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|Old Master Drawings
by Paul Jeromack
|Though both Christie's and Sotheby's January sales of Old Master drawings were weaker than usual, a number of interesting lots stood out. Sotheby's sale on Jan. 26 was led by a powerful black chalk Goya of a ragged old man on his knees, Weeping and Wailing (estimated at $400,000-$600,000). Just the sort of pitiless subject one wants from Goya, it sold to a New York collector for $850,000.
A previously unknown pen drawing by Hendrick Goltzius depicting his friend Gillis van Breen with quill in hand (est. $80,000-$120,000) was another highlight. A nice idea, to my eye it certainly is autograph, but awkward and unconvincing, the sitter's head squashed down into his ruff. Still, lots of bidders thought otherwise, and the work sold to someone on the phone for $440,000.
Another discovery was a red-chalk Parmigianino of a lean nude model preparatory for the figure of St. Jerome in the Madonna della Collo Lungo. The top of the figure was summarily executed, the artist devoting most of his attention to the models' legs ... and foreskin (est. $35,000-$45,000). This sold, surprisingly, for $47,500.
The Getty Museum bought one of two Canaletto pen drawings on offer, the Capriccio with a Staircase (est. $50,000-$70,000) for $160,000. The other, a double-sided sheet of The Campo S. Basso; the North Side (and a market scene on the reverse) sold for $130,000 to dealer Katrin Bellenger -- despite the opinion of Canaletto expert Charles Beddington, who believes it to be by Bernard Belotto.
Christie's sale on Jan. 28 had more surprises (though why does Christie's constantly schedule its Old Master drawings sales the same day and time as Sotheby's Old Master paintings sales? Really dumb, folks!), featuring two Rembrandt pen and wash landscape drawings from the estate of Michael Currier. Both were previously owned by the son of Rembrandt's pupil Nicholas Flink, who sold them to William, the Second Duke of Devonshire, whose descendants sold them at Christie's London in 1984.
Personally, I thought they were nice but far from exceptional (they were actually kind of boring, as Rembrandt landscapes go, but don't tell that to Simon Schama). In any case, they are trophy drawings par excellence, as evidenced by their prices. The bulwark 'De Rose' and the Windmill 'De Smeerpot': A View near the Rampoortje, Amsterdam (est. $1.8 million-$2.4 million) sold to an "anonymous collector" (a.k.a. Eugene Victor Thaw) on behalf of the Pierpont Morgan Library for $3,742,500.
The second, The Ramparts Near the Bulkwark beside the City Gate at St. Anthonispoort, Amsterdam (est. $1.4 million-$1.8 million) sold to dealer Bob Haboldt (presumably for a client) for $2,632,600.
Far loopier prices -- in their way -- were paid for two very flashy and large Italian drawings. A spirited pen and brown wash, Pool of Bethesda, by the eccentric Ferrau Fenzoni (est. $50,000-$70,000) sold to a phone bidder for $200,500. A large and lumbering study Allegory of the Elevation of Cardinal Deacon Oddone Colonna to the Papal Chair as Pope Martin V by the 18th-century Roman, Benedetto Luti (est. $40,000-$60,000) sold to another phone bidder for $222,500.
By contrast, the Getty got quite a bargain indeed in its purchase of the day, a jewel-like pen study by German Renaissance master Heinrich Aldegraver. Done in preparation for a print of Lazarus Begging at the Table of the Rich Man (est. $100,000-$150,000), the drawing was nabbed (via Habolt) for $156,500.
PAUL JEROMACK writes on art from New York.