Apollo Magazine (UK)
Illuminated manuscripts, luminous Neo-Impressionism and a Persian painting newly brought to light feature in April’s sales. February saw the market adjusting well to the pandemic, with new ways of organising fairs and strong prices for domestic-scale item
Susan Moore previews April auctions and reviews sales in Brussels and Paris
Aspectacular collection is a highlight of Christie’s Classic Week in New York. This comprises illuminated manuscripts and more than incunabula or early printed books assembled by the late Elaine and Alexandre P. Rosenberg and sold to benefit the rare book departments of several museums. Alexandre Rosenberg was a scholardealer of the old school, the founding president of the Art Dealers Association of America and heir to one of the great art-dealing dynasties – his father Paul had been the champion of Picasso, Braque, Léger and Matisse in Paris and New York, which is how Picasso came to design for the -year-old Alexandre the bookplate present in most of these volumes.
The Rosenbergs focused on the artists of the French Renaissance, their choices – mostly Books of Hours – ultimately reflecting aesthetic criteria rather than textual interest.
While the jewel in the collection’s crown, a diminutive but richly illustrated prayer book of Queen Claude of France, was given to the Morgan Library & Museum in memory of Alexandre, the collection retains no less sumptuously illustrated works representing a wide variety in the style of illumination, iconography and composition. Deemed most valuable is a Book of Hours in Latin and French of around , illuminated by an enigmatic artist at the court of Anjou known as the Master of the Paris Bartholomeus Anglicus (Fig. ). This master worked in a range of media, from stained glass and tapestries to fresco painting.
Each page here is enriched by large miniatures with expressive figures, historiated initials or calendar miniatures, and rejoices in lavish borders of acanthus sprays and foliage worked in both liquid gold and silver which, unusually, has not oxidised. In fact, the condition of the entire manuscript is exceptional. Its unknown patron is depicted in one illumination, kneeling before the Virgin and Child in a purple robe trimmed with gold. One of the joys of collecting these small devotional works is the intimate link that they offer with their previous owners. Like most of the collection, this manuscript comes with an impressive provenance, including the greatest of all thcentury manuscript connoisseurs, Henry Yates Thompson. Rosenberg bought it from another famed collector, Alfred Chester Beatty, at a Sotheby’s auction in for , – a high price at the time. It returns to auction with an estimate of . m– . m. The April sale is expected to realise more than m.
A quite different manifestation of courtly art is unveiled in London. Christie’s April sale presents a previously undocumented painting from the Qajar dynasty of Iran; it had been hidden in plain sight among the paintings of Frederic Clay Bartlett and Evelyn Fortune Bartlett on show to the public at the Bonnet House Museum & Gardens in Fort Lauderdale,
Florida. This monumental panel, more than four metres wide, was once part of an even larger work illustrating the monarch Fath Ali Shah (1772–1834) enthroned and surrounded by his sons, sons-in-law and court dignitaries during the Nowruz (Persian New Year) procession and ceremonial, as part of which the Shah would present each of his chief courtiers with a brocade coat and shawl. Here some 24 named princes and dignitaries stand profusely jewelled in full court dress, arranged in three ranks of eight according to age (Fig. 2). The painting would have been completed under the supervision of the court artist Abdullah Khan (estimate £1m–£1.5m).
In 2018, Seville marked the 400th anniversary of the birth of Bartolomé Esteban Murillo with a series of events that included reuniting all 19 canvases in the ambitious cycle of paintings the artist made for the city’s Capuchin convent in 1665–69, dispersed after monastic property was confiscated in 1835. Among them was St Francis Embracing Christ of 1668–69. What appears to be a refined and recently discovered modello for this takes a bow at Christie’s New York on 22 April. The work was thought to be a ricordo – a reduced-scale replica of the finished painting – rather than a preliminary work made to show to patrons, but X-rays have revealed features significantly different from the final composition. Not least among these are the initial ideas of Christ’s hand clenched around the nail of his Cross (a feature of the compositional sketch in the Courtauld Institute) and the presence of four rather than two putti or angels.
Art history aside, the canvas offers an affecting, intimate scene addressing the heart of Franciscan spirituality. The moment depicted relates to the life of St Francis as recorded by his first disciple, Bernard of Quintavalle. The saint has renounced his worldly possessions, symbolised by the globe at his foot and clarified by the passage from St Luke that is held aloft by the angels: ‘Those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.’ As Francis embraces Christ in his vision, his Saviour frees one hand from the Cross to return the embrace. It is a striking image of the reciprocity of divine love. Fluidly painted and well preserved, the canvas is expected to fetch $1.2m–$1.8m.
Although not an original or groundbreaking artist, the Neo-Impressionist Henri Martin (1860–1943) was highly successful in his day, and the sheer joy of his luminous and hitherto unpublished Les Vendanges of 1920 illustrates that appeal. It was painted for a friend, the scientist Dr Henri Tissier – discoverer of bifidobacterium, the basis of probiotics – and was conceived to fit inside the panelling of his Henri Bouchard-designed dining room in an art deco building on the Boulevard Raspail in Paris designed by the doctor’s brother, Léon. Artist and client were both born in Toulouse, and this sun-drenched scene of grape-harvesting may well have evoked the vineyards of nearby Gaillac. It leaves the apartment for the first time when it makes its auction debut at Christie’s Paris on 14 April (estimate €200,000–€300,000).
Unlike Martin, the nouveau réaliste sculptor César (1921–98) was embraced by the French establishment only late in life. In a sale of sculpture from antiquity to the modern period wittily entitled ‘De César à César’, the Hotel des Ventes de Monte Carlo offers a unique travertine marble version of the monumental bronze Le Centaure installed in the Place Michel Debré in 1985 (another version marks the sculptor’s grave). The piece was conceived as a homage to Picasso, marking the 10th anniversary of his death. The fantastical mythological beast, initially welded out of scrap iron, bears the face of the sculptor, with that of Picasso reproduced on the mask that can be adjusted to cover his head. This full-size marble version was commissioned by César’s friend, the late Monégasque industrialist Michel Pastor. Estimate on application.
Mediterranean light suffuses Boats in port of c. 1910–12, which sees the then Parisbased Scottish Colourist Samuel John Peploe (1871–1935) at his most Fauve-inspired. Boldly executed in rough swathes of saturated colour, the canvas is a highlight of the collections once housed in the English properties of Mrs Henry Ford II, offered at Christie’s London on 15 April (estimate £60,000–£80,000).