From an­cient to mod­ern

Christie’s 250th an­niver­sary cul­mi­nates with a se­lec­tion of Span­ish paint­ings, an­cient fig­ures and mem­o­ries of the ‘Queen of Mont­par­nasse’

Country Life Every Week - - Art Market -

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

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