Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Richard L. Feigen: Sir Peter Paul Rubens, Two Captive Soldiers, circa 1628. Oil on cradled panel. 12-1/2 by 19-5/8 inches (31.7 by 49.8 cm.)

by Wendy Moonan

J.P. Morgan did it. Henry Clay Frick did it. Andrew Mellon did, too.

These American tycoons collected amazing numbers of Old Master paintings (and then donated them to museums).

Now, almost a century later, collectors and would-be tycoons are again focusing on Old Masters, judging from the visitors crowding the booths of the dealers at the TEFEF (The European Fine Art Fair) in Maastricht, which opened last Friday and runs through Sunday in this medieval southern city in the Netherlands.

There are 263 dealers from 17 countries, dozens of whom specialize in Old Masters, a real strength of this fair.

My favorite painting by far is a little-noticed “sleeper” in the booth of Zurich dealer David Koetser. It is a ravishing Rubens oil sketch of the “Annunciation,” from before 1628. In it, the angel Gabriel reveals all to the Madonna. As of Monday, it was still available for 4 million Euros.
David Koetser: Sir Peter Paul Rubens, The Annunciation. Oil on panel, 41.8 x 29.6 cm.
Oil sketch for The Annunciation now in the Rubenshuis, Antwerp.
Dickinson: Sandro Botticelli, Madonna and Child with the Infant Saint John.
“It was in the Rubens house museum in Antwerp for five years, next to the final version, but the museum had to sell it for economic reasons,” Koetser said.

In my opinion, the museum sold the wrong painting. The final oil has much less vibrancy.

The London Gallery Dickinson has attracted the most press attention with its collection of “star” pictures, including the so-called “Rockefeller Madonna” by Botticelli (for $15 million); Two Women, a very colorful late Gauguin painting of two Tahitian women ($26 million); and a fine Baptism of Christ by Poussin (about $8 million). 

New York dealer Richard L. Feigen has a small Rubens oil sketch of Two Captive Soldiers (for $7.5 million). London dealer Richard Green has a Ruysdael “River View of the Town of Weesp.” New York private dealer Jack Kilgore has an exquisite “Elderly Man in Prayer” by Jacques de Rousseaux.
Richard L. Feigen: 16th-century North Italian artist, School of Veneto (Monogrammist ‘MO’), A Court Festival Set in the Garden of an Italian Villa, 1566.
The dealers spend a year searching for special works just for Maastricht, and the results can be impressive, even though there are not many blockbusters this year.

London dealer Johnny van Haeften has a Pieter Breughel II painting on copper that illustrates 95 “Flemish Proverbs.” The amusing picture is completely filled with villagers doing different tasks (including one man who is banging his head against a wall). It might take years to identify and match activities with proverbs, but well worth the time.

“Forty to 50% of my clients are American collectors and museums,” Van Haeften said.

And he might be lucky. On opening day, I spotted curators from the Met, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Minneapolis Museum of Art and the Wadsworth Athenaeum, and many more Americans were in attendance than last year.

Bernheimer-Colnaghi: Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472-1553)
David and Bathsheba
Signed lower right with the device of a winged serpent and dated: 1534
Oil on limewood panel, 115 x 79.3 cm
Bernheimer-Colnaghi of Munich and London, celebrating its 250th anniversary this year, has sold a remarkable Lucas Cranach oil of David and Bathsheba, 1534. (The asking price was 5.3 million Euros.)

The story is from the Book of Samuel. In the painting, King David is seen atop a tower, playing a lyre to attract the attention of the gorgeous – married –  Bathsheba, who is resting below on the ground next to a stream, oblivious to his overtures. A servant is washing Bathsheba’s foot, which the king seems to find erotic.

Bathsheba’s sumptuously dressed lady-in-waiting spots the flirtatious king. The picture leaves us in suspense as to what happens next. (King David seduces and impregnates Bathsheba, then arranges for her husband to die on the battlefield. David and Bathsheba marry, but their baby dies soon after birth, and finally the king feels remorse.)

