series, or a commission, of any other works by Teniers on this scale. The painting, in fact, is less about the harvest, which we see in the central distance, as it is about the wine-making process and it seems therefore almost certain, as first proposed by Margret Klinge, to have been a one-off commission for a special and unprecedented family portrait from the wine-merchant depicted in the centre with his wife and children. As Klinge has noted this would appear to be unique in Flemish portrait painting. Although at first glance it might seem so, the inclusion of the temple of Bacchus on a hill is not entirely fanciful; such a temple did exist at the vineyard of Montmartre on the north-east edge of Paris.3 Thus, when one considers that at least two of the four known copies were in France in the 18th century, the idea of a French patron is worthy of consideration.4
Fig.3. Lucas van Valckenborch, The month of October, Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna © Bridgeman Images
Teniers did not date the painting but Margret Klinge, to whom we are grateful, has dated it to 1644–46, in the middle of his finest period as a painter. Teniers was in his mid-thirties and may have included himself at about that age in the painting, in the figure standing in front of the crowd to the right, wearing a pink shirt and raising his glass of wine merrily in our direction. Both the likeness to known portraits of the artist, and the fact of his direct interaction with the viewer may argue for this being a self-portrait.5
By the 1640s Teniers had eschewed the Brouwer-inspired smoky interiors, populated with sinister and satirical figures that typify his work of the 1630s, in favour of a far more optimistic view of peasant life full of colour, jollity and fun. It was during these years that he was appointed Dean of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke which cemented his reputation as the foremost painter in Flanders following the deaths of Rubens and Van Dyck. In 1647 he was patronised by the new, art-loving governor of the Spanish Netherlands, Archduke Leopold Wilhelm, who three years later in 1650 appointed him pintor de cámara (court painter). Teniers had always had high pretensions and this appointment must have meant a lot to him. In marrying in 1637 Anna Brueghel, grand-daughter of Pieter Bruegel the Elder and, following the death of her father Jan the Elder in 1625, ward of Peter Paul Rubens, he had already joined artistic royalty. Following his appointment as court painter he was later elevated by the Archduke to ayuda de cámara (chamberlain or gentleman of the bedchamber), almost unheard of for a painter at the Spanish court, the only other example being Velázquez. He soon acquired a country estate outside Brussels, befitting his status, the so-called Drij Toren (‘Three towers’), bought from Rubens’ widow Helène Fourment and was finally ennobled in 1663. Under pressure from his fellow artists, who clearly knew well how to play on his pride, he founded the Antwerp Royal Academy of Fine Arts, only the second such institution after that in Paris. The 1640s are the years, too, that see his other few great paintings on this scale, the Kitchen scene with an allegory of the four elements in the Hermitage, St. Petersburg (171 x 237cm.; 1647),6 and Popinjay shooting in Brussels in the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna (172 x 247 cm.; 1652, fig. 4),7 the latter depicting the Archduke at the annual ceremonial shooting of the popinjay from the spire of Notre Dame du Sablon in Brussels.
Fig. 4. David Teniers the Younger, Popinjay shooting in Brussels, 1652, Kunsthistorisches Museum,Vienna.
The painting is notable for its confident handling throughout, veering from rapidly applied strokes from a brush thickly-laden with paint to minutely applied, deliberate touches in the features and clothing of the protagonists, particularly the wine-merchant and his family. On the wall to the extreme left is an intensely modern passage that could just as well be the wall of a house in Thomas Jones’ Naples, and in the sky the sunlit clouds are rich in impasto, the hastily shimmying brush readily on show. In contrast to the principal figures, those on the periphery are handled with great alacrity and yet each and every one of them is utterly credible. Teniers produced endless figures sketches on paper in the 1640s which can only have improved his skill when portraying figures directly in paint. There is no carbon underdrawing revealed by infra-red reflectography and he very likely prepared the canvas with just a few simple marks with the brush, delineating the figures as he painted. Beyond figures, Teniers was a fine painter of still lifes and they enliven so many of his paintings. Here he has paid particularly close attention to the unusual tools of the cooper’s trade, scattered on the floor, and the three earthenware jugs whose shiny glaze is suggested so brilliantly, and simply, by a single, perfectly placed highlight. Under a thin layer of accumulated dirt is a tactile surface in which, nearly four hundred years on, we are able to revel in the technique of a master at his glorious best.
