Rembrandt and Miró Prints Highlight Sotheby’s March 2010 London Prints Sale

On Tuesday, 30 March, 2010 Sotheby’s London will offer a range of Old Master, Modern and Contemporary Prints. Printmaking has been at the heart of artistic production for over 500 years. The spring sale will present an exciting opportunity to acquire works by a group of important Old Master artists such as Rembrandt, Dürer and Goya. The sale also demonstrates the importance of the medium to later artists with examples by Modern and Contemporary printmakers, including Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Damien Hirst, and – following the success of a group in Sotheby’s sale of the Lord and Lady Attenborough Collection in November 2009 – two important works by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson.

The sale features a large group of prints by Rembrandt Harmensz Van Rijn (1606-1669), including portraits and landscapes. An early impression of Rembrandt’s portrait of his print dealer, Clement de Jonghe Printseller (active in Amsterdam from circa 1640 until his death in 1679), in the form of an etching (lot 46, est. £30,000-50,000), will be offered alongside a richly printed impression on heavy fibrous oatmeal paper of Faust, one of the artist’s most experimental plates (lot 52, est. £80,000-120,000. The iconography in Rembrandt’s treatment of this subject has inspired debate for over 300 years. The subject is a scholar surrounded by the tools of his trade, including books, papers and an astrolabe. The significance of the apparition by which he is transfixed – a ghostly figure, surrounded by clouds, holding a mirror in its left hand and pointing to it its right hand – has been interpreted in a number of ways. One possible explanation is that it depicts the moment when a good angel, in shimmering form, warns Faust not to enter into a pact with the devil. Another less specific interpretation is that the print is meant to demonstrate that scholars can only perceive the truth as if through a glass, darkly, however keenly they search after knowledge.

An etching and drypoint of Rembrandt’s Landscape with Trees, Farm Buildings and a Tower, circa 1651, represents the mansion known as ‘Het Huys met her Toorentje’ which belonged to the Receiver General, Jan Uytenbogaert, portrayed by the artist in a print of 1639. Rembrandt shows the house from the road and includes a gate, farm houses, and barns in addition to the mansion, with clouds advancing from the left to suggest an oncoming storm. The light plate tone and the elongated format serve to accentuate this effect. This is the fourth and final re working of the plate and each time Rembrandt has corrected the balance with subtle but significant alterations, the most noticeable being the burnishing out of the cupola and upper section of the tower. It is estimated at £60,000-80,000. Among other prints by Rembrandt is a portrait of Ephraim Bonus, from 1647, a fine impression of the second (final) state, estimated at £40,000-60,000.

A highlight from the Modern section of the sale is a very rare complete portfolio by Joãn Miró (1983-1983) of Les Essències De La Terra, from 1968. Estimated at £70,000-90,000, this lot comprises one lithograph printed in black and eight colour variants, seven with extensive hand-colouring in black ink, black crayon and red gouache, each signed in pencil by the artist. There is no record of the complete portfolio ever having come on to the auction market. The prints are wonderful examples of the joyful, childlike abstraction which Miró aspired to in the late 1960s, with their exuberant black brushstrokes, bold lines and striking colours.

Henri Matisse (1869-1954) is represented in the sale with a striking group of five prints from the 1920s, each depicting an exotic female figure, either semi-nude or in oriental costume (lots 73-77). Odalisque debout au plateau de fruits, a lithograph dated 1924, places the model within a decorative interior (lot 73, est. £12,000-18,000); in contrast, La Persane from 1929 (lot 75, est. £25,000-35,000) and Jeune Hindoue from the same year (lot 77, est. £12,000-18,000) both show the sitter against a plain rectilinear background. This was a fertile decade for Matisse the printmaker, and by 1929 he had further developed his etching technique. Many of the etchings and drypoints were executed directly onto the copper plates during the sittings with the models.

Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) is represented with a range of works from his earliest known print (lot 95, Le Repas Frugal, 1904, est. £50,000-70,000, pictured right), through midperiod prints such as Françoise (lot 104, 1944, est. £25,000-35,000), to late examples from the last decade of his life (lot 106, Pierre Reverdy, Sable Mouvant, complete portfolio comprising ten aquatints, 1966, est. £10,000-15,000).

The sale will include two prints by Christopher Richard Wynne Nevinson (1889-1946). The Road from Arras to Bapaume (lot 125, est. £30,000-40,000) dates from 1918 and is a haunting image from the artist’s First World War series. Looking Through Brooklyn Bridge (lot 124, est. £15,000-20,000) from two years later shows a glimpse of the Manhattan skyline as viewed from the famous bridge. Both prints demonstrate the artist’s formal concerns in their harmonious use of line and contour.

A group of prints by Damien Hirst (b. 1965) showcases subjects familiar from his larger works in various media: Butterfly, Red (From The Soul On Jacob’s Ladder Take Their Flight) (lot 140, est. £10,000-15,000) is a strong image of a single butterfly; Pyronin Y (lot 145), featuring multicoloured spots, is estimated at £10,000-15,000. Following the $8.7 million achieved for Jasper John’s (b. 1930) painting Gray Numbers at Sotheby’s in New York in November 2009, the March sale will feature a print by the artist titled Gray Alphabets (lot 149, 1968, est. £35,000-45,000).

The Pop Art section of the sale will feature iconic prints by Andy Warhol (1928-1987). Two prints of Marilyn Monroe, one in vibrant pink and orange (lot 185, est. £40,000-60,000), the other in monochrome (lot 186, est. £60,000-80,000), will be offered alongside a double portrait of Jackie Kennedy (lot 181, est. £7,000-9,000) and several examples of Mao (lots 189-193). Four works from the artist’s set of Myths is a notable highlight, including James Dean (lot 195, est. £35,000-45,000) and Superman (lot 196, est. £30,000-50,000).