Art mar­ket

De­cem­ber sales brought rare works from van Ley­den and Rem­brandt’s fin­ger­prints on a sketch

Country Life Every Week - - Contents -

AT the end of Novem­ber, I men­tioned the sculp­tor’s fin­ger­prints on a Rodin ter­ra­cotta bust that I had seen in Paris. Such im­me­di­ate links to the artist are most of­ten found on ter­ra­cotta works, for ob­vi­ous rea­sons, and it’s al­ways a thrill to dis­cover them.

Oc­ca­sion­ally, too, espe­cially in the 19th cen­tury, wa­ter­colour artists used their fin­gers to give tex­ture and pat­tern and their prints may also be found at the edges un­der the mounts, where they were not in­tended to be seen.

In oil paint­ings, one would be most likely to find fin­ger­prints on sketches ex­e­cuted at speed, such as Rem­brandt’s Study of the Head and Clasped Hands of a Young Man as Christ in Prayer (Fig 1), which sold at Sotheby’s for £9,480,800 on De­cem­ber 5.

The 101∕6in by 77∕8in panel is likely to be one of three sim­i­lar works that were listed in Rem­brandt’s house in the bank­ruptcy in­ven­tory that he helped draw up in July 1656. Two were hang­ing in the ‘back room or sa­lon’, which also con­tained a box bed in which he pre­sum­ably slept, and the third was stored in the ‘small stu­dio’, per­haps an at­tic.

A tech­ni­cal ex­am­i­na­tion, un­der­taken just be­fore an ex­hi­bi­tion in 2011 and pub­lished in 2017, in­di­cated that the Sotheby paint­ing was most likely com­pleted in one go—ten eersten op­maken, in the phrase of the time. Dur­ing the ex­am­i­na­tion, old over­paint­ing was re­moved, to­gether with thick dis­coloured var­nish ap­plied in the mid 20th cen­tury, re­veal­ing fur­ther ev­i­dence of speedy work­ing and what is very likely to be the touch of the master him­self.

In the orig­i­nal paint layer along the paint­ing’s bot­tom edge are two fin­ger—or, more prob­a­bly, thumb—prints (Fig 2).

I spent sev­eral very happy min­utes study­ing this lit­tle head in close-up and was deeply moved by it. Even though it was ev­i­dently based on the pur­ported life­time de­scrip­tion of Christ in the ‘Let­ter of Len­tu­lus’ (prob­a­bly a 15th-cen­tury fake), it is equally

The mod­el­ling of the fea­tures, espe­cially the cheek­bones, was su­perla­tive

ev­i­dent that it was taken from a live model, pos­si­bly a young Jewish neigh­bour, used by Rem­brandt in oth­ers of his ‘Faces of Je­sus’ se­ries.

The mod­el­ling of the fea­tures, espe­cially the cheek­bones, was su­perla­tive and there were won­der­ful lit­tle touches, such as the scratches made with a knife or brush han­dle, giv­ing flick­ery move­ment to the right eye.

At Christie’s, the ma­jor Old Master in­ter­est was pro­vided by a very rare black-chalk draw­ing by Lu­cas van Ley­den (1489/94– 1533), by whom fewer than 20 paint­ings and 27 other draw­ings sur­vive, all in mu­se­ums. His con­tem­po­rary in­ter­na­tional fame de­rived from his print­mak­ing skills.

It has been sug­gested that this 11in by 51∕8in draw­ing of a young man (Fig 3), which had been care­fully cut out and pasted to an­other sheet in the 17th cen­tury, was also taken from life.

Its early his­tory is un­known, but it be­longed to the 19th-cen­tury an­ti­quar­ian Matthew Hol­beche Blox­ham, a nephew of Sir Thomas Lawrence, who was a no­table

draw­ings col­lec­tor. Blox­ham was a pas­sion­ate Rug­beian—he was the prop­a­ga­tor of the Wil­liam Webb El­lis story of the ori­gin of the school’s epony­mous game— and he left about 100 draw­ings to his alma mater, which has now ben­e­fited by more than £15 mil­lion by sell­ing some of them, £11,483,750 con­trib­uted by the van Ley­den.

When he was a cadet in the French navy be­fore found­ing the Bri­tish engi­neer­ing dy­nasty, the fu­ture Sir Marc Isam­bard Brunel made his own brass-and-

ivory oc­tant with which to nav­i­gate. Thus, a solid sil­ver minia­ture sur­vey­ing quin­tant will have made a very suit­able present for his son Isam­bard to give to his own son, Henry Marc (1842–1903).

Oc­tants, quin­tants, sex­tants and the like were used to make an­gu­lar mea­sure­ments, the names re­flect­ing the arc of a cir­cle each could mea­sure. Thus, a quin­tant mea­sures 72˚.

H. M. Brunel was no­table for his bridges, in­clud­ing Black­fri­ars rail­way bridge in Lon­don. The fam­ily relic (Fig 7) was sold in Fig 7 right: Brunel quin­tant, likely given by Isam­bard to his son Henry Marc. £5,410 Novem­ber by Charles Miller at 25, Blythe Road, W14, mak­ing £5,410.

The leader in this mar­itime and sci­en­tific in­stru­ment sale, at £16,744, was a set of 12 ship’s ma­hogany con­certina-ac­tion fold­ing din­ing chairs made for a ship of the line in Nel­son’s navy. They would grace not just a cap­tain’s cabin, but any din­ing room (Fig 6).

Given that their early his­tory is likely to have been chal­leng­ing, the sur­vival of th­ese chairs is ex­cep­tional.

An­other newish spe­cial­ist auc­tion­eer in Lon­don is Maak, which holds two on­line sales of con­tem­po­rary ceram­ics each year, with view­ing at the Royal Opera Ar­cade off Pall Mall.

The Novem­ber auc­tion did very well, with a 93% sold rate. Among the high­lights were two 1972 stoneware pots by Hans Coper (1920–81), a squeezed vase form and a cup on foot, each of which made £33,600 (Fig 5). Fe­male pot­ters were prom­i­nent, in­clud­ing Katharine Pley­dell­bou­verie (1895–1995), whose very sat­is­fy­ing glob­u­lar pot sold for £2,880 (Fig 4).

Fig 1 left: Study of the Head and Clasped Hands of a Young Man as Christ in Prayer by Rem­brandt. £9,480,800. Fig 2 be­low: Two thumbprints from the paint­ing, likely be­long­ing to Rem­brandt

Fig 6: A set of 12 ma­hogany naval din­ing chairs. £16,744 Next week My favourite glasses

Fig 3 above left: Draw­ing of a young man by Lu­cas van Ley­den. £11,483,750. Fig 4 top right: Katharine Pley­dell-bou­verie pot. £2,880. Fig 5 above right: Hans Coper pot on foot. £33,600

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