Judith Leyster self-portrait at Christie's
December 6 2016
There's a wonderful self-portrait by Judith Leyster at Christie's in London, which I hadn't really paid much attention to until I came face to face with it on Sunday. I also hadn't realised that it's a new discovery (Christie's press office, where were you?) which has only been known to art historians through a reference to the painting through the inventory of Leyster's husband, Jan Miense Molenaer. The picture is quite different from Leyster's earlier and more famous self-portrait, which is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. The estimate is a very enticing £400,000-£600,000. It's from a UK collection - and I hope this picture can be acquired by a UK museum.
Update - some last minute digging in the attic of the vendor has uncovered the below family catalogue from 1957.
Interestingly, the picture was then known as a Leyster, but half a century later the identification had been lost, providing an interesting puzzle for Christie's specialists.
This happens quite a lot - indeed I've seen pictures appear at auction as 'sleepers' which had been sold as the real thing only a decade earlier. It's amazing how much information can be lost when one generation passes on. The analogy I often use is this; how many of us know the names of our great grandparents? Not many, I suspect, without looking it up. And yet we know so much about about our grandparents.
The moral of the story is - always put a label your paintings!
London Old Master sales (ctd.)
December 6 2016
I'm sorry for the lack of posts lately, I've been hither thither in London during the Old Master sale week; meetings, client lunches, conservation planning, that sort of thing. I also managed to pick up a picture in a regional sale through an online bid which, miraculously, actually worked for once.
I thought I'd quickly mention a few things that have caught my eye in the London sales.
Here is a piece I've written for The Art Newspaper about some of the highlights on offer in the main evening sales: Goya, Constable, Brueghel.
I didn't mention in TAN a rather interesting picture at Christie's; a previously unknown portrait of Erasmus by Peter Brueghel the Younger (above). It seems to be the only portrait Brueghel ever painted. Does the subject matter, taken after a portrait by Holbein, give us any insight into the artist himself? Or was it just a random commission? Who knows. The estimate is conservative: £40k-£60k.
All eyes at Sotheby's will be on this rare double child portrait (above) by Titian and his workshop. The estimate is £1m-£1.5m. It was last on the market in 1828 in Paris, when it made 200 'Louis'. The two boys are members (it is thought) of the Pesaro family, who commissioned Titian's famous Pesaro Madonna. I like the way the slightly anxious boy on the right is fiddling with his necklace.
A newly discovered Constable oil sketch at Bonhams (above) is real gem - small but sparkling, it will surely exceed it's estimate of £200k-£300k.
I've also been taken with some of the offerings in the cheaper (at least, relatively cheaper) Day Sales.
This Madonna at Prayer (below) at Christie's is a newly identified Sassoferrato. There are Sassoferratos and there are 'Sassoferratos'. But I thought this one was unusually good, and beautiful. In the main areas it is in excellent condition. The estimate is £30k-£50k.
At Sotheby's this unfinished portrait by Danloux (below) is priced at £12k-£18k. The fact that it is unfinished makes it appear strikingly modern, and I would expect it to sell well.
I love the story of Henry Cope, the 'Green Man', whose portrait by Francis Cotes is at Sotheby's (below, £15k-£20k). He was apparently obsessed with all things green, and according to one contemporary account; "He ate nothing but greens, fruit and vegetables; had his rooms painted green, furnished with green sofa, chairs, tables, bed and curtains. His gig, livery, portmanteau, gloves and whip were all green." He looks remarkably healthy, considering. Cotes painted in both oil and pastel. This portrait is in oil; the pastel expert Neil Jeffares tells me that Cotes didn't have a green pastel colour that was stable.
There were also some good pictures at Sotheby's from their New york preview, for the January sale, which looks to be very strong. I'll post more on these tomorrow.
November 30 2016
The above drawing made €80,600 in Germany recently and Lempertz auction house. The estimate had been just €800-€900. I thought it was rather interesting from the catalogue and scratched my head for a while; the characterisation reminded me of someone like Del Sarto or Pontormo. But I know little about drawings so soon gave up . What makes this case interesting is that the drawing had previously been offered in a London auction (so the Lempertz press release says) and had failed to sell. It's a good example of just how much a lottery selling at auction can sometimes be.
