London master class
The capital’s winter art sales featured works by Titian, Jordaens and Pieter Brueghel the Younger as well as some unusual sculptures
Last summer, Christie’s took £44.9 million for Lot and His Daughters by Rubens (Country Life, July 20, 2016). By comparison, the London Old Master winter sales seemed rather thin, especially after the negotiated sale of Christie’s star, Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen, but, in fact, both Christie’s and sotheby’s had interesting things, as well as quality, to offer.
I have a very soft spot for Judith Leyster (1609–60); who could not if they know the seductive Washington self-portrait in which she sings to us the tune that we are to suppose is being played by the street musician she paints (Country Life, March 7, 2012)? Christie’s had a second self-portrait (Fig 2), in which she is older and more dignified, as befits both a successful artist and the respectable mother of five. the subtle handling of the black dress and lace collar put one in mind of Frans Hals, who is thought to have been her master.
the existence of this 121⁄8in by 85 ⁄8in oval painting had been guessed at, from an entry in the inventory made in 1668 at the death of her widower, Jan Miense Molenaer, which listed such a portrait in pride of place, but is ambiguous as to whether it was by him or her. Remarkably, it turns out to have been in the same family, that of a Dutch merchant settled in London, since about 1700. I hope that it will find another happy home, now that it has been sold for £485,000.
the most expensive lot at Christie’s was 37 7⁄8in by 343⁄8in The Holy Family with an Angel by Jacob Jordaens (Fig 1), which sold for £1.8 million, and, at sotheby’s, two paintings went over the £2 million mark, a beautifully preserved version of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s 195 ⁄8in by 311 ⁄8in Return from the Kermesse (Fig 4), which realised £2,577,500, and a double portrait by titian and his studio (Fig 3), which went for £2,108,750.
For once, the Brueghel was not copied from his father, although several groups were ‘borrowed’ from other artists. the comparatively sober four-figure group on the left, for instance, came from Marten van Cleve. Might it represent a lawyer or some such taking advantage of his neighbours’ distraction to do a cunning deal with the local squire?
the double format is rare in Renaissance portraiture and it has been suggested that the
Fig 1 above: The Holy Family. £1.8 million. Fig 2 top right: Judith Leyster self-portrait. £485,000. Fig 3 right: Double portrait by Titian. £2,108,750. Fig 4 below: Return from the