Christie's London Old Master Pictures
The hysteria that accompanied the Rothschild sale at Christie's London on July 8 seemed to spill over into the house's general owner sale of Old Master pictures on July 9 -- even though only 72 percent of the 211 lots sold, for a total of £17.6 million (including premium).
While a pair of rather dull English Canalettos, View of the Grand Walk, Vauxhall Gardens and The Interior of the Rotunda, Ranelagh (est. £4 million- £5 million) squeaked by to sell to a phone bidder for £3,851,500, and a fine G. P. Panini of The Interior of the Pantheon, Rome (est. £200,000-£300,000) sold for a record £892, 500, the most interesting prices went for some unconventional Northern pictures. ($1=£1.56.)
The late 16th-century Flemish painter Hendrick de Clerck tends to fall between the cracks. His late mannerist figures are a bit stodgy, stiff and metallic in execution, with none of the suave sexiness of such contemporaries as Spranger or Wtewael.
However, de Clerck's Gathering of the Manna by the Israelites (est. £100,000-£150,000), which was originally an octagonal panel but has been made up at the corners, is an unusually fine example of his work, featuring a picturesque Old Testament subject in excellent condition. Here was a great opportunity for an American museum (its companion panel was cleverly bought by the Montreal Museum in 1969, presumably for a few thousand dollars). But as usual, no one acted, and the work was snapped up by London dealer Richard Green for £364,500, which was actually a record for the artist at auction.
Even more startling was the sale of a good pair of portraits of a soberly dressed, anonymous couple by Paulus Moreelse (est. £80,000- £120,000). For decades, the market for "black" Dutch portraits by Moreelse (and his contemporaries Michel van Mierevelt and Cornelius Janssens van Ceulen) was non existent -- they were not important enough for many museums (the Rijksmuseum basement is chock-a-block with them), they were not bright enough to be sufficiently decorative and few featured exceptionally pretty subjects. Yet for some reason, a private collector bought these two works for a stunning £353,500.
Christie's London Old Master drawings
A few days earlier on July 6, Christie's offered its annual London sale of Old Master drawings. The big surprise here was the whopping £419,500 paid by an anonymous phone bidder for a large and dramatic (and previously unknown) pen sheet by Peter Paul Rubens of Anatomical Studies. It's presale estimate was £40,000-£60,000.
Another phone bidder went to similar heights for Parmigianino's highly finished Venus Chastising Cupid on pink paper, paying £287,500 (est. £100,000-£150,000). A good price is generally expected for such an attractive secular subject.
In contrast, the £275,500 paid for a wispy red chalk drawing of a Standing Man by the second-rank Florentine Mannerist of the early 16th century, Il Bacchiacca, seemed absurdly high (est. £70,000-£90,000 pounds). Yes, this is one of only 12 or so surviving drawings by the artist, and yes, it's connected to an important commission (The Searching of the Sacks from the Life of Joseph, painted for Pier Francesco Borgherini in the Borghese Gallery), but so what? This is an indecisive, wooden study which demonstrates that not all Florentine Mannerists are draftsmen of genius (i.e. Andrea del Sarto and Jacopo Pontormo, Il Bacchiacca's more celebrated partners in the Borgherini decorations).
A rare embarrassment at Christie's was the less than enthusiastic reception accorded seven Watteau drawings from a private collection. Despite considerable publicity and extensive cataloguing, what could not be disguised was the fact that this was mostly a grubby group of overpriced sheets, none of them first rate examples of the master's art. Three of the group failed to sell, though a wispy red-chalk Female Nude made £82,900 (est. £60,000-£70,000) the trois crayons Satyr was the better sheet (despite being gelded by a previous prudish owner!) and made £78,500 (est. £70,000-£100,000).
Sotheby's London Old Master paintings
In a week dominated by one Christie's triumph after another, Sotheby's could only grin and bear it. The house's Old Master painting sale on July 8 was highlighted by a picture most agreed would take a miracle to sell -- the ugly Sebastiano del Piombo Portrait of A Gentleman (est. £1 million-£1.5 million) consigned by a "private collector" (a.k.a. Basia Johnson). It didn't -- sell that is, being bought in at £850,000. But another ex-Basia lot did, the Dosso Dossi Venus Awakened by Cupid, which went for £900,000 (est. £1 million-£1.5 million).
