Rubens, Guercino, Pencz and Van Dyck to Highlight Christie’s Old Masters and 19th Century Art Sale

Christie’s London Old Masters and 19th Century Art Evening Sale will take place on 6 July 2010 and will offer a rich array of 68 paintings, drawings and watercolours spanning 600 years of European art history.

Leading the sale is A Commander being armed for Battle, a highly important portrait by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) which is offered from the Spencer Collections and sold by order of the Trustees (estimate: £8 million to £12 million). From the same collection is King David by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino (1591-1666) (estimate: £5 million to £8 million). The auction is expected to realise a total of £32,970,000 to £50,210,000.

This auction builds on the success of the corresponding sale at Christie’s London in December 2009 which realised £68,380,250 / $112,417,131 / €75,491,796 – the highest ever total for an auction of Old Masters – where record prices were established for Raphael (£29.2 million / $47.9 million), Rembrandt (£20.2 million / $33.2 million) and Domenichino (£9.2 million / $15.2 million).

Richard Knight, International co-Head of Old Masters and 19th Century Art at Christie’s and Paul Raison, Head of Old Masters and 19th Century Art at Christie’s London: “The market for classical art continues to show resilience and growth as it attracts new international collectors. Prompted by the strong results realised at our auction in December, and the high-profile prices realised by the Raphel, the Rembrandt and the Domenichino in particular, we have gathered an impressive group of works for the evening sale in July. We are particularly excited to be offering the Rubens and the Guercino from the Spencer Collections, both of which are of the highest quality, and also the masterful and exceptionally rare portrait by Georg Pencz.”

Highlights of the auction:

• A Commander being armed for Battle is a highly important portrait by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640) which is offered from the Spencer Collections and sold by order of the Trustees (estimate: £8 million to £12 million). Depicting a powerful moment of implacable moral determination, it is masterfully presented by the artist in the most forthright and technically accomplished manner; particularly notable in the facial expressions and the handling of the light. Rubens has chosen, with his Baroque sense of drama and movement, the moment of arming the Commander. In contrast to the central figure, the youths have an attractive demeanour which contrasts deliberately and sharply with the proud manliness of the warrior. A Commander being armed for Battle by Rubens was a comparatively late arrival to the Spencer collections, having only been at Althorp since 1802 when it hung as an overdoor. Although originally described as the ‘School of Rubens’ in the 1802 inventory of the Althorp collection, this superbly preserved picture is now justly recognised as the prime version of this composition by leading Rubens scholars, including those connected to the Corpus Rubenianum in Antwerp.

• From the same collection is King David by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Il Guercino (1591-1666) (estimate: £5 million to £8 million), a monumental painting measuring over 2 metres in height which was acquired in Rome through the Scottish painter and dealer Gavin Hamilton by John, 1st Earl Spencer in 1768. Originally commissioned in 1651 by Giuseppe Locatelli for the Palazzo Locatelli in Cesena and depicting the Old Testament Hebrew prophet, King David, the work was bought specifically to hang in the Great Room at Spencer House. The quiet classicism of King David would have been in keeping with the opulent yet restrained decoration of the London house overseen between 1759 and 1765 by James ‘Athenian’ Stuart and it was placed in a carved and gilded frame specifically designed by the great classical architect. There the painting remained until the 1920s, when the 7th Earl Spencer, faced with declining agricultural rents and rising costs, took the difficult decision to give up Spencer House and take the works of art northwards to Althorp.

• An undisputed masterpiece of the Northern Renaissance, Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger by Georg Pencz (circa 1500–1550), painted in 1545, is an exceptional and rare work of museum-quality (estimate: £5 million to £8 million). A portrait of striking beauty and imposing presence, by the artist believed to have been Albrecht Dürer’s most important pupil, it represents the final flowering of the golden age of Nuremburg painting, and is an early product of the cross-pollination between German and Italian High Renaissance artists. Paintings by Pencz are exceedingly rare with most in museums, and a very small number in prestigious private collections.

The painting was recently restituted to the heirs of the celebrated Hungarian collector, Baron András Herzog. The fame of the Herzog collection was widespread by the 1920s. In 1927, an illustrated catalogue of best of the Old Masters and modern pictures was prepared by Ludwig von Baldass, a respected Vienna-School art historian and curator at the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. Published in Hungarian, the catalogue begins with a discussion of Herzog’s early Italian and German pictures, with special attention given to the sixteenth-century German portraits, singling out the Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger by Georg Pencz. During the Second World War, the Herzogs faced persecution as one of the most prominent Jewish families in Hungary. The looting of the collection during this period took several directions. Some of the pictures were hand-picked by Adolf Eichmann, then headquartered in Budapest, as personal booty; others were taken into custody by the Hungarian state and are now in the Museum of Fine Arts, Budapest; still others were dispersed through wartime looting or in forced sales. At least one work, Pencz’s Portrait of Sigismund Baldinger to be offered at Christie’s in July, was selected for the Führermuseum in Linz, a museum of masterpieces planned by Hitler, which was to contain a selection of only the greatest works of art. The painting was returned to the heirs of Baron András Herzog as a result of the Federal Republic of Germany’s ongoing efforts to return the remaining artworks from the “Linz Collection” to their rightful owners.

• The auction will offer the rarely-seen The Madonna and Child in a landscape by Giovanni Bellini (1431/6-1516), one of the most celebrated of Italian Renaissance artists. The picture is first recorded in the possession of William Ward, 1st Earl of Dudley (1817–1885), who was one of the outstanding English collectors of the mid-nineteenth century, assembling a very significant gallery of pictures at his London residence, Dudley House, Park Lane. Last publicly exhibited in 1955, this is the most authoritative version of a Madonna composition that was clearly designed at the end of his career by the greatest Venetian master of the quattrocento.

• The full-length Portrait of Anne Sophia, Countess of Carnarvon (d. 1695) by Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599–1641) is an important, historical portrait by the celebrated Flemish master (estimate: £1.5 million to £2 million). Lady Carnarvon was connected to the court by both birth and marriage. Her father Philip, 4th Earl of Pembroke, had been a favourite of King James I, and remained a central figure in the court of King Charles I, holding the influential position of Lord Chamberlain. Her husband, Robert Dormer, 1st Earl of Carnarvon, whom she married in 1625, was a considerable heir, whose family had risen in prominence under the Tudors. The 4th Earl of Pembroke was one of van Dyck’s most important early patrons. This elegant full-length portrait, is thought likely to have been executed for Sir Edmund Verney, with whose family Lady Carnarvon was on friendly terms, and was painted circa 1635.

• Niña en la playa by Joaquin Sorolla y Bastida (1863-1923) was painted in 1910 when the artist was at the peak of his career following the success of his first exhibition in the United States in 1908. One of the most important works by the artist to be offered at auction, it is expected to realise £800,000 to £1.2 million.

• Offered for the first time at auction, a drawing believed to be the final compositional study for Federico Barocci’s (1528-1612) Albani Madonna, which was the final work created by the Italian master (now in the collection of the Banca Nazionale del Lavoro, Rome), is expected to realise £500,000 to £800,000.

• The auction will offer 5 works by Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A. (1775-1851), including View of Dunbar, East Lothian, a watercolour which was executed as one of the ten full-page illustrations and two vignettes made by the artist for The Provincial Antiquities and Picturesque Scenery of Scotland, for which the words were written by Walter Scott (estimate: £200,000 to £300,000).

Image: Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), Portrait of a commander, three-quarter-length, being dressed for battle. Estimate: £8 million to £12 million. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd 2010.