Consisting of two sessions, the first devoted to Continental Old Master Drawings, and the second made up of British Drawings and Watercolours, this extremely wide-ranging sale tells in some detail the story of three and a half centuries of European works on paper.
The sale’s leading highlight is a set of five remarkable transparencies by the 18th-century French artist Carmontelle (lot 111), works that are an astonishing precursor of the colour films of a century and a half later. Though the full-colour motion picture is in some ways the quintessential medium of the 20th century, many of the same visual and narrative effects were in fact being explored much earlier, by Enlightenment pioneers who experimented with an astonishing range of technical and visual effects that broke down all the traditional barriers between the arts of drawing and painting and the worlds of theatre, popular spectacle and courtly entertainment. Carmontelle’s watercolours are an incredibly rare survival of one of these ground-breaking works. Made as a lengthy series of “frames” that together compose a single narrative, these beautiful watercolours were designed to be viewed, in a darkened room and lit from behind, as part of an evening’s entertainment, in which the artist wound the continuous roll of joined sheets of paper, scene by scene, through a specially designed viewing box, narrating at the same time, with full dramatic effect, the story represented.
Breaking boundaries and crossing continents could almost be the theme of this unusually varied sale: one of the other leading highlights is the exquisite watercolour, extensively heightened with gold, of a Sultan standing beside a goat (lot 24), one of a celebrated group of similar drawings of Turkish figures that Jacopo Ligozzi executed around 1580-85 for the Florentine Grand Duke Francesco I de’ Medici, of which only a very few remain in private hands.
Almost contemporaneous with Ligozzi’s masterpiece but very different in spirit is Hans Bol’s superb 1591 gouache depicting An elegant hunting party before the abbey of Rouge-Cloître, near Brussels (lot 10), which encapsulates Northern European courtly life of the period, and is one of the very best works by this great master to have come on the market in recent years.
Other extremely rare works in the Old Master section of this wide-ranging, two-part sale include two superb drawings by Francesco Primaticcio (lots 37 and 45), both relating to the artist’s work on the spectacular decorative scheme that the French King François I initiated at the Palace of Fontainebleau in the 1530s and ‘40s, one of the greatest decorative commissions of the period.
The second session of the sale is devoted to British drawings and watercolours, and opens with more than one hundred works from the celebrated collection of Walter Brandt, many of which have not been seen on the market since the 1950s. Brandt was the brother of the photographer, Bill Brandt, so a great eye clearly ran in the family, and the Walter Brandt Collection is rightly famed both for the clarity and consistency of taste that it embodies, and for its highly individual nature. There are indeed major works by household name artists – two important Turners, for example (lots 276 and 277) – but there are also highly revealing drawings by rare artists such as John Talman, George Michael Moser, Jonathan Skelton, Michael ‘Angelo’ Rooker and many others, all of which shed at least as much fascinating light on the art of the English watercolour.
Among the English watercolours from other collections, with which the sale concludes, the majestic and lyrical View of the Grande Chartreuse by J.R. Cozens (lot 324), executed in 1783 during the artist’s Grand Tour in the company of William Beckford, is a particular highlight. Remarkably well preserved, it is a work of immense power and subtlety.
Finally, we return once more to the Bosphorus, with John Frederick Lewis’s A Coffee House, Istanbul (lot 358), an atmospheric and accurate depiction of everyday life in the Turkish capital in 1840, where the actual costumes may be rather different from those depicted by Ligozzi two and a half centuries earlier, but the spirit captured in the work is remarkably similar.
We hope you will enjoy the range of works presented in this catalogue, and will be moved to come to our galleries in early July to see all these fascinating drawings and watercolours in the originals. We also hope that you will not hesitate to contact one of our team of experts if you have questions about any item in the sale.