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Old Master Paintings

The Artists Who Learnt from the Old Masters

Works by followers and students of the great masters will be included in the upcoming sale Old Master Copies Online: Imitation & Influence from the 17—30 October. The auction will offer a unique opportunity to acquire some of the most interesting interpretations of famous narrative scenes. 

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JOSE ANTOLINEZ, STUDIO SCENE, AFTER 1670. COLLECTION ALTE PINAKOTHEK, MUNICH. COURTESY BRIDGEMAN IMAGES. 

On a recent drizzly afternoon in Munich, I happily spent a few hours in the galleries of the Alte Pinakothek where I came across a painting that I had not seen before; a large canvas by a seventeenth century artist from Madrid called José Claudio Antolinez. The scene is of an artist's workshop and the tools of that trade are seen piled up in the foreground. Prints and drawings are pinned all over the bear plaster walls, their papery edges curling. In the centre stands the figure of an art dealer, he looks straight at us whilst proffering before him a small canvas on which is a copy after a Madonna and Child by Scipio Pulzone, the original of which is in the Galleria Borghese, Rome. The unnamed artist responsible for the copy peeks out from a doorway in the background and we, the viewer, assume the role of the client. This fantastic image, and my assumed role of 'buyer', got me thinking about the value of collecting copies of Old Master Paintings.

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CIRCLE OF REMBRANDT HARMENSZ VAN RIJN, PORTRAIT OF REMBRANDT'S MOTHER. ESTIMATE £8,000–12,000.

Nowadays copies of paintings by famous artists are often dismissed as second-rate objects because they are not 'autograph'. This affects their place in the literature, where they may at best merit a footnote only, as well as in the market place.  Artists themselves did not share this negative attitude, and copying formed an essential part of artistic training for centuries.  In copying, the student learns the method of the artist; his or her manner of approach, the mixing and gradations of colour.

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FOLLOWER OF VELÁZQUEZ, PORTRAIT OF A MAN. ESTIMATE £2,000–3,000.

So important was this process of learning through emulation that only upon demonstrating a mastery of the coping of engravings, of statues and paintings, would the student be allowed to join life drawing classes and eventually progress to creating works of their own design. When the Louvre first opened to the public in 1793, so central was this practice that it set aside five of every ten days exclusively for artists to study and copy its collection. 

Degas is recorded there in the late 19th century diligently copying masterpieces by his favourite artist, Ingres. He also did a full-scale, careful copy after Poussin's The Rape of the Sabine Women which now in the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. The list of famous artists whose documented admiration of, and copies after the Old Masters is endless; Landseer after Rubens; John Singer Sargent after Velasquez; Henri Fantin Latour after Titian and Veronese, Géricault after Caravaggio and earlier; Watteau after Titian, Van Dyck after Tintoretto, Matsys after Raphael, to name but a few. 

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FOLLOWER OF SIR ANTHONY VAN DYCK, THE TAKING OF CHRIST. ESTIMATE £4,000–6,000.

Because most copies after the Old Masters have been long undervalued, their authorship was rarely recorded, and so they come to us today most often as anonymous works. And yet appreciation of them, to me, is an endeavour in understanding the influence of truly great works on younger or later artists and students. They are also often fantastically inexpensive. To purchase one would stand you in good company: King Charles I, England's most famous voracious and sophisticated art collector owned a very large number of copies (around 60 in total), including numerous copies of paintings of which the originals were already in his possession.  As well as purchasing them himself, Charles also received copies as gifts from courtiers.

 

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