Edinburgh's Smoking Maori Chieftainess
November 23 2016
Picture: Lyon & Turnbull
Another picture that caught my eye in tomorrow's Lyon & Turnbull sale was the above picture by J F Goldie, of a Maori chietaness called Te Hei smoking a pipe. The estimate is £50k-£80k. Yesterday in New Zealand another Goldie sold for NZ$265k, about £150k.
Update - it made £203k!
Sotheby's latest guarantee gamble
November 21 2016
Picture: Art Market Monitor
Marion Maneker has a good overview of Sotheby's handling of the $100m Ames collection of modern art, which was the auction houses's first big guarantee deal in the sector since their £50m acquisition of Art Agency Partners. Maneker reports that the Ames deal paid off, but it's risky stuff of course, and he was puzzled by an increasing use of razzmatazz for these major auctions:
Sotheby’s continues to inexplicably try to enhance the drama of its evening sale of Contemporary art by bathing the room in ballroom blue lights and running a video introduction to the event. The effort is inexplicable because last night’s saleroom was remarkably sparse with several empty sections of seats and a number of bidders seated in farther back than one might like to get the “excitement” going.
"Sold!" Christie's on the BBC
November 21 2016
There's a new two-part series about Christie's on BBC2 (and iPlayer here). It's not the programme I'd have made, and has more than an air of informercial about it. Christie's will be pleased with the publicity. But it rolls along well enough, and there's some good characters (collector Adam Lindemann is always good value). I was glad to see fellow blogger Marion Maneker, of Art Market Monitor, equipping himself well - bravo!
London Old Master catalogues online
November 21 2016
The December Old Master auction catalogues are online: Sotheby's evening sale here, day sale here; Christie's evening here, day here; and Bonhams here. There are many fine pictures, including a handsome newly re-discovered oil sketch by Constable at Bonhams (above, £200k-£300k). I've written a short preview of the sales for The Art Newspaper, and will post more thoughts on the offerings soon.
Of course my usual service for AHN readers applies - if want me to look at anything just ask.
November 14 2016
Picture: Karl und Faber
The above small 'Florentine School' painting at Karl und Faber auction house in Germany, estimated at €3k-€4k, made €375k last week. The name Filippino Lippi has been suggested, and indeed the cataloguing of the picture on the auction house website has subsequently been amended to say that. Here's a comparable picture in the North Carolina Museum of Art.
David Bowie's Tintoretto
November 11 2016
As the Art Market Monitor reports, the Bowie Collection evening sale at Sotheby's did well, with all of the 47 lots sold and bringing in a total of £24.3m. I was glad to see that his Tintoretto, above, sold for £191,000 against an estimate of £100,000-£150,000.
£45m Rubens heads to Met
November 7 2016
Excellent news - the recently sold Rubens of Lot and his Daughters has gone on display at the Met in New York. I guess that means the buyer is American, or at least US based?
Update - It's the first time the picture has ever been seen in a museum. Quite a coup for the Met.
A Chardin bargain?
October 31 2016
Here's a puzzle; two pictures by Chardin which sold for $533,000 in New York in 2010 at Christie's were re-offered last week, also at Christie's, and made just $38,750. The difference? The all-important 'attributed to' in the cataloguing, suggesting uncertainty over the attribution.
In 2010 the pictures were sold as by Chardin in full. But this time around there seems to have been doubts, though these are not explained in any satisfactory way in the catalogue entry. The estimate was $80k-$120k, but a note in the catalogue said they would be sold 'without reserve', so evidently there were no bidders at the suggested estimate. The catalogue also stated that they belonged to Christie's itself. So perhaps something happened between the 2010 sale and now to make the previous buyer unhappy.
I'm no Chardin expert and couldn't begin to say if they look 'right' or not. But 'attributed to Chardin' is still better than, say, 'after' or 'studio of', and at a 92.7% discount on the former price, they begin to look like a rather attractive bet. I did ask for photos before the sale, but was never sent any.
October 13 2016
Well, nearly. The above picture has been withdrawn. But zoom in on the picture here, and to the right of the ruff you can just make out a signature. It begins with 'R...'