“The Old Master market continues to perform strongly,” said Bernheimer, who said he sold five paintings at the private preview, but not his Frans Hals' St. Mark.

Many fine pictures portray less serious subject matter. First-time exhibitor Hammer Galleries of New York has a large Modigliani portrait of a "Young girl in Blue" from 1919, and a half-length portrait of George Washington, one of three that Gilbert Stuart painted, which has been at the Armand Hammer Foundation since 1970.

David Tunick has Matisse’s personal copy of the book “Jazz,” its magentas and yellows as vibrant as new.
Hammer Galleries: Amedeo Modigliani, Jeune fille assise, les cheveux dénoués (Jeune fille en bleu), 1919

This rare masterpiece was painted during the period Modigliani spent in the Midi region in the South of France for his health. While there, he turned to the simple peasant workers and children of the region for his models. The semi-transparent delicate brushwork Modigliani uses in this painting, almost translucent, beautifully evokes the youth and innocence of the sitter (priced at over €12.75 million).
David Tunick, Inc.: Henri Matisse, Jazz

The pinnacle of Matisse’s achievement as a printmaker, Jazz is a portfolio comprising twenty pochoirs printed in colors after collages and cut paper designs, as well as fascimile text be the artist. Originally owned by Pierre Matisse, the son of the artist. This is the best known illustrated book of the 20th century.
Gallery Didier Aaron, of Paris, London and New York, has two ravishing portraits: Nattier’s portrait of the Countess of Ranes, and Nicolas de Largilliere’s Diana, which is thought to portray the Countess of Noirment. To my mind, they are as good as Colnaghi’s Winterhalter oil of the Princess Murat from 1854.

One of the most intriguing works is not, strictly speaking, a painting. The Grassi Studio of New York is displaying a wildly colorful front panel from a cassone, or trunk, that was painted about 1435 by “the Florentine Painter.” It illustrates the story of “The Justice of Trajan.”

When the son of the Roman Emperor Trajan killed a youngster, the son was allowed to get away with it – until the youngster’s distraught mother went to plea for redress to the emperor. On the panel, we see the mother kneeling before Trajan. Behind her, the murderer is held in restraints.
Bernheimer-Colnaghi: Franz Xaver Winterhalter, Portrait of Malcy-Louise-Caroline-Frédérique Berthier de Wagram, Princesse Murat (1832-1884). Signed and dated lower left: fr Winterhalter 1854. Dickinson: Two Women, a very colorful late Gauguin painting of two Tahitian women ($26 million).
At the right we see Justice served: Trajan gives his guilty son to the mother, and the mortified son is led out of the palace – along with truckloads of treasure – to her home.

In the rarity department, New York gallery French and Co. has one standout: a very large example of a work of the movement known as Italian Divisionism (which looks a bit like French Pointillism).

Springtime in the Alps, 1897, is by Giovanni Segantini, a painter who was based in St. Moritz, which has devoted a museum to him. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but in the picture every blade of grass in the meadow, every cloud in the azure blue sky and figure is created with minute, thick streaks of paint in bright colors. Unfortunately, the village woman leading a pair of work horses up the hill doesn’t look too happy…
“It’s the last known Segantini on the market,” gallery owner Martin Zimet said. “The others are in private hands or the Segantini museum.”
Frank C. Möller Fine Arts: Large Chandelier
Karl Friedrich Schinkel, ca. 1827/28
Gilt - Ormolu and copper, cut-glas and glas bowl (renewed)
Height: 180cm; Diameter: 185cm.
bel etage Kunsthandel GmbH: Five Legged "Elephant Trunk" Table.

Designed by: Max Schmidt, Werkmeister Berka, Vienna, 1902. Executed by: Friedrich Otto Schmidt.

