The Old Master and British Works on Paper sale totalled £6,149,066. A masterful Self-portrait by Sir Peter Lely soared above estimate and achieved £869,000 smashing the previous auction record for a work on paper by the artist. Another highlight of this summer’s sale was a group of drawings from the famous Oppé Collection assembled in the first half of the 20th century by the great scholar and connoisseur, Paul Oppé. The ensemble brought £1,866,691, well above the pre-sale estimate of £1.1 to 1.5 million.
The Old Master and British drawings sale, to be held in two sessions on 5 and 6 July, will be one of the most exciting and varied for years.
The first session (lots 1–154) will consist of the last remaining portion of the famous collection assembled in the first half of the 20th century by the great scholar and connoisseur, Paul Oppé (1878-1957). The larger, British section of the Oppé collection was acquired by the Tate some years ago, but the family retained a selection of their favourite continental Old Masters, including a magical, minimalist Roman landscape by Claude Lorrain, an important study sheet by Paolo Veronese for one of his most significant commissions, and other outstanding drawings by artists as varied as Watteau, Carracci, Tiepolo and Guercino. Caricature and satire was also a theme that Oppé dearly loved, and the sale includes important caricatures by, for example, Agostino Carracci, and a splendid set of lively depictions by Stefano della Bella of dwarves disporting themselves in various ways.
Please note that all lots from the Oppé collection with a low estimate of £2,500 or below will be offered without reserve.
In the second, ‘various owners’ session of the sale (lots 200–365), the highlights encompass five centuries of European art. A clear star is the brilliantly drawn self-portrait by a clearly very self-confident Peter Lely, from the 1650s, one of only two documented self-portrait drawings by the artist. It is being sold along with portraits of the artist’s wife and son. Astonishingly, all three drawings have remained together in the possession of the artist’s family, passing down through successive generations for three and a half centuries.
Also consigned for sale by descendants of the sitter is the very beautiful portrait by Ingres, of the young John William Montagu, later 7th Earl of Sandwich, shown with his much-loved dog, in Rome in 1816, when he would have been around five years old. In excellent condition, this is one of the most charming of all Ingres’ celebrated series of portraits of the English in Rome.
Moving back in time, we have a rare figure study executed by a member of the workshop of Filippino Lippi, in the second half of the 14th century. Florentine drawings of this period hardly ever come to the market. Also executed in Florence is the highly important, large compositional study by the Flemish-born artist Jan van der Straet, called Stradanus, who worked, as part of the team headed by Giorgio Vasari, on the major cycle of scenes from Florentine history that Cosimo de’Medici commissioned to decorate the Sala Grande in the Palazzo Vecchio. This grand and impressive drawing, probably made in 1563, depicts Arnolfo di Cambio presenting the plan for the enlargement of the city of Florence. From the 17th century, we have an exceptional group of drawings by Guercino, the star of which is the superb red chalk study of St. Simeon holding the Christ child, the study for the artist’s highly important early frescoes in the Cathedral at Piacenza.
Among the 18th-century drawings in the sale, one of the most exceptional is the extremely amusing depiction by Fragonard of his vision of ‘The Inspiration of the Artist’. Combining all of Fragonard’s famous brilliance as a draughtsman with a healthy dose of humour, this is a particularly unusual and delightful drawing by the artist, which has not been on the market in several generations.
Lastly, the British section of the sale is truly exceptional, with a fine watercolour by the rare and short-lived Thomas Girtin, and no fewer than seven excellent watercolours by that Titan of English art, J.M.W. Turner, spanning his entire career, and illustrating every aspect of his talent and imagination.
Please note that the exhibition on Tuesday 5 July will only feature works from Session 2.