Too early to say much from the photos. But possibly quite exciting.
July 13 2016
This fine picture by Frans Pourbus the Younger came up in Paris recently, here, described as a work by a follower, and with some confusion over the identity of the sitter. The estimate was €2k-€3k, but it made €195k hammer.
I would have bid, but it seemed so obvious the picture would make a decent price I didn't bother. Sometimes it seems the days of the cheap sleeper are over...
The Chinese are coming
July 13 2016
There were three Chinese bidders on the £45m Rubens at Christie's last week. And I'm told that the number of Chinese bidders in Old Masters is sharply up across the board. Are the rules of the market about to change? Are the OMP optimists closer to being proved right?
London Old Master sales (post-sale)
July 10 2016
I think there were two main stories from last week's London Old Master sales: first, Brexit didn't have as much of an impact on the overall market as some might have feared (as ever, the OMP market just plods along, whatever the economic weather); and second, Christie's are back in play in the Old Master field. Christie's evening sale total was £65.3m (pre-sale estimate £36.4m-£54.9m), compared to Sotheby's £16.4m (est. £20.m-£31.2m). (All sale prices quoted here include premium).
Of course, the greater part of Christie's total was made up of the £44m Rubens, but then we should also consider the major Old Master works that Christie's sold in the previous week as part of their British Art sale, including a £14m Constable and a £3.7m Reynolds. Christie's success marks something of a turnaround in their OMP fortunes - for the last few years they have lagged behind Sotheby's.
The impact of Brexit will inevitably take some time to be felt in the UK domestic market. As I wrote here for The Art Newspaper, I'm not optimistic. But in the short term it seems the suddenly weaker pound encouraged overseas bidders to keep taking an interest in what London had to offer. For dollar buyers, the exchange rate meant effectively a 15% discount. On major lots that's equivalent to waiving the buyer's premium. I heard one report of a vendor ringing the auction house to demand that their estimate be increased, in light of the weak pound. A sign perhaps of the inflation to come...
One can perhaps also begin to discern the effect of Brexit in the middle market. Some obviously British pictures in the day sales, such as this perfectly nice Lely portrait estimated at £15k-£20k (which one would have expected to sell to domestic buyers) did not attract any bidders. But it's probably too early to tell here.
Anyway, it was overall a heartening series of sales, from which those of us in the Old Master game could take much comfort. Yours truly even managed to sell four pictures - nothing stellar, but enough to keep the show on the road for a wee while longer.
So let's look at some of the indivudal lots. The main story of the week was obviously the Rubens of Lot and his Daughters, which made an impressive £44.8m against an estimate of £20m-£30m. Although I thought the picture would sell, I didn't expect it to do that well. It just goes to show how difficult it is to value Old Masters. Many thought that the subject matter was, in terms of desirability, some way off that of the last major Rubens to break into the £40m category, the Massacre of the Innocents which made £49.5m in 2002. But 14 minutes of bidding demonstrated that people and insitutions are still prepared to pay significant sums for undoubted masterpieces. Another Rubens from the Beit collection, a sketch for Venus Supplicating Jupiter, sold for £1.3m.
Another impressive price at Christie's was the rare complete set of all Four Seasons by Breughel the Younger, which made £6.4m (est. £3m-£5m). This and the £506k (est. £300k-£500k) for yet another version of The Payment of the Tithes showed that the Breughel the Younger market seems to be as strong as ever. I speculated a while ago that a decline of Russian bidders might affect this market, but it seems I am wrong, and someone in the know about these things assures me I am. The only Van Dyck to sell last week did well enough, the previously unknown Portrait of a Lady making £170k, over its estimate of £100k-£150k. A pair of Bellottos in good state made £3.5m (est.£2m-£3m). A William Larkin portrait of lady (below) made an encouraging (for British art lovers) £266k against an estimate of £40k-£60k. This is the sort of Old Master picture which increasingly fits contemporary taste, with its naivety and colouring, and the fact that it's on panel. Some years ago it would most likely have been a Day Sale kind of picture.
One major Old Master name that didn't fare so well at Christie's was Titian, whose full-length portrait of Guidobaldo II delle Rovere failed to sell at £2m-£3m, probably due to its condition. An intriguing 'Dutch School' portrait of a man in a hat painted in c.1655 made £385k - I wonder if we'll soon see it again cleaned, and with an artist's name attached.
