Portrait Perfect

Portrait Perfect

Master portraiture through the ages, from Sotheby's Master Paintings Evening and Day sales.
Chapters
Master portraiture through the ages, from Sotheby's Master Paintings Evening and Day sales.

P ortraiture was an important genre for the Old Masters: it ensured that the likenesses of influential people were preserved for centuries, and often served as the primary way for artists to generate income. Self-portraiture advertised the artist's confidence and allowed him or her to compare themselves to famous precursors in the history of art. The sitters in the following portraits range from royalty to anonymous children of wealthy families, and include artists themselves as well as their contemporaries. They appear in formal, full-length portraits as well as integrated into compositions as actors in a story, and they pose in their finest clothes or historical costumes to show both their riches and education. Commissioned portraits were intended to idealize the sitter, but realistic details were also prized as a mark of the sitter’s good taste in painters.

The following selection of portraits will come to auction in the upcoming Master Paintings Evening and Day sales; these exquisite artworks illustrate the versatility and significance of portraiture in the early modern period.

LUCAS CRANACH THE ELDER, THE LEFT AND RIGHT INTERNAL WINGS OF THE FEILITZSCH ALTARPIECE: SAINT PETER WITH A DONOR, PROBABLY JOBST VON FEILITZSCH; SAINT PAUL, circa 1511-1512. Estimate $1,000,000 – 1,500,000.

Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Left and Right Internal Wings of the Feilitzsch Altarpiece: Saint Peter with a Donor, Probably Jobst Von Feilitzsch; Saint Paul

J obst von Feitlitzsch commissioned the altarpiece from which these wings are taken in circa 1511-1512, and Cranach portrayed the patron as a kneeling devotee alongside St. Paul in the left panel. Including the contemporary donor's image, complete with his distinct features and rich fur collar and sleeves, ensured that Feilitzsch's piety was memorialized and his contribution to the local church was recognized.

Artwork is Lot 5 in Master Paintings Evening Sale

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Orazio Borgianni, Self Portrait as a Painter with Palette and Canvas. Estimate $400,000 – 600,000.

Orazio Borgianni, Self Portrait as a Painter with Palette and Canvas

I mbued with confidence and intensity, this self-portrait by Borgianni was completed when the artist was 31 or 32, just after he returned to his native city of Rome after working in Spain for several years. This is the first known and most sophisticated of Borgianni's self-portraits – he would later paint two more self-portraits, both of which show his appearance as older, less attractive and less clearly identifiable as an artist. In contrast, here he presents himself as thoughtful and imaginative, as suggested by the inscription on the canvas that refers to the wonder of discovery and knowledge.

Artwork is Lot 17 in Master Paintings Evening Sale

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Johann Spilberg, Portrait of a Young Girl as a Huntress, with Two Hounds in a Landscape. Estimate $150,000 – 200,000.

Johann Spilberg, Portrait of a Young Girl as a Huntress, with Two Hounds in a Landscape

T his elegant canvas is a very fine example of the portraits of children in pastoral dress which enjoyed considerable vogue in the mid-17th century in the Northern Netherlands. Its young sitter is shown in a landscape, and the theme of the hunt is indicated by the tassled spear and the presence of two hounds upon a leash. The elegant and elaborate dress, with its rich crimson velvet, gold brocade and pearled and feathered headdress is expensive and indicates that she was from the aristocratic class. The painting has always been considered to be of a girl, an interpretation clearly supported by the presence of the jewels, and the obvious connotations of the theme of Diana the huntress might suggest that she too bore that name. Nevertheless, the martial theme of the hunt was equally if not more appropriate for portraits of young boys, who would also have been depicted wearing dresses at this period, and the possibility that the sitter may be male should not perhaps be ruled out.

Artwork is Lot 26 in Master Paintings Evening Sale

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ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI, PORTRAIT OF A GENTLEMAN, PROBABLY ANTOINE DE VILLE, FULL-LENGTH, RESTING HIS HAND ON A SWORD AND WITH HIS ARM AKIMBO, circa 1626-27. Estimate $800,000 – 1,200,000.

Artemisia Gentileschi, Portrait of a Gentleman, Probably Antoine De Ville, Full-Length, Resting His Hand on a Sword and with His Arm Akimbo

T his impressive portrait of a gentleman is a recent addition to the oeuvre of celebrated female artist Artemisia Gentileschi. She cleverly added her initials AG to the elegant Genoese lace on the sitter’s collar, a detail so subtle that it went unnoticed for many years. The sitter is likely the French military engineer Antoine de Ville, whose likeness is known through an engraving and who Artemisia may have met in Rome through the Accademia dei Desiosi. Though she is better known today for her history paintings, early sources claim her real specialty was portraiture, and the present lot, dated to circa 1626-27, adds to our understanding of this part of her career.

Artwork is Lot 33 in the Master Paintings Evening Sale

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Jan Lievens, Woman Embraced by a Man, Modelled by the Young Rembrandt, circa 1626-1627. Estimate $4,000,000 – 6,000,000.

Jan Lievens, Woman Embraced by a Man, Modelled by the Young Rembrandt

T he young Lievens and Rembrandt were friends and rivals in Leiden, where they sometimes shared studio space and used one another as models in their paintings. The man embracing a woman here has the unmistakable features of Rembrandt, known through countless self-portraits. Although this was not intended as a formal portrait of his contemporary, Lievens's use of Rembrandt as model demonstrates his ability to capture physiognomy as well as mood and personality in his early works, of which this is an important example.