NOTE ON PROVENANCE
The painting was acquired for Brocket Hall (fig. 5) by Sir Peniston Lamb (1745–1828), 2nd Bart, scion of Sir Matthew Lamb (1705–1768), a phenomenally successful barrister and politician. Matthew, with a legacy of £100,000 which he inherited from his uncle, Peniston Lamb, a lawyer of humble origin from Nottinghamshire, married Charlotte Coke of Melbourne Hall in 1740 who inherited the house and estate from her brother. A few years later Matthew purchased the Brocket Hall Estate in Hertfordshire, which he immediately demolished and replaced with his redbrick house in the Palladian style. Thus, his son, Sir Peniston Lamb (1745–1828), 2nd bart., inherited his father’s massive fortune in 1768, which comprised more than £500,000 in cash and £500,000 in property, or approximately £125 million in today’s currency.
Fig. 5. Brocket Hall. © Bridgeman Images
In 1769 Elizabeth Milbanke (bapt. 1751–1818) from Yorkshire, at the age of 17, accepted a proposal of marriage from Sir Peniston, which she had essentially orchestrated. He commissioned the Stubbs conversation piece, to celebrate the marriage (fig. 6). Peniston’s wealth dwarfed Elizabeth’s dowry of £10,000 but she brought with her something that Peniston wanted more than money – respectability. Elizabeth was one of the greatest Regency social and political hostesses of her age. She and her friends, who included Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, made their homes the centres of Whig life, where politics were facilitated and society modulated. Elizabeth became the trusted mentor of the Duchess of Devonshire and of Lord Byron. Byron called her the most talented woman of her generation, a complex and scintillating personality. In a very public manner, Elizabeth became the mistress of a series of men including the 3rd Earl of Egremont, the Duke of Bedford and the future George IV.
Fig. 6. George Stubbs, The Milbanke and Melbourne Families, about 1769, The National Gallery, London.
Using her husband’s massive wealth, Elizabeth transformed Melbourne House on Piccadilly (now ‘Albany’) and Brocket Hall into two of the most recherché houses in England, and commissioned Thomas Chippendale to furnish numerous items for both, including, notably, a pair of cabinets in which to display their Sèvres service, exceptional in the use of holly as the premier veneer, then providing a white ground intended to offset the brilliant glazes of their porcelain, that would have created a sensation. Their son and heir, Pen, was born in May 1770; during that autumn Lady Melbourne was painted by Sir Joshua Reynolds, with her child in her arms, to proclaim the establishment of the Lamb dynasty. It would hang in pride of place in the grand Saloon in the new extension Viscount Melbourne was building at Brocket Hall.
Also in 1770 Peniston was elevated to the Irish Peerage as Lord Melbourne, Baron of Kilmore and to the English peerage in 1816. He sat in the House of Commons from 1768–93. It is evident that he had a keen eye for art. He purchased several more paintings by Stubbs, two by Joseph Wright of Derby, including An Academy by Lamplight in 1769.8 Reflecting his taste for Old Master paintings, Peniston purchased the present Wine Harvest by David Teniers the Younger (1610–1690) to hang in the Dining Room at Brocket. In 1771 he and Elizabeth spent 5,197 livres (about £1m today) in buying only the second Sèvres dessert service direct from the factory to come to England.
