Art Mar­ket

Paint­ings of a Dutch girl qui­etly en­joy­ing her morn­ing caf­feine hit by Lio­tard and a gyr­fal­con re­stored to fine feather are among re­cent no­table sales

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

Huon Mal­lalieu wakes up and smells Lio­tard’s cof­fee

WELL, that didn’t take long. On May 18, I dis­cussed here a 19th­cen­tury paint­ing of a gyr­fal­con that had been es­ti­mated at £150 in a coun­try auc­tion be­fore selling for £5,900. The unattributed 291 ⁄ 2in by 241 ⁄ 2in can­vas was not in the best con­di­tion and, be­cause of the treat­ment of down and feath­ers and what seemed to be a par­tic­u­lar shade of mossy green, I ten­ta­tively sug­gested Richard Ans­dell as the painter. How­ever, I did say that the green might be due to dis­coloured var­nish and could ap­pear dif­fer­ent when cleaned—and, in­deed, that proves to be the case.

The paint­ing resur­faced in much health­ier con­di­tion at Christie’s on July 13 ( Fig 1), where the cat­a­loguers prob­a­bly cor­rectly pre­ferred an at­tri­bu­tion to Joseph Wolf (1820–99), a Prus­sian who set­tled in Lon­don af­ter the revo­lu­tion­ary year of 1848. He il­lus­trated gyr­fal­cons for Gould’s Birds of Great Bri­tain. The judg­ment of peers who knew their hawks from their hand­saws was ev­i­dently also the opin­ion of the mar­ket.

Land­seer called him ‘the best all-round an­i­mal painter who ever lived’ and the young Archibald Thor­burn, who vis­ited his stu­dio and painted early works un­der his in­flu­ence, con­sid­ered his paint­ings ‘not only fault­less as re­gards truth to na­ture’, but pos­sessed of ‘an in­de­scrib­able feel­ing of move­ment never at­tained by any other artist’. This time, the paint­ing sold for £45,000.

Pass­ing men­tion of Land­seer brings me to the last lot in the Sotheby’s Old Masters day sale, his 101 ⁄ 2in by 12in oil sketch on panel of a High­land land­scape. There was noth­ing much to it: trees on the far­ther bank of a fast-flow­ing river—which looked to my in­ex­pe­ri­enced eye to be a good salmon pool—and a hint of hills be­yond. A typ­i­cally Scot­tish sky. All sim­ply, swiftly, painted, with lit­tle de­tail, but much de­scrip­tion

( Fig 3).

Land­seer was a mas­ter of such oil sketches, which mostly, but not all, date from early in his ca­reer. No date was of­fered for this one and no prove­nance other than that it had been bought by an Amer­i­can col­lec­tor from a Lon­don gallery in 2002. It sold

for a mid-es­ti­mate £25,000 and I would love to have it on my wall.

The most ex­pen­sive paint­ing in Sotheby’s 45-lot evening Old Mas­ter session ac­counted for about a quar­ter of the to­tal take, mak­ing £4,405,000. It was a justly fa­mous oil paint­ing by Jean-eti­enne Lio­tard (1702– 89) and it had re­mained in the same fam­ily since be­ing bought in the artist’s sale at Christie’s in 1773. The buyer then was Lio­tard’s friend and pa­tron Wil­liam Pon­sonby, Vis­count Dun­can­non and Earl of Bess­bor­ough, with whom he had trav­elled to Con­stantino­ple in 1738.

The 183 ⁄ 4in by 153 ⁄ 8in paint­ing show­ing a Dutch girl tak­ing her morn­ing cof­fee ( Fig 2) was on loan to the Na­tional Gallery be­tween 2002 and 2015 and ex­hib­ited in the re­cent Royal Academy Lio­tard show. As demon­strated by his sale, which in­cluded his col­lec­tions along with his own works, Lio­tard was a great ad­mirer of Dutch paint­ing, such as the church in­te­rior hang­ing be­hind the girl. All the other el­e­ments—fur­ni­ture, foot warmer, cof­fee ser­vice and cos­tume—are Dutch, so the work was prob­a­bly painted in about 1772 dur­ing his sec­ond visit to the Nether­lands.

Not cof­fee but beer was the fuel that pow­ered John Piper’s 143 ⁄ 4in by 191 ⁄ 8in Still Life (Col­lage) ( Fig 4), which sold for £25,000 in a Modern Bri­tish and Ir­ish session at Christie’s. It was painted in 1933 dur­ing Piper’s com­par­a­tively short­lived flir­ta­tion with Cu­bism as a mem­ber of the Seven and Five So­ci­ety, founded in 1919. The num­bers re­ferred to painter and sculp­tor mem­bers and, orig­i­nally, it had pro­moted tra­di­tion­al­ist val­ues, propos­ing ‘that there has of late been too much pi­o­neer­ing along too many lines in al­to­gether too much of a hurry’. How­ever, by 1933 when Piper joined, it was be­ing steered in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion by Modernists. It staged an en­tirely ab­stract ex­hi­bi­tion in 1935 and Piper de­parted.

Strangely, the Christie’s cat­a­logue re­ferred to the col­lage as ‘enig­matic’, although it is plainly an ap­pre­cia­tive impression of a bar, with pint pot, bot­tles and dart­board, not to men­tion the col­lage el­e­ment, and, in­deed, has usu­ally been called Pub­lic Bar in its ex­hibit­ing his­tory.

Matthew Pa­ton, who has done the pub­lic­ity for Lon­don Art Week, very acutely pointed out to me that one of the draw­ings in Stephen Ong­pin’s ex­hi­bi­tion ‘Drawing In­spi­ra­tion: Sketches and Sketch­book Pages of the 19th and 20th cen­turies’ neatly en­cap­su­lated the whole week.

It was a 163 ⁄ 4in by 103 ⁄ 8in char­coal Nue de­bout de pro­fil by Amedeo Modigliani (1884– 1920, Fig 5). An el­e­gant, 20th­cen­tury work, it took its in­spi­ra­tion from an­cient Cy­cladic fig­urines, with a pass­ing nod to African pri­mal carv­ings. Mr Ong­pin’s show was as ap­peal­ing as it was suc­cess­ful.

Apropos of very lit­tle, how Modigliani would have rel­ished Sa­man­tha Cameron’s fea­tures and, more so still, the head of Winifred Knights, whose Re­nais­sance-mod­ernist paint- ings are en­joy­ing a well-de­served show at Dul­wich Pic­ture Gallery—per­haps Knights based her look on Modigliani? Next week Trac­tors and a res­cued hero

Fig 1 left: Joseph Wolf’s gyr­fal­con. £45,000. Fig 2 right: Dutch girl tak­ing morn­ing cof­fee by Jean-eti­enne Lio­tard. £4,405,000. Fig 3 be­low: Land­seer oil sketch of a High­land land­scape. £ 25,000

Fig 4 far left: Still Life (Col­lage) by John Piper. £ 25,000. Fig 5 left: Nude de­bout de pro­fil by Modigliani. With Stephen Ong­pin Fine Art

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