Artwork is Lot 35 in the Master Paintings Evening Sale

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ALLAN RAMSAY, PORTRAIT OF JANE HALE, MRS. MADAN, THREE QUARTER LENGTH, 1746. Estimate $100,000 – 150,000.

Allan Ramsay, Portrait of Jane Hale, Mrs. Madan, Three Quarter Length

R amsay completed this striking portrait in London during a particularly successful period of his early career. Signed and dated 1746, the work portrays Mrs. Jane Madan dressed in what was known as "Van Dyck" costume, a fashion favored by high-born women during the 1730s and 1740s. The attire aptly denotes the sitter's position in society; Mrs. Madan's father was the distinguished judge, Sir Bernard Hale, Kt (1677-1729) of King Walden, Hertfordshire, and in 1751 she married the Rev. Martin Madan (1726-1790) a prominent clergyman.

At this point in Ramsay's career, the artist had established his reputation as a sophisticated and elegant portraitist capable of expertly capturing the likeness of his sitter. Ramsay drew his talent from his early studies in Italy with some of the most fashionable Italian portrait painters of the era, Francesco Imperiali and Pompeo Batoni.

Artwork is Lot 53 in the Master Paintings Evening Sale

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THOMAS GAINSBOROUGH, R.A., PORTRAIT OF PHILIP DEHANY WITH HIS WIFE MARGARET AND THEIR DAUGHTER MARY, FULL LENGTH, IN AN INTERIOR, circa 1761-2. Estimate $700,000 – 900,000.

Thomas Gainsborough, R.A., Portrait of Philip Dehany with His Wife Margaret and Their Daughter Mary, Full Length, in an Interior

D ating to circa 1761-2, this sumptuous, full-length portrait of the Dehany family is an important painting from Gainsborough’s formative Bath period. It was there that Gainsborough first experimented with a loose, impressionistic style of brushwork, seen here in Mrs. Dehany’s delicately layered rose skirt, that would come to elevate and define his career. The painting descended in the Dehany family for over a century, and later was in the collection of Sir Joseph Benjamin Robinson, Bt.

Artwork is Lot 71 in the Master Paintings Evening Sale

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Andrea Appiani, Portrait of Achille Fontanelli, 1813. Estimate $700,000 – 900,000.

Andrea Appiani, Portrait of Achille Fontanelli

A ndrea Appiani was celebrated for his portraits of Napoleon and his milieu, and the present painting, signed and dated 1813, is his last masterpiece of portraiture: he suffered a stroke in April 1813 and was unable to paint for the remaining few years of his life. Achille Fontanelli of Modena was a Lieutenant General and later Minister of the War and of the Royal Navy under Napoleon. He appears here in full military regalia, in a similar format to Napoleon’s famous portraits by Appiani and his contemporaries.

Artwork is Lot 72 in the Master Paintings Evening Sale

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ARTHUR WILLIAM DEVIS, PORTRAIT OF JOHN PETRIE AND HIS WIFE ANNE (NÈE KEBLE) AND THREE OF THEIR CHILDREN, THEIR AYAH AND A MUSICIAN. Estimate $80,000 – 120,000.

Arthur William Devis, Portrait of John Petrie and His Wife Anne (Nèe Keble) and Three of Their Children, Their Ayah and a Musician

D evis settled in Calcutta, India in 1785 after traveling to China with the British East India Company, and enjoyed the patronage of wealthy British families living there. He painted the Petrie family during their second trip to India circa 1779-1788. Here, the family chose to have their children's ayah (caretaker) and musician portrayed alongside them; this communicates not only the family's wealth but also their close connection to these individuals during their time in India.

Artwork is Lot 213 in the Master Paintings & Sculpture Day Sale

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SIR ANTHONY VAN DYCK AND STUDIO, PORTRAIT OF JAMES STUART (1612 - 1655), FOURTH DUKE OF LENNOX AND FIRST DUKE OF RICHMOND, AS PARIS HOLDING AN APPLE, HALF-LENGTH. Estimate $100,000 – 150,000.

Sir Anthony Van Dyck and Studio, Portrait of James Stuart (1612 – 1655), Fourth Duke of Lennox and First Duke of Richmond, as Paris Holding an Apple, Half-Length

T his portrait of James Stuart is one of two versions made by Van Dyck and his studio; the other is at the Musée du Louvre, Paris. Lennox appears here in the guise of Paris, the shepherd from Greek mythology tasked with awarding the golden apple to the fairest goddess.

Lennox attended Trinity College, Dublin and traveled the continent before being appointed Gentleman of the Bedchamber in 1625, knighted in 1630 and becoming a Privy Councillor in 1633; he was a close friend of King Charles I and supported the Royalist cause, lending the King large sums of money on two occasions. Lennox's family was among Van Dyck's most important patrons; his siblings are also the subjects of celebrated portraits from Van Dyck's English period.

Artwork is Lot 246 in the Master Paintings & Sculpture Day Sale

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These and other superb artworks will feature in the upcoming Master Paintings Evening Sale and Master Paintings & Sculpture Day Sale, part of Sotheby's Masters Week 2020. Exhibitions will open to the public in New York from 24–31 January.

The Master Paintings Evening Sale will be held on 29 January at 5:00 PM EDT in New York, and the Master Paintings & Sculpture Day Sale will be held the following morning, 30 January at 10:00 AM EDT in New York. For more information and to register to bid, please click on the following sale pages.

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