As usual, Dutch pictures dominated, with an unusually fine Jan Weenix Game Still-life (est. £80,000-£120,000) selling for a worthy £270,000, a Guardroom Interior by the rare 18th-century Amsterdam master Cornelis Troost, going for a bargain at £60,000 (est. £60,000-£80,000), and a dainty canvas by Gerard van Honthorst of A Laughing Violinist (Telling Someone to Go Fuck Himself) (est. £200,000-£300,000) selling to the London trade for £280,000 pounds.
Sotheby's London Old Master drawings
Where Sotheby's really had it over Christie's (in my opinion) was its Old Master drawings sale on July 7. Christie's may have had more big-ticket items, but Sotheby's had more beautiful and interesting works -- at all price ranges. Also, Sotheby's made its sale sexier with temptingly low estimates. Of course, getting the drawings you wanted for those estimates proved to be a problem.
Take Lot 1, a red-chalk Self-Portrait by Livio Mehus, a minor Dutch painter active in Italy in the mid-17th century. Nothing in Mehus' painted work conveys the startling, contemporary immediacy of this figure. In fact, more than a few observers likened him to Leonardo DiCaprio in The Man In The Iron Mask! Estimated at £4,000-£6,000, it surprised no one by selling for £63,100 to Katrin Bellenger, who has a personal collection of artists' self-portraits.
Another wild contrast was the saucy watercolor by Jean-François Bosio of a group of Directoire courtesans getting ready for clients in varying states of undress. Estimated at £8,000-£12,000 (it sold for considerably more at Christie's in 1983), the work instead sold to the London trade for £84,000.
A new discovery was Hendrick Goltzius' ravishing pen and wash sheet of Rebecca at the Well, an image of erotic mannerist luxe, depicting the Biblical maiden in diaphanous dress and elaborate coiffure. It seems that everybody wanted this one. Estimated at £80,000-£120,000, it sold to dealers Bob Haboldt and Otto Naumann for £342,500.
Another find of the highest quality was Parmigianino's red-chalk and pen studies for The Madonna of the Long Neck (est. £80,000-£120,000), which far surpassed Christie's sheet in refinement and beauty (in my opinion). This drawing sold to a European collector (underbid by a private American) for £254,500.
Feigen on the move
Everyone knows it's hell to move, whether it's your office, home or apartment. So pity Richard Feigen. This summer he's in the middle of two separate moving jobs. With his recent marriage, he's got a bigger family, so he moved out of his apartment at 960 Fifth Avenue to a place three doors away. That was the easy part.
Feigen also sold his gallery building at 49 E. 68 Street. "No, I can't say for how much," he told me. "It was a price I could not refuse." But he discovered that finding another gallery space to his liking was far more difficult than he had imagined. "Yes, we are moving into 64 East 77th Street," said Feigen, "I liked it when I saw it, but frankly it's too small. I jumped at it when I probably should have been looking more carefully.
"After we opened our branch in Chelsea," he went on, "the 68th Street gallery became three times too big for us. We mostly used it for storage." As one who was never a fan of Feigen's 68th Street space -- Old Masters never looked quite right on bare red bricks -- I say that the new gallery is sure to be an improvement.
"What I'd ideally like is an uptown space where I can hang big pictures, but everybody is looking for that! Those galleries don't exist on the Upper East Side anymore. I'm lucky that I can hang big pictures in Chelsea for the time being." So, while Feigen will be reopening his uptown operation on East 77th Street this fall, he most definitely is still looking.
Don't feel too badly for Feigen though. His aggravation over moving is more than assuaged by another, more fortuitous purchase. Last July, Feigen paid £12,075 -- about $19,000 -- for a tiny, unpublished 15th-century predella panel at Sotheby's London. The work was "attributed to Zanobi Strozzi" and depicts St. Agatha Rising From her Tomb and Appearing to St. Lucy and her Mother
Eustachia (est. £12,000-£18,000).
This painting has now been recognized by Laurence B. Kanter, curator of the Metropolitan Museum's Lehman collection, as by Zanobi's likely master Fra Angelico. Kanter identifies it as the long-lost fifth panel from a predella divided between the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Kimbell Art Museum in Fort Worth, The Kress Collection at the San Francisco Museum of Art and the Museo di san Marco, Florence. The four pieces were brought together for an exhibition at the Met in 1994-95.
It should be noted that the Kimbell paid Wildenstein ca. $5
million for its panel in 1986. Congratulations Richard! Sotheby's must be so happy for you!
PAUL JEROMACK is a New York critic and journalist.