LONDON - Pictures are still found in attics and the store-rooms of country houses, covered by dust and cobwebs and neglected by the outside world, but it is not as common as many might think. Therefore when important works of art are rediscovered, picture experts become very excited. For many of us, it is one of the reasons that we love our job so much as we are able to bring lost pictures out from the shadows.
Last year a rediscovered Pre-Raphaelite masterpiece by Dante Gabriel Rossetti Venus Verticordia, was sold for close to £2.9million in our December sale. Its brief exhibition at our New Bond Street galleries was the first time the exquisite watercolour had been seen publically since 1898. The excitement of the re-emergence of this picture ignited a spark of enthusiasm among those who recognise the importance of pictures like this and led to it selling for more than double the pre-sale estimate and breaking the record for any watercolour by Rossetti sold at auction.
The unveiling of unseen and unrecorded works of art greatly adds to our valuable knowledge of the artists that produced them. For our sale of Victorian, Pre-Raphaelite & British Impressionist Art on 15 July we have been lucky enough to find several pictures that each have great historical importance in the oeuvre of the artists and we are able to share them with you here.
Sir Frederic Leighton’s Study for Flaming June, circa 1895. Estimate £40,000–60,000.
The first is the missing link of the only known study for the head of Frederic, Lord Leighton’s most famous picture Flaming June. The painting is among the most celebrated masterpieces of the nineteenth century and has become known as ‘The Mona Lisa of the Southern Hemisphere’. The painting is perhaps the most famous rediscovery story of all and although Flaming June is now internationally famous, this has not always been the case. It had been enthusiastically received when it was first exhibited and it was loaned for some years to the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford. However the painting was returned to its owner in 1930, it was sold shortly afterwards and lost for more than 30 years. It reappeared in 1963 on a market trader’s stall in Chelsea and was sold to a Polish frame-maker in south London with a price-tag of £50. After changing hands a few times in quick succession, one owner being a hairdresser on Albermarle Street who had a side-line in selling pictures, it was bought by Jeremy Maas, a pioneer in re-establishing the reputation of many painters of the Victorian era. After unsuccessful attempts to sell the picture to a British museum, Maas sold Flaming June to Luis Ferre, then the Governor of Puerto Rico. It is now a highlight of the Museum in Ponce, valued at many £millions.
Various museums possess studies for the draperies in the picture, for the nude figure and for the overall composition, but this unique head study was only known from an illustration in the Magazine of Art of 1895. I first saw this drawing early in my career at Sotheby’s, hanging on the wall behind a door in Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe’s bedroom at the wonderfully atmospheric West Horsley Place in Surrey, the contents of which will be sold as The Duchess - Precious Objects and Property from the Estate of Mary, Duchess of Roxburghe at Sotheby’s on 27 May this year. No doubt the Roxburghe family knew it was there, but as few others would have been privy to the pictures hanging in her Ladyship’s bedroom, to the majority of the outside world, it was unknown. The Leverhulme sale held in 2001 at Sotheby’s brought the oil sketch for Flaming June into the open when it sold for £104,000 and the sale of this head study will now complete the history of the picture.
Sir Edwin Landseer’s Ziga, a Badger Dog Belonging to the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Estimate £40,000-60,000.
The provenance of the Roxburghe drawing is impeccable, it having passed through aristocratic lineage from its first owner Lord Houghton. Another picture in our July sale has even more auspicious provenance, perhaps as eminent as it could possibly be. Sir Edwin Landseer’s charming picture of a pampered dachshund looking longingly at a Tyrolean organ-grinder’s ape, came to us in a poor state from a European client who was unsure about its attribution. It was unframed and dirty, but has been gloriously restored and fortunately had not lost a small label pasted to the reverse of the stretcher, which reads; ‘Privat – Eigenthum/ Seiner Hobeit des Herzog/ ERNST II./ von Sachsen Coburg-Gotha.’ This led to the discovery that it is by Landseer and its title is Ziga, a Badger Dog Belonging to the Hereditary Prince of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Records at Windsor Castle prove the validity of the small label, as the picture was commissioned in 1842 by H.R.H. Queen Victoria as a gift for to her brother-in-law Ernest, Duke Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. Further evidence that the picture belonged to the Duke was found in the Royal Collection, in the form of a watercolour by Georg Conrad Rothbart showing the painting hanging above a sofa at Schloss Callenberg in around 1845. The painting will be offered with an estimate of £40,000–60,000 and importantly, it can now be added to the list of known works by Landseer – the greatest animalier of the 19th century.
Sir Frederic Leighton’s Catarina, 1879. Estimate £100,000–150,000.
We return to the genius of Lord Leighton for our third rediscovery, Catarina. This delightful depiction of a young Italian girl with jasmine flowers in her hair is included in most of the major studies of Leighton’s work but does not seem to have been reproduced. The picture has been greatly loved by the family who have consigned it to the sale but they have been careful to keep it safe and away from the eyes of too many. It appears to have been in their possession for more than half a century and is in excellent original condition with its impressive exhibition frame from when it was shown at the Royal Academy in 1879. These sensitive portrayals of young women are arguably more attractive to modern taste than Leighton’s grandiose mythologies and with a presale estimate of £100,000–150,000 Catarina is set to be a great success.
All three pictures will be exhibited at Sotheby’s in London this summer, an opportunity to be admired for the first time in living memory. They may then go back into private ownership, but they will be recorded and documented again for posterity.