I was surprised to see a copy of Caravaggio's Boy Peeling Fruit (above) sell so well at £218,500. I happened to see the original recently (in the Royal Collection) and the picture at Christie's was some way off even being called 'Studio' of Caravaggio, if indeed he had a studio. But marketing a copy, which would normally be catalogued as 'circle of' or 'after', as 'Associate of Caravaggio' perhaps gave the picture an air of being closer to Caravaggio than it really is. The original has a pentiment of a leaf behind the peeled fruit - which presumably would only have emerged through the white drapery after a period of time. In the copy at Christie's that pentiment has itself been copied, but as a kind of smudge or shadow in the drapery, which suggests the copyist didn't really understand what was going on in the original. So one wonders quite how close to Caravaggio the copyist was, even in date.
Sotheby's established a handsome new record for the work of the French pastellist Liotard, this time for an oil of A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (above), which made £4.4m (est. £4m-£6m). The previous Liotard record was €1.4m in 2012, for a pastel. A Rubens sketch of The Chariot of Apollo showed the market for Rubens' studies is still as strong as ever. Indeed, a pair of putti in Sotheby's day sale selling for £245k (est. £80k-£120k) showed that Rubens seems to be especially favoured at the moment - the two pictures were perfectly nice, but were in fact fragments from a larger picture which had been cut up by a dealer in the mid-18th Century (shame on you, M. Wachters), and much repainted in parts by restorers over the years. Another strong Ribera price (£293k, est. £100k-£150k) at Sotheby's showed that even the most 'boring' religious subject, of a bearded saint looking up and wearing brown (below), can sell well if it's painted by someone as dazzling as Ribera. A recently restituted Jan Brueghel the Elder still life of flowers (seized in by the Nazis in 1939 from Baron Alphonse von Rothschild sold for £3.84m (est. £3m-£5m). A still-life of glasses and fruit by Pieter Claesz was unsold at £1.8m-£2.5m. It does seem that the Dutch 17th C market is softer than it once was. A rather rubbed late-English period Van Dyck portrait of a lady in red didn't sell at £400k-£600k - this picture had been up before in 2012 at Christie's and also failed to sell. Sotheby's sold three out of the four Dominic Serres views of Havana.
Bonhams had one of their best Old Master sales for many years. They sold a good Claude for £722k, and the star of the show, a self-portrait by William Dobson, soared above its £200k-£300k estimate to make £1.1m. In the back of the room I saw the great Waldemar (perhaps the world's biggest Dobson fan) directing a film of the bidding (above). The curiously cheap Ribera I mentioned in an earlier post made £218k (est. £20k-£30k). It would have made more, I am told, but for hesitancy over its mid-WW2 sale history. A London dealer won some strong bidding for an attractive Romney portrait of Elizabeth Burgoyne (below), which made £314k (est. £70k-£100k), and proved that the market for later 18thC 'peaches and cream' English portraiture can still be strong. That said, a portrait of her husband Mr Burgoyne (in just as good condition, and attractive enough in a red jacket) failed to sell at £30k-£50k. The portrait market is very subjective, and value is often all in whether the sitter is good looking or not. Sad, I know - but at least it means that great examples of portrait painting can be had cheaply - a perfectly decent Gainsborough can be yours for £10k if you don't mind it showing an aged old lady.
Some of my Old Master colleagues wondered if the strength of the London sales was due to a transfer of affections by some collectors from the contemporary and modern market - post-Brexit and ahead of the expected economic uncertainty. I doubt it, but here's hoping. And a glimmer of hope might be that, as Ermanno Rivetti reports in The Art Newspaper, the Rubens of Lot and His Daughters was bought by a client dealing with Christie's head of post-war and contemporary art, Frances Outred. If the Rubens was indeed bought by a 'contemporary collector', then that will energise the market somewhat.
Oh - I must also mention that Sotheby's sold their Lely self-portrait drawing for £869,000, which was a great result.