Five trunk legs, solid mahogany and veneer, surface slightly cleaned, cast brass fittings.
Jack Kilgore & Co., Inc.: Jacques de Rousseaux, An Elderly Bearded Man in Prayer.

oil on panel
26 1/8 by 20 ¼ inches (66.4 by 51.5 cm.)
Signed lower left with initials and dated: ‘JR 1631.’
The prize for most deliciously decorative picture must go to Feigen for the enormous and highly detailed depiction of a Court Festival in the Garden of an Italian Villa, 1566, by an unknown painter from the “School of Veneto.” Next to a fine Renaissance villa, a hundred acrobats in skin-tight red outfits perform theatrical skits. Center stage is another group in silvery Roman-style armor that has created a human pyramid just the way cheerleaders do today.

“I could have sold this painting a dozen times,” Feigen said in frustration (he sold it the first day but would have preferred to sell the Rubens oil sketch).

The most important sculpture at TEFAF is undoubtedly the magnificent terracotta maquette of The Risen Christ by Bernini, which had been discovered at an auction (for $8,000) by the owners of the Milan gallery Altomani & Sons. The muscular naked Christ, legs and arms outstretched, is striding to our left. He reaches forward with his right arm, right hand raised in benediction. It’s a powerful piece.
Wijermars Fine Art: Emile-Antoine Bourdelle
(Montauban 1861-1929 Le Vésinet)
La Muse Échevelée, 1912
Signed and dedicated by the artist "à T'Sterstevens-au poète-Emile Antoine Bourdelle"
Cast in 1912 in an edition of 8
98 x 117 x 29cm.
Rupert Wace Ancient Art: Aphrodite Pudica, Roman 1st-2nd century AD. Marble. Height: 89 cm.

A subject adopted by the Romans from the Greek, the goddess of love and beauty is shown attempting to cover her modesty. Depicted standing with her weight on her right leg, left leg bent at the knee, she would have clutched at the drapery which falls in elegant folds around her hips, revealing her buttocks. A lock of hair falls onto her shoulder.
Gisele Croes: Large earthenware horse. Early Tang dynasty (618-907). Grey earthenware; pink, black and white pigments.
Bernini created the sculpture for St. Peter’s in Rome, to crown the Baldacchino that marks the grave of St. Peter at the crossing of the transept.

It’s not clear why the final “Risen Christ” was never made (a cross on a globe now surmounts the structure). The project may have been abandoned because the sculpture, in bronze, may have been too heavy for the Baldacchino and would have caused the columns to push apart, or too expensive, or, somehow, theologically inappropriate.

We do know Bernini must have liked it, because he kept the terracotta long after monumental models of the sculpture in papier-mâché and clay disappeared.
Mallett: A pair of Louis XV gilt bronze three branch wall lights attributed to Jacques Caffiéri, each with vigorous scrolled blackplate cast with foliage and flowerheads issuing three scrolling and twisting branches ending in leafy drip-pans and nozzles. Yves Macaux: Josef Hoffmann hanging light.
Carolle Thibaut-Pomerantz: Enameled porcelain vase, crackled, « sang de bœuf » and gold, design of Chinese inspiration, Bing & Grøndhal (signed B & G - Marked with three turret castle emblem, N° 511/K). H. 10 ½’’ x W 11 ½’’
I happened to be admiring it when all the lights went out at the fair (a transformer blew). I had just told Altomani I thought he should keep the fragile piece under glass for protection.

“Oh no,” he said. “The people who come to TEFAF are too sophisticated to harm anything.” Then the place went black. He at once stood between the maquette and me.

He held his cell phone up to the statue, “protecting” it with the light from the phone. We all stood very still.

Eventually, the lights came back on and everyone laughed. “See!” he exclaimed nervously.

I had been imagining a grand jewelry heist, but the fair organizers said nothing had been stolen during those few dark moments. Only at TEFAF ... Can you believe it?!
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