NEW YORK – One of the first important consignments I worked on when I was a new specialist in the field of 19th Century Paintings was Vibert’s Return of the Relics. This was an important moment for me not only because it introduced me to a new and interesting artist, Jehan Georges Vibert, but also because it introduced me to one of my favorite clients, someone I really don’t even consider a client anymore. Over the years, he has also become a very close friend. 



The Vibert was eventually purchased by another collector, who has also become a good friend. Both of these individuals have always shared a heartfelt passion for the field of 19th Century European Paintings, and have remained loyal devotees to this collecting area. It was therefore a great pleasure for me to once again have the opportunity to be the temporary custodian of Return of the Relics, which still remains (after all of these years) one of the most significant works by Vibert that I have ever offered in a sale. It is included in our auction of 19th Century European Art at Sotheby's New York on 6 November.

viberts-return-relicsJehan Georges Vibert, Return of the Relics. To be sold at Sotheby’s New York on 6 November in the sale of 19th Century European Art, Lot 95.

Vibert and Cardinals. Anyone who knows Vibert immediately thinks of his satirical cardinal subjects: cardinals laughing, drinking, and enjoying fine food (usually resulting in an attack of gout)! Vibert loved the satire, and we love his clever and entertaining subjects. However, The Return of the Relics strikes a different chord. It remained in Vibert’s studio until his death in 1902, suggesting that it may have held some special significance for him. In his book Comédie en peinture, Vibert recalls a story that was told to him by an old Breton fisherman, who claimed to have witnessed the scene depicted in this impressive watercolor. Imagine setting out in the morning to happen upon this multitude of kneeling friars being led in prayer by a Bishop and his impressive entourage? Non-fiction or fiction? Most of the stories in Vibert’s Comédie are apocryphal tales intended to provide narratives for his paintings. Whether a scene that actually happened or a figment of Vibert’s imagination, the end result is a memorable image of devotion and piety, expertly rendered by one of the most gifted water-colourists of the 19th century.  

vibert-journaux-peacockJehan Georges Vibert, The Preening Peacock (left) and Les Journaux, (right).

Polly Sartori is Senior Vice President, Head of Department of the 19th Century European Paintings department at Sotheby's New York.