London Old Master sales (part 2)
July 3 2016
Today I went to view Christie's Old Master sales at King St. And what an impressive sight it was - this year Christie's has put together an extremely strong sale. The weight of great art on show at King St. is also added to by a loan exhibition of works from private collections, which is displayed in some newly refurbished rooms on the ground floor. The exhibition includes works by Bacon, Freud, Gainsborough, Canaletto, Lawrence, and Turner. I also enjoyed seeing Landseer's famous Monarch of the Glen (above), which I don't recall seeing before. The exhibition is on until July 15th, and is well worth a visit.
As expected the most important painting of Christie's Evening Sale is the early Rubens of Lot and his Daughters. This is officially described as 'estimate on request' in the catalogue, but an estimate of £20m-£30m has been widely discussed. It's a great picture (and I know that's an over-used phrase in the art trade), in excellent condition, and I expect it to sell well. As mentioned earlier on AHN, Rubens is also included in the sale with a sketch of Venus Supplicating Jupiter from the Beit Collection (£1.2m-£1.8m).
There is a rather lovely, and entirely 'right', previously unknown portrait of a lady by Van Dyck. It is in perfect 'dealer bait' condition, cheaply estimated at £100k-£150k, and the temptation to take off the old varnish will be great. It should blossom into an engaging and important late English period Van Dyck - and will surely sell above the estimate. A full-length Titian is on offer at £2m-£3m, which price probably reflects the condition of the picture - it's a little thin in parts, which is alas so often the case with Titian. It seems that pictures by the most famous artists have, over time, been cleaned far more regularly than those by minor ones - and have consequently suffered from the attentions of over-enthusiastic 'restorers'.
A rarity on offer at Christie's is a complete set of Peter Breughel the Younger's 'Four Seasons' estimated at £3m-£5m. Individual 'seasons' have made strong prices in the past, and I'd expect the set at Christie's to make more than the lower estimate. That said, the Breughel market has been affected by a recent decline in Russian buying. For some reason Russian buyers were particularly keen on Breughel the Younger, and for a while in the last decade his pictures became something of an art historical currency. A 'Payment of Tithes' by Brueghel the Younger is also in the sale £300k-£400k. Other pictures I liked included a Paulus Potter 'Milkmaid' at £250k-£350k, and a small Canaletto 'View on a River' at £700k-£1m.
The Christie's Day Sale catalogue is here, and includes a fine picture of giraffes by Jacques-Laurent Agasse (£40k-£60k). If I had the space, I'd buy this massive landscape by Jan Looten and Jan Wyck, a bargan at £15k-£25k.
London Old Master sales (part 1)
July 2 2016
Picture: Ishbel Grosvenor
Greetings from London, where I've come down for Old Master week, and also for two days filming for my forthcoming BBC4 series. Today I went to see Sotheby's and Bonhams' offerings - Christie's was shut, and I'll go there tomorrow. In between auction viewings the Deputy Editor and I joined the 'March for Europe' from Park Lane to Parliament Square.
Anyway, before I give my pick of the Sotheby's and Bonhams sales, I must note the success of Christie's 'Defining British Art' sale, which was held last week. Christie's has decided that strictly period-defined sales are a thing of the past, and so we can expect to see more sales fashioned out of themes that cross the centuries. I think it's a good idea. So last week we saw works by Joshua Reynolds and John Constable sold alongside works by Henry Moore and Francis Bacon. There's a loan exhibition on at Christie's King Street of great treasures of British art, till 15th July (more here).
The bidding was strong, and it seems overseas buyers were keen to take advantage of the post-Brexit cheap pound, and buy works with an in-built discount of at least 10%. The Bacon painting made £20.2m, while the Moore, a reclining bronze, made a record £24.7m against an estimate of £15m-£20m. On the older side of things, a John Constable study 'View on the Stour near Dedham' made £14m, the second highest auction price for Constable. A fine 50x40 inch portrait by Sir Joshua Reynolds (above) soared above its already punchy estimate of £2m-£3m to make £3.7m.
At Sotheby's today I enjoyed seeing an exquisite oil painting by Liotard - A Dutch Girl at Breakfast (above) - which was recently in the Liotard exhibition at the Royal Academy. This is estimated at £4m-£6m. Other highlights included a Rubens oil sketch 'The Chariot of Apollo' at £1m-£1.5m; a trio of fine Joseph Wright of Derby Italian landscapes, all in unusually good condition (here, here and here); and a series of views by Dominic Serres of the British capture of Havana in 1762 (the last four lots here). Sotheby's evening sale catalogue is here, and the day sale here.
