Old Masters of the Golden Age at Sotheby’s Amsterdam

Sotheby’s Amsterdam will, going forward, hold two sales of Old Master Paintings every year (one in May and the second in December) and the first of these new-format sales will be held on Tuesday, December 1, 2009 at 2p.m. This sale will comprise some 69 lots – many with exemplary provenance having not appeared on the market for many decades – which cover the wide range of Dutch Baroque painting. The exhibition for the sale will run daily at Sotheby’s Amsterdam from November 27-30, 10am until 5pm.

As previously announced, the undoubted highlight of the forthcoming December Old Master sale will be two superb still life paintings of fruit by the much sought-after Dutch artist of the Golden Age, Adriaen Coorte (circa 1665 – after 1707). Both still lifes – one entitled “Still life of a Peach and Two Apricots” and the other “Still life of Strawberries in an Earthenware Bowl” – have recently re-emerged on to the market having been hidden away in a Dutch family collection for more than a century and both are major additions to the artist’s known oeuvre. Works by Adriaen Coorte, a painter of outstanding quality and originality, are rare to the market and it is even more unusual to find two works by this 17th-century master that have until now remained unrecorded. Both paintings not only feature a delicate lucidity but also come to auction in a fine, untouched condition and they each carry an estimate of €100,000-150,000.

Jan Breughel
Jan Breughel the Younger (1601-1678), “An Allegory of Discord”, circa 1640s. Estimate: €50,000 – 70,000. Photo: Sotheby’s

In addition to the Coorte still lifes, the sale will also have at its core, works by such celebrated Dutch and Flemish names as Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Jan Breughel the Younger, Jan Havicksz Steen, Frans van Mieris the Younger and Pieter Claesz.

A circular panel attributed to Pieter Brueghel the Younger (1564-1637/8) portrays the allegorical Flemish proverb “to carry fire in one hand and water in the other,” a proverb which refers to the ambiguity of human nature. The panel shows a peasant woman holding a bucket of water in one hand and tongs with a burning lump of coal in her other hand. Proverbs were extremely popular during Brueghel the Younger’s lifetime and their representation enjoyed a wide audience. They provided a rich source of inspiration for the young Brueghel and he produced numerous small round panels depicting singular themes. This fine example for sale, which was hitherto unrecorded having been in the same family collection since the 1930s, is estimated at €100,000–150,000.

Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s nephew, Jan Breughel the Younger (1601-1678), will also be represented in the sale. His depiction of An Allegory of Discord can be dated to the late 1640s, a period of political turmoil in Europe. The late 1640s was also a time of great allegories generally, all of which were viewed as interpretations of the intellectual and political landscape of the time. Jan Breughel the Younger’s panel highlights both the positive and negative elements of humanity discussed in “An Allegory of Discord”; the love of Venus and Amor show the positive while the quarrelling putti, the weapons and the distant battle reveal the negative. Estimated at €50,000 – 70,000, the panel is one of a number of works that the artist produced to highlight the tense social circumstances of the time and it comes to the market with superb provenance having not been on the market for more than 75 years.

Another notable highlight of the sale will be a painting by Jan Havicksz Steen (1626–1679) of a young girl standing in a doorway handing a coin to an old crippled beggar. Dating from 1655-1658, this painting has long been known as “Alms”, a title fittingly chosen in the 19th-century. The meticulous rendering of both the young girl, the old beggar and the architectural surround emphasize the superb quality of the piece, and the influence of Steen’s fellow townsman Frans van Mieris the Elder can also be detected through the exquisite eye for detail and choice of subject matter. “Alms” has remained in a private collection for many decades and it now comes to the market with an estimate of €60,000–80,000.

A charming interior scene by Frans van Mieris the Younger (1689-1763) depicts an exquisitely painted room with a seated lady doing needlework and a young boy with a hoop. The domestic setting, which carries an estimate of €60,000-80,000, gives the spectator an insight into a typical Dutch family home in the 18th-century, with a cupboard-bed and delicately executed utensils of daily life. With its soft modeling of the figures, the pastel colour palette and the attention to different materials and textures, the scene shows a very accomplished van Mieris the Younger at work.

Furthermore, a magnificent still life painting by Pieter Claesz. (1597/8-1660/1) illustrates a wide range of allegorical symbols of idle vanity, such as the glass of wine, bread, cut fruit and other references to the temporal aspects of existence, all arranged on a draped table. Pieter Claesz. painted this monumental piece in his latter years in 1652, when he was working in a much looser and painterly manner than in the earlier part of his career. His still life has an estimate of €50,000–70,000.

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