In 1783 Elizabeth commissioned Reynolds to paint a group portrait of her three sons, Peniston, William and Frederick, which became known as The Affectionate Brothers, or The Lamb Children and she proposed to hang it in the Saloon at Brocket (fig. 7). Hardly surprisingly, Lord Melbourne objected, on the grounds that Peniston was his only true son, the other two were illegitimate, and returned the large canvas to Reynolds, saying it did not ‘give satisfaction’. Subsequently, it was purchased after the artist’s death in 1792 from the estate sale by the 5th Earl Cowper for £800, who married the brothers’ sister, Emily Lamb and remains in the family today.
Lady Melbourne died on 6 April 1818 and Peniston in 1828. The unexpected death from tuberculosis of their son, Pen, in 1805, unmarried and without children resulted in their second eldest, William, becoming the 2nd Viscount. William would become Queen Victoria’s first and favourite Prime Minister, the Queen and Prince Albert visiting him at Brocket on 29 July 1841. She wrote in her diary afterwards of her awe at the furnishings and pictures.
William died in 1848 and the estate passed to his sister Emily (1787–1869) who had married the young, handsome, rich Whig peer, Peter Louis Francis Nassau Cowper, 5th Earl Cowper (1778–1837). She provided her husband with an heir in 1806, who became the 6th Earl Cowper and then (her husband complaisant) proceeded her merry way through a throng of admirers and lovers. Lord Cowper died on 27 June, 1837, and Emily married her lover, Viscount Palmerston (later prime minister 1859–65) on 16 December, 1839. Emily died at Brocket on 11 September 1869, and is buried with Palmerston in Westminster Abbey. Upon her death, Emily bequeathed all the Lamb property to her grandson Francis, the 7th and last Earl Cowper (1834–1905). According to his wife, Katrine Cowper, ‘having been a very poor man, he became a very rich one, with huge estates to manage and control’. While Francis and Katrine made their home at Panshanger (fig. 8), his brother Henry lived at Brocket until his death in 1887.
Fig. 8. Panshanger House. © Bridgeman Images
The library and most of the valuable paintings, porcelain and furniture were removed from Brocket by the 7th Earl Cowper, and crammed into Panshanger House. The Teniers hung over the mantlepiece in the small dining room. As Francis and his wife died childless, Panshanger, by now housing its extraordinary accumulation of works of art through generations of collecting and primogeniture to become one of the most celebrated collections in Britain next to the Royal Collection, was left to his favourite niece, Ethel Desborough (1867–1952), known as Ettie, who would become the last of the Cowper family line, all of her sons pre-deceasing her. With the death of the 7th Earl, the Cowper earldom and the line to the Imperial Hapsburg title, the Prince of Milan, purchased by his great grandfather, the 3rd Earl Cowper for which the patent of title was issued on 31 January 1778, became extinct.
THE 1881 ROYAL ACADEMY LOAN EXHIBITION
The 1881 loan exhibition was arguably the finest the Royal Academy ever held, largely on account of the generosity of the principal donors, the 7th Earl Cowper who lent thirty-seven paintings, and Mrs Hope of Deepdene who lent thirty-nine. The Hope collection of Dutch pictures was legendary and the exhibition included such highlights as Jan Vermeer’s The glass of wine (Gemäldegalerie, Berlin, fig. 9). The Cowper loan was extraordinary in its breadth and quality. Quite apart from the two Raphaels already mentioned were Fra Bartolommeo’s Holy Family and Correggio’s Ecce Homo, both sold in the 1990s to the Getty Museum, Los Angeles; several works by Andrea del Sarto; Rembrandt’s Portrait of Frederick Rihel on horseback (National Gallery, London); Sir Anthony Van Dyck’s Portrait of John, Count of Nassau and family (private collection); the George Stubbs depicting Lord and Melbourne, Sir Ralph Milbanke and Mr John Milbanke (National Gallery, London) and the two great Melbourne Reynolds, to name but a few.
Fig. 9. Jan Vermeer, The glass of wine, c.1658–60, oil on canvas,Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. © Bridgeman Images.