Art Mar­ket

A mas­ter’s grief per­fectly ex­pressed and an­tique ce­ram­ics de­light the sale­rooms

Country Life Every Week - - Contents - Huon Mal­lalieu

Huon Mal­lalieu ex­plores the grief of Rem­brandt and the de­light of ce­ram­ics

The other day in the Ri­jksmu­seum, when dis­cussing Rem­brandt’s Night Watch, we won­dered whether the piv­otal fig­ure of a young woman might have the fea­tures of the artist’s wife, Saskia. I had then for­got­ten that she died in 1642, the year of the paint­ing, and so this fig­ure, on which a strong light is fo­cused, might well be a memo­rial as well as hav­ing an al­le­goric pur­pose.

Saskia’s was the cul­mi­na­tion of a se­ries of fam­ily deaths and it left Rem­brandt deeply de­pressed. An­other work of the same year was his 57⁄ 8in by 67⁄ 8in etch­ing of St Jerome in a Dark Cham­ber ( Fig 2) which has been de­scribed by a psy­chol­o­gist as a perfect de­scrip­tion of de­pres­sion. Jerome, who in the 4th cen­tury trans­lated the Bi­ble into Latin, ex­pe­ri­enced the Ro­man cat­a­combs as ‘walk­ing in dark­ness like that of hell, pierced by rare beams of light’, much as Rem­brandt shows his room. It is nec­es­sary to con­cen­trate so that the im­ages emerge from the gloom.

The in­ven­tor of mez­zotint, Lud­wig von Siegen, pub­lished his first print also in 1642 and it is a pity that Rem­brandt never tried the new tech­nique. It is ex­tra­or­di­nary what he could do to ob­tain sim­i­lar ef­fects with his more la­bo­ri­ous etch­ing, en­grav­ing and dry­point. This bril­liant im­pres­sion of the sec­ond state, in ex­cel­lent con­di­tion, made £86,500 at Christie’s on July 7.

There is a ten­u­ous link be­tween mez­zotint and my next se­lec­tion from the sum­mer sales, as the sub­ject of von Siegen’s first print was a col­lat­eral de­scen­dant of the elec­tor Pala­tine Lud­wig V, pos­si­ble sit­ter for an 8½in wooden bust ( Fig 1) dat­ing from about 1530, which sold for £629,000—more than four times the es­ti­mate—at Sotheby’s on July 5. The iden­ti­fi­ca­tion comes from the pe­riod de­tails of fash­ion and beard and sim­i­lar­i­ties to Lud­wig’s medals by Christoph Wei­ditz (1498–1559) of Augs­burg.

Wei­ditz, in­ci­den­tally, spent a year pro­duc­ing wa­ter­colours of the cos­tumes of the var­i­ous peo­ples ruled by the hab­s­burgs, in­clud­ing the first life draw­ings of Aztecs. he may well also have been a sculp­tor, as was his fa­ther Jo­hann; his brother hans was a wood en­graver. Given the price, it is likely that some bid­ders knew what they were look­ing at. As the cat­a­logue put it: ‘This ex­tra­or­di­nary bust may pro­vide a miss­ing link in the oeu­vre of these Ger­man Re­nais­sance artists’.

hab­s­burg Spain and Italy fea­tured among the fur­ni­ture suc­cess­fully of­fered by the dealer Kate Thur­low of Gallery Forty One in Bat­tersea at the Olympia fair. A set of four late-17th-cen­tury Ital­ian wal­nut chairs still cov­ered in their orig­i­nal tooled and painted leather had a ticket price of £5,000 ( Fig 3) and a Span­ish wal­nut ta­ble of much the same date, with elab­o­rately carved strap­work legs, was of­fered at £4,850.

The same dealer also had a sim­ple and en­dear­ing ear­ly19th-cen­tury english pub ta­ble, priced at £2,200.

The sil­ver-gilt pre­sen­ta­tion tray that was fea­tured here on June 15 at­tracted a great deal of in­ter­est on Koop­man’s Mas­ter­piece stand be­fore selling to a pri­vate col­lec­tor. The dealer also of­fered an im­pres­sive group of Paul Storr pieces, in­clud­ing a mag­nif­i­cent pair of candelabra, 1816 ( Fig 6). These went well, as did gold boxes.

The 19th-cen­tury Fox dy­nasty of smiths have been favourites of mine since Phillips de­voted a com­plete sale to their work ( COUN­TRY LIFE, De­cem­ber 15, 1988). The top price then was £5,000, with smaller pieces go­ing for about £100.

Koop­man had a set of four sil­ver-gilt can­dle­sticks by Charles Fox, 1829, with a royal crest thought to be that of the Duke of Cam­bridge, at £39,000. The dealer noted that ‘it was both in­ter­est­ing and en­cour­ag­ing to note how many Bri­tish clients were buy­ing topqual­ity an­tique sil­ver’. June was also a month for an­tique ce­ram­ics and porce­lain. At Art An­tiques Lon­don, E. & H. Man­ners of Kens­ing­ton Church Street took about £20,000 for a charm­ing Nym­phen­burg cof­fee pot dat­ing from be­tween 1760 and 1765 ( Fig 4). Sotheby’s sculp­ture and works of art sale in­cluded what it termed ‘splen­dours’ from a Man­tuan palazzo, many of which were early Ital­ian ce­ram­ics. No­table was a 14¼in di­am­e­ter Tus­can or Um­brian dish dat­ing from be­tween 1450 and 1470 and painted with what is called a ‘con­tour’ por­trait of a young man, that is to say, a profile bust set against a ghostly shadow.

Such dishes of this size are rare and only two were cited in com­par­i­son. The first was in the J. Pier­pont Mor­gan, Mortimer Schiff and Dr Bak col­lec­tions be­fore be­ing sold at Sotheby’s in 1965 and the sec­ond, at­trib­uted to Faenza, is known from a cat­a­logue of maiolica in French na­tional mu­se­ums.

This lat­est one sold for about twice its es­ti­mate, mak­ing £52,500.

In the same sale, there was an earth­en­ware piece con­fi­dently as­cribed to Faenza and dated to 1500. This was a 12¼in-high bishop read­ing on his throne ( Fig 5), which was painted in blue, green and yel­low. Fig­ures, known as plas­tiche maioli­cate, are rare and in­di­vid­ual saints or bish­ops rarer still.

This one had come from the Thyssen-borne­misza col­lec­tion and it sold for a five-times es­ti­mate £68,750.

Fig 1: Wooden bust pos­si­bly by Christoph Wei­ditz, dat­ing from about 1530. £ 629,000

Fig 2: Rem­brandt’s St Jerome in a dark cham­ber. £ 86,500

Fig 3: Set of four Ital­ian wal­nut chairs sold by Gallery Forty One Fig 4 be­low: 1760s cof­fee pot. £ 20,000

Fig 5 above: Faenza plas­tiche maioli­cate of a bishop. £ 52,500

Fig 6 left: Pair of candelabra by Paul Storr sold by Koop­man at Mas­ter­piece

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