In Sotheby's drawing sale there is (as I've already mentioned) the exceptionally rare self-portrait drawing by Sir Peter Lely (above, est. £600k-£800k). I was again struck by how reasonable some Old Master drawings by top names are - worth having a flick through the Sotheby's drawing catalogue if you're interested. I particularly liked a study of a pollarded willow by John Constable - large, in good condition, and priced at £2k-£3k. It's the sort of tree Constable adopted enthusiastically from the works of Thomas Gainsborough, who was also a fan of the pollarded willow one often sees in Suffolk. When Constable went on his own travels on Suffolk he said, 'I fancy I see Gainsborough in every tree'. At it's still like that today in many parts - every time I go there, I can't help but think the same.
Bonhams have put together a very strong sale. Not only do they have the William Dobson self-portrait already covered on AHN (which seems cheap at £200,000-£300,000), but a large and very fine Claude landscape estimated at £600k-£800k (it should sell for over a £1m). My bargain of the week is also at Bonhams, a Jusepe de Ribera painting of St Sebastian (above) which is estimated at just £20k-£30k. If I thought it had any chance of selling for that I'd be bidding myself, but it will surely fly some way above that level. There is apparently another version in a museum in Seville, but the Bonhams picture is signed, and in excellent condition.
As ever, if any readers want advice on anything in the sales, just ask.
Update - I noticed at Sotheby's that beneath the usual labels giving title, medium and estimate, they now have a short descriptive label giving basic information about the artist and the picture. I think this is a great initiative - and could help encourage those new to the world of Old Master collecting. I don't think those of us in the art trade realise quite how challenging Old Masters can be for new collectors.
Derby museum scoops two Wrights
June 20 2016
Picture: Guardian/Derby Museum
We often hear about how difficult it is for museums to buy at auction - time is tight, and it's almost impossible to raise large amounts of money on both a speculation and within weeks. But Derby Museum has audaciously secured a pair of Wright of Derby landscapes from a recent sale at Christie's in New York for $293,000. They had just ten days to raise the money.
The landscapes relate to the famous industrialist, Sir Richard Arkwright; one shows his mill at Cromford (above), and the other his home, Willersley Castle. The pictures were offered at Christie's in New York as part of their Classic Art Week, and were estimated at $300,000-$500,000 (which I thought was cheap). The final price, which includes premium, means they sold for well under the lower estimate, and represents a bargain for two works in good condition. The money was raised through the Heritage Lottery Fund, the Art Fund, the V&A Purchase Fund and the museum's own Friends organisation. A starring role was played by the Duke of Devonshire. More here in The Guardian.
So, many congratulations to Derby Museum and everyone involved for showing such ambition and energy. Other museums, take note - it can be done.
Sewell's art collection to be sold
June 16 2016
I've been meaning to note that the late Brian Sewell's art collection will be sold at Christie's later this year, in September. The catalogue is not yet published, but Christie's press release says there'll be some 200 lots, including the above Matthias Stomer, estimated at £400,000-£600,000.
Update - discussing the sale in The Guardian, Jonathan Jones says that art critics shouldn't buy art:
I wouldn’t collect, even if I had the money. I think it is morally dubious for art critics to be collectors. But if I did I would only buy art that dates from before 1800. Make of that what you will.
Update II - a reader writes:
On the matter of ethics and art critics, a couple of things strike me. The first is that I'm immediately reminded of the tale of Henry Geldzahler barging his way into Robert Hughes' New York flat back in the earlier days of Hughes's US tenure and demanding to view Hughes' art collection, before declaring, upon being informed that there wasn't a collection to view, "Well then! Somebody in here is certainly going to die poor!" The second is that I think, and have thought for some while, that there's a book to be written on the ethics of both art critics and public art institutions in the post-war to the contemporary periods - though it will take somebody with nerves of steel to write it. I get the impression that a lot of what goes on makes Sewell's collection look like pretty small beer, if that.
