New York Sale of 19th Century European Art

NEW YORK, NY – Sotheby’s New York sale of 19th Century European Art including The Orientalist Sale on October 23 features a tightly curated selection of choice, high-quality works across the range of artistic genres which flourished at the time. A separate catalogue, entitled Painters of Perfection, will be dedicated to a selection of paintings by the French Academic painter William Bouguereau and his followers. Complementing these artists’ style of depicting peasant life will be a strong offering of works by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet. These works will include a major discovery, The Corn Sifters (Les Cribleuses de Blé) (lot 139, est. $600/800,000), by Courbet, who earlier this year was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York and at the Grande Palais in Paris. The afternoon session will feature The Orientalist Sale, for which there is an independent catalogue, featuring masterful works by artists including Jean-Léon Gérôme, Leopold Carl Müller and Rudolf Ernst. The pre-sale exhibition will take place at Sotheby’s 5th floor galleries, with Orientalist works in the 10th floor galleries, from October 18th to 22nd, and the 215 lots in the sale are expected to bring $26,330,000/37,644,000.

William Bouguereau’s L’Italienne au Tambour de Basque (lot 66, est. $2.2/3 million) from 1872 is an ambitious full-length depiction of an Italian maid. The rocky setting, with its scrabbled trees and hazy sky, and the figure’s costume, mixing Bohemian and Italian design elements, serve a decorative rather than narrative purpose. In the 1860s and 1870s, surrounding the tumultuous events of the Franco-Prussian war, Bouguereau drew upon his memories of his time in Italy, where he traveled from 1850 to 1853 after receiving the prestigious Prix de Rome award. Among the many works produced in this late period, the present lot stands as one of the most impressive examples of Bouguereau’s ability to combine his early impressions of classical form with an appreciation of individual female beauty.

Another highlight by Bouguereau, Jeune Bergère Debout (lot 63, est. $1.5/2.5 million) features a strong, self-possessed young shepherdess, her head tilted inquisitively as she stares directly at the viewer. The artist’s profound ability to convey an entire narrative with a simple painted gesture or expression is especially salient in the present work. From the placement of the facial features, to the anatomically correct toes, Bouguereau’s work is characterized by an uncanny skill for depicting the human figure, underscoring the rigorous Academic training the artist underwent in his youth and his strict lifelong adherence to traditional modes of art production.

Contrasting with these Academic paintings is an excellent selection of works by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Jean-François Millet and Gustave Courbet. The aforementioned rediscovered work by Courbet, The Corn Sifters (Les Cribleuses de Blé) (lot 139, est. $600/800,000), represents a breakthrough on the historical knowledge of the artist’s working methods. Until now, it has been generally believed that Courbet did not produce oil sketches for his well-known compositions. The present work, an oil on cardboard, was included in a unique auction at Drouot in Paris on June 27, 1855, concurrent with the 1855 Paris Exposition Universelle, which featured works by the artist including the large painting The Corn Sifters (Les cribleuses de blé), which now resides in the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Nantes (Fine Arts Museum of Nantes). The theme of the Drouot auction was to bring together the oil sketches (esquisses) that corresponded to the paintings on view at the Exposition Universelle. The discovery of this work reveals the important fact that Courbet did do oil sketches. The 1855 sale at the Drouot also included an esquisse for Les Casseurs de Pierre (The Stonebreakers). Based on the spontaneity and implicit monumentality of the esquisse for The Corn Sifters, we can only imagine what the equivalent for The Stone Breakers must have looked like.

Offerings by the masterful landscape painter Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot include Mantes, Les Bords de la Seine au Pied du Pont (lot 135, est. $800,000/1.2 million) and Mornex (Haute-Savoie)-Au Fond, Le Môle (lot 129, est, $800,000/1 million). The present painting was most likely painted during Corot’s 1842 trip to Switzerland. The three children in the lower right rank among Corot’s most appealing figure groups. The inclusion of this figurative element elevates the painting to more than a pure landscape.

A historical work by Jozef Brandt, Song of the Cossack Victors (lot 6, est. $100/150,000), portrays one of the artist’s favorite subjects, the Cossacks who lived in the southeastern frontier of the former Polish Republic (territories now belonging to Ukraine), then called Zaporozhe. The scene in the present work refers to the victorious campaign of Chocim in 1621, in which the second highest commander Hetman led his 30,000 fighters against 100,000 Turks who had besieged the Polish-Lithuanian army. The painting focuses on the central figure, the standard bearer of Cossack cavalry, heading the march of the troops. On the right is the musical band, while at left Turkish captives are escorted alongside camel caravans heavy with war loot. The canvas was painted and presented to the public in Munich in 1892, and exhibited a year later at Zachêta Society of Fine Arts. The painting was also reproduced on the cover of Tygodnik Ilustrowany, at the time Warsaw’s most popular illustrated magazine and in the weekly publication Swiat.