O ur European & British Art sale presents rediscovered and rarely-seen works by artists from fourteen European countries, offering an insight into creativity across the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The sale is led by a classic Berlin view by Eduard Gaertner of the Royal Opera House, Unter den Linden, a museum-quality rediscovery from 1845, which is offered alongside thirty of the artist’s watercolour views of the city.
British paintings are represented by artists including Sir Alfred Munnings, Frederic Lord Leighton and Sir George Clausen, while the sale is strong in Nordic art, with highlights by Akseli Gallen-Kallela, Carl Larsson and Anders Zorn. Four important views by Jean-Léon Gérôme from the Najd collection define the selection of Orientalist paintings, while Joaquín Sorolla’s monumental Before the Bullfight is offered alongside Spanish works by Santiago Rusiñol and José Mongrell.
The Nordic section includes Swedish works from the prestigious collection of Sir Michael Smurfit, whose Irish collection was offered at Sotheby’s earlier this year.
Anders Zorn’s charming painting Girl from Mora Skiing sees Zorn return to his childhood home in this beautiful part of central Sweden. The innocence of childhood is also expressed in three lyrical depictions of family life by Carl Larsson. Whilst Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s depiction of Skaters on Lake Ruovesi is an evocative scene from the artist’s first period living and working at his wilderness studio Kalela in Ruovesi, central Finland.
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Painted in 1845, this rediscovered work by the leading German view painter of the nineteenth century, Eduard Gaertner depicts a view west of the Königliche Oper (Royal Opera) and Unter den Linden, Berlin’s main imperial boulevard. The painting is offered alongside thirty of the artist’s watercolour views of the city.
Gaertner’s Expression of an Emerging German Enlightenment
The Najd Collection was born out of the remarkable vision of one man who during the late 1970s and 1980s built what was undoubtedly one of the greatest private collections of Orientalist art in the world. He was among the first collectors from the Middle East to recognize the quality and importance of this genre. Through his trusted advisor Brian MacDermot (1930-2013), founder of the Mathaf Gallery in Belgravia, the collector acquired many of the best examples to come to market.
By 1990, having assembled 155 works, he published a book on the collection, again with the help of the Mathaf Gallery, which offered a pan-optic survey of Orientalist art and served as a reference work for collectors and scholars alike. In the decades that followed, other collectors and institutions in the region entered the market, amplifying the existing demand for Orientalist works in the West and creating a scarcity of available works. It is therefore not surprising that when forty works from the collection were offered at Sotheby’s as a dedicated sale on 22 October 2019, the sale became a landmark event that set no fewer than nine new artist auction records, including for leading Orientalists Ludwig Deutsch, Gustav Bauernfeind, and Jean-Léon Gérôme.
One of the most strongly represented artists in the collection was the great French Orientalist painter Jean-Léon Gérôme, whose academic, photographically detailed depictions of life in Egypt and Turkey set a benchmark for contemporary and succeeding Orientalist painters. Inspired by sketches, photographs and memories from his multiple trips to Constantinople, Bursa, Cairo, and the Nile basin, Gérôme crafted an engrossing picture of the mores and culture, both ancient and modern, real and imagined, of the region’s rich history. Thus, in the following four works he evokes everything from a Ptolemaic, pre-Islamic scene, to contemporary scenes of women bathing, or, as in the case of Jeune fille du Caire, dressed in the costume of their profession. All four paintings, though quite different in subject, are exceptional examples of Gérôme’s unparalleled draughtsmanship and masterful evocation of light and colour.
A diverse selection of pictures by one of Britain’s most popular and celebrated landscape artists of his generation, Edward Seago, are offered in our sale. A viewing of the many exhibitions of Seago’s paintings which have been held over the years, is like flicking through the pages of a photograph-album of the best cruise around the world and we have tried to reflect a little of this in our sale.
From the sun-baked sandstone and white-hot skies of A River Bed in the Atlas Mountains, Morocco to silver winter light refracting from water in A Grey Day on the Grand Canal, Venice and The Seine from Chateau Gaillard Seago’s landscapes are always escapist and the locations recognisable.
Of course every great holiday must come to an end and Seago was always happy to return home to East Anglia and to painting the vast skies over ploughed fields and waterways in pictures like Yachts on the Orwell, The River Orwell, Suffolk and Norfolk Landscape or on days when the weather was just too grim to set foot outdoors he painted harmonious still-lifes such as Flower Study in Green and Yellow.
Some artists like Montague Dawson painted ships, others like Alfred Munnings painted horses whilst others like Lord Leighton painted the mythologies of the ancient world. For William Russell Flint there was only one subject that he painted over and over, the beauty of the female body. The human form offered him a myriad of poses and guises for his models to adopt. He found a thousand ways of explaining why they might not be fully clothed, whether it might be that they are fetching water from a well on a hot Spanish day in the sierras or simply posing for an artist as he painted them.
Flint’s use of watercolour was unrivalled and the way he captured the liquid-lustre of silk in the gorgeous watercolour Monique could have been done by very few others. Watercolour is not an easy medium to use to capture the contrasting textures of supple, living flesh and cold, rough stone, but Flint mastered it. The December sale includes nine works by Flint, each of which is a masterclass in the use of watercolour or red chalk.
The Dutch paintings in the sale include six works consigned from an Important Private Collection. Led by Cornelis Springer’s The Zuiderspui with the Drommedaris, Enkhuizen of 1866, seen in public for the first time since 2001, the group is among the most important offerings of Dutch Romantic paintings at auction in recent years.
Joaquín Sorolla’s monumental Before the Bullfight depicts an iconic moment in the cultural life of Valencia in the early years of the twentieth century and is one of the largest works by the artist to be offered at auction. Other works representing the vivid Spanish light of the Mediterranean include works by Santiago Rusiñol and José Mongrell.