I found Jones' musings on what the 20th century works in Sewell's collection tells us about his critical judgements interesting, though perhaps not particularly enlightening. Fow what it's worth, I think Sewell is fair game on this front - I remember him writing of his enjoyment of the Kenneth Clark exhibition at the Tate owing to the fact that he thought it vindicated his view that Clark was a terrible phony with iffy taste. And it would be foolish to argue that a collection is in no way an expression of the likings and tastes of the collector. But beyond that, I think it's all a bit of a stretch. Apart from the fact - which Jones concedes - that the top rank artists of the 20th Century were almost certainly beyond Sewell's pocket, I don't think it necessarily follows that collectors invariably collect what they consider, in purely analytical terms, to be "great" art. I see no reason why this should not apply to critics as much as the next person. There are surely many reasons why one can be drawn to art and they range far beyond appreciation for technical or innovative aspects. I enjoy the work of Laura Knight (some of it...). I would be very happy to live with her work and to see it every day. I came away from the recent major Laura Knight exhibition absolutely convinced that her reputation was being oversold and that she was by no measure an artist of the first-rank - even by the standards of British art of the first half of the 20th century. But so what? I'm not convinced that these two instincts are mutually exclusive. I very much like the work of Thomas Hart Benton. I'd collect it if I could afford it. I would not, were somebody mad enough to pay me to write on the subject, argue for a moment that Benton was one of the great artists of the 20th Century. I appreciate his work because it evokes, powerfully and quite poignantly, a particular time and place in history (See also: Grant Wood etc). This appeals to my historical interests. It's a question of art as artefact. I wouldn't be surprised if at least some of Sewell's acquisitions were made with a similar outlook. The irony is that Jones has written himself (with regard to Lowry) that "art is a witness to history... The trouble is, the art world – that silly term says it all, as if art were another world – lacks a vocabulary to praise art for its historical and human significance. Art has to be praised as art, and artists glamorised as geniuses."
June 16 2016
The above painting made €1.56m (hammer) against an estimate of €6k-€8k in Paris last week. The 'Judgement of Paris' was catalogued as 'Workshop of Rubens', but a number of trade buyers thought it was the real deal. It's painted in oil on panel. Having seen some high-res photos (as far as one can judge these things from photos) I agree - it is probably 'right', and must be Rubens' study for the painting in the National Gallery in London. It was underbid by a London dealer. I don't know who bought it. At close to €2m with commissions I suppose the picture more or less made its money. All will depend on condition.
The National Gallery picture follows the sketch very clossely, but Rubens has altered the angle of Paris' leg. Look closely at the NG painting, however, and you can see that underneath the green background paint, the original position of Paris' leg is still visible - which matches the newly discovered sketch. Until now, the only evidence of Rubens' sketch for the NG painting has been a copy in the Gemaldegalerie in Dresden. You can read more about the genesis of the NG painting here in the 'National Gallery Technical Bulletin' (although I don't personally agree with all their conclusions).
I missed the auction in Paris entirely. My eye has been completely off the ball of late - too tied up with telly, which can be all consuming.
In fact, I haven't done very well with my Judgements of Paris this year. Some months ago I underbid a good, previously unknown studio version of the NG painting, which came up for sale in Antwerp. I thought that probably there were a number of areas that Rubens might have touched up himself. The painting was later flipped into a sale in Dorotheum in Vienna, and made a smooth profit of about €700k. That picture must have been made working from the newly discovered study, for it follows the original position of Paris' leg.
Anyway, thanks to these new discoveries we have a much more complete view of how Rubens tackled this subject. It's an example of how the marketplace can help advance art historical understanding.
Update - the Antiques Trade Gazette reports that the French auction house sent a photo of the painting to the Rubenianum in Antwerp before the sale. Their response was apparently that it was neither an autograph nor a studio work:
Cabinet Turquin’s Eric Turquin told ATG that they had studied and researched the work for three months before the auction and felt it was “a real workshop painting, that is of the period and something done under the direction of the master with or without his participation”.
The expert also said they made an enquiry and sent a photograph of the painting to the research centre in Antwerp, The Rubenianum, but the centre did not think it was either by Rubens or from his studio.