From ancient to modern
Christie’s 250th anniversary culminates with a selection of Spanish paintings, ancient figures and memories of the ‘Queen of Montparnasse’
Among the pre-christmas ‘Classic Week’ sales at Christie’s, which were the culmination of the company’s 250th anniversary commemorations, was a session labelled ‘From Ancient to modern: A Distinguished Private Collection’ without further identification. It had largely been assembled since the mid 1990s and it might be assumed that the collector—or collectors, of course—was Spanish, as most of the paintings, sculpture and works of art were Spanish or from formerly Spanish regions, notably the Kingdom of naples.
one would guess that it filled an agreeable home agreeably— with a couple of exceptions, this was good-quality, middle-range fare and it fared accordingly, with 80 of the 124 lots selling.
The two exceptions were both paintings. The 163 ⁄8in by 195 ⁄8in Alexander and Campaspe in the studio of Apelles (Fig 1) was the earliest version of the subject by giambattista Tiepolo (1696–1770), who, although Venetian, spent the last decade of his life working in madrid for Charles III, formerly King of naples. Tiepolo was the most operatic of the 18th-century grand-manner decorative painters. He worked in germany as well as Italy and Spain and his drawings were much collected by grand Tourists.
The painter Apelles of Kos was a historical figure and said to have been the greatest painter of the ancient world. His story is told in Pliny’s Natural History, including the incident of his falling in love with Alexander the great’s mistress and being given her in marriage for painting her so well. Despite the draperies, Tiepolo gives him the equipment of an 18th-century master. oddly, for all his vaunted beauty, in this version, Tiepolo makes Alexander distinctly ugly. Apelles would never have dared. The painting doubled its estimate to sell at £725,000.
Another exceptional painting was on its upper estimate at £305,000. This was a truly Spanish bodegón still-life by Alejandro de Loarte (1595/ 1600–26). Still-life came to Spain from the netherlands and northern Italy towards the end of the 16th century, but Spanish artists do not seem to have developed it into an elaborate language to convey social and political meanings, although there may have been a moral message in its spareness and austerity.
The typical bodegón, or ‘larder’, painting is of vegetables, fruit and perhaps game, in a stone niche with a dark, featureless background. Quinces, lemons, cardoons—relatives of artichokes, but giant and celery-like in appearance—and cabbages abound, rather than exotics.
For all the shortness of his career, Loarte was popular and prolific. At his death, an inventory recorded 149 works in the studio with 15 more awaiting payment, about half being religious subjects and 54 still-lifes. This 321 ⁄8in by 42½in example (Fig 2), including a chicken, cuts of meat, sausages and, of
Fig 1: Giambattista Tiepolo’s Alexander and Campaspe in the studio of Apelles. £725,000