Our language skills may leave much to be desired, but art can speak for itself
Huon Mallalieu believes that art can overcome any language barrier
It is surprising how often one sees written information translated from one language to another that cannot have been checked by a speaker of the second. A sad example at the Maastricht fair was the ‘English’ main panel introducing the loan exhibition of superb Old Masters from the Galleria Borghese in Rome. It was a painful lesson in the inadequacy of Google translate and had obviously not been checked by a native English speaker.
Sometimes, of course, mistranslations and literals can be charming rather than irritating. One of my favourite stands is that of Georg Laue from Munich, who has exceptional Renaissance works of art intended for collectors’ cabinets and made from materials such as amber, coral, ivory and rock crystal. On the cards for several pieces, moss agate had come out rather endearingly as ‘moos’ and one could not decide whether it should bellow or squeak.
One particularly fine example was an 8¼in-high moss-agate cup and cover (Fig 2) with gold mounts and Cupid finial, made by Johann Georg Kobenhaupt of Stuttgart a couple of years his death in 1623. As displayed, it seemed to emerge from half of its fitted leather case, which heightened the attraction. the case was, in fact, French, made for it in about 1820.
My final selection of Maastricht exhibits for this year —unless they reappear in some different context—are two English watercolours and a piece by Bouke de Vries, the Londonbased Dutch ceramic sculptor, with Adrian Sassoon. Daniel Katz has an eye for sculpture and works of art that is second to none and his taste is wide-ranging, so perhaps one should not have been surprised that he had this 6½in by 9in gem by Bonington, co-leader with Delacroix of the Anglo-french School, who was not quite 26 when he died in 1828.
the subject is the Castello at Ferrara (Fig 3), visited on his 1826 trip to Italy, when he revelled in light and colour.
William Callow was never quite a pupil of Bonington, but, in 1829, he moved into his Paris studio, shared with t. S. Boys, who passed on the influence. Eric Gillis of Brussels had a lovely Callow of old buildings at Bruges, which was in the direct line of descent from Bonington. Callow sketched in Bruges in 1844 and 1850 and I suspect, because of its delicate handling, that this example was rather earlier than the dealer thought. Bouke de Vries featured in our March 15 article on clay and the ceramic and glass dealer Adrian Sassoon was offering several of his pieces, constructed from shards of smashed ceramics arranged in glass jars. One was the very effective Memory Vessel 44, originally a maiolica drug jar (Fig 4).
One of the stars of the BADA Fair at Duke of York’s Square was a painting that had been deaccessioned by the Huntington Library in California, which believed it to be a copy of a Stubbs known to be in a private collectbefore
ion. Accordingly, the 21½in by 29in Two Hacks, the property of Henry Ulrick Reay Esq of Burn Hall Co Durham and their blue-liveried groom in a landscape (Fig 1) was consigned to Christie’s New York, where it was estimated to $5,000 (£4,028).
It was bought by the Parker Gallery of London for $215,000 (£173,284) and, after cleaning, was found to be signed and dated 1789, establishing it as the primary version. This was further confirmed by pentimenti, notably the near front leg of the lead horse, which had been altered by about a centimetre. Incidentally, a pair of prints after Stubbs,
Labourers and Gamekeepers, is dedicated to H. U. Reay. At BADA, now priced at £750,000, the painting attracted considerable interest.
For tyro collectors who might not yet be able to afford a Stubbs, the Antiques for Everyone Fair at the Birmingham NEC between April 6 and 9 will have something to offer. Hiscock & Shepherd, formerly of Portobello Road, but now only exhibiting at fairs, specialises in early needlework and pottery, but on this occasion it will also have a small collection of four-billionyear-old meteorite pieces (Fig
5), from the Barringer Meteorite Crater, Arizona, USA, itself formed a mere 50,000 years ago. These immigrants from outer space will be offered at £5 each.
It is now believed that Queen Victoria’s famous ‘We are not amused’ was neither a stuffy use of the royal ‘we’, nor an indication of humourlessness, but her response on behalf of fellow diners to a tactless ribaldry on the subject of her daughter Princess Louise and her supposed lover, the sculptor Sir Joseph Edgar Boehm (1834–90).
In 1888, Boehm’s equestrian statue of the Duke of Wellington was erected at Hyde Park Corner as a substitute for the larger one that had stood on top of the triumphal arch there. The plinth is flanked by figures of guardsmen, also by Boehm, and a 171 ∕3in-high bronze scale model of one of these, a Grenadier in the 1815 uniform with the addition of a bearskin (Fig 7).
After Maitland’s Guards Brigade defeated Napoleon’s Old Guard Grenadiers at Waterloo, the Prince Regent awarded the 1st Foot Guards the distinction of wearing the Old Guard’s bearskin cap.
The bronze, with Hickmet of London, was cast by Elkington. It and a matching pair, of a Grenadier of 1889 (Fig 6), with chevrons of service in the Mahdist War, by George Edward Wade (1853–1933), cast by the Belgian founder H. Luppens, came from Sotheby’s sale of the collection of Stanley Seeger.
Next week Buddha bleu and other delicacies
Fig 3 above: Bonington watercolour. With Daniel Katz. Fig 4 right: Memory Vessel 44. With Adrian Sassoon
Fig 2: Moss-agate cup and cover. With Georg Laue
Fig 1: Two Hacks, now found to be by Stubbs. £750,000
Fig 6 right: Bronze 1889 Grenadier Guard. Fig 7 far right: Bronze 1815 Grenadier Guard. Both with Hickmet Fine Arts
Fig 5: Meteorite fragments from the Barringer Memorial Crater. With Hiscock & Shepherd