I n this mid-season sale of Old Master Paintings in London we are delighted to present a rich and wide variety of paintings, from the Italian and Spanish Renaissance, to works produced in the Flemish and Dutch Golden Age, dramatic Baroque pictures, 18th-century portraits and view paintings, and canvases dating from the early 19th century. This sale also includes a fantastic group of English sporting pictures many of which were formerly in the esteemed collection of Jack R. Dick and several elegant English 17th and 18th-century portraits from the collection of the Marquess of Downshire.
We are delighted to present a group of fine sporting paintings from a Hampshire private collection, including paintings by some of the most famous exponents of this uniquely British genre: the early horse painter, James Seymour (1702-52); John Ferneley Sr. (1782-1860); Henry Alken Sr. (1785-1851); John F. Herring Sr. (1795-1865); and Ben Marshall (1768-1835). These paintings not only celebrate bygone traditions and a way of life, but also act variously as important historical records of documented events, satirical commentaries on the figures included, and as fascinating markers in the development of animal painting, which reached new heights in the scientifically-informed work of George Stubbs (1724-1806), and subsequently saw a transformation through the photographic discoveries of Eadweard Muybridge.
Many of the works in this selection were acquired from the series of fours sales held at Sotheby's between 1973 and 1976, which dispersed the esteemed collection of Jack R. Dick (1927-74) - notorious entrepreneur, cattle breeder, and insatiable collector of 18th and 19th century English sporting pictures. Dick was quoted as saying "In five years I put together the finest collection of English sporting paintings ever assembled and brought them back to the U.S. before anyone knew what was happening." The sales of Dick's paintings back in London set record prices for a number of artists and revitalised the market for subject matter that had commanded some of the highest prices amongst their contemporary patrons. Dick likewise recognised the enduring worth of these painted memorials: "If you're going to invest in horses, you're better off doing it on canvas because those animals don't eat, they don't get sick and they don't fade in the stretch."
This painting, long believed to be the work of a late 15th-century Early Netherlandish artist working in Bruges or Brussels, the Master of the Embroidered Foliage, has now been recognised and published as a work by the 20th-century Belgian art restorer and forger - Jef (Joseph) van der Veken (1872-1964). Van der Veken worked as a restorer for the Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, but came to develop his own way of replicating the style and techniques of the so-called Flemish Primitives, such as Jan van Eyck and Rogier van der Weyden, an area about which he was particularly passionate. He practised what he called 'hyper-restauration', acquiring old, damaged paintings, often of middling quality, and transforming them into highly convincing pastiches, many of which were exhibited and sold as genuine 15th-century paintings.
Light has been shone on Van der Veken's practices through means of modern scientific research, such as x-rays, infra-red reflectography, and pigment analysis, which have revealed modern materials, new underdrawings, and the simulation of craquelure over older paintings, which Van der Veken would often scrape back to the original preparation layer.
There is no trace of an earlier work beneath the paint layers of this Annunciation, though the oak panel itself is old. The front of the panel was given a very thin chalk gesso ground, so thinly applied that in some areas it is missing completely, and the paint layers are resting directly on the wood. (This is opposed to authentic Early Netherlandish panels in which the gesso ground appears opaque when viewed as a section.) Pigments used, including Prussian blue and French ultramarine were not invented until the 19th century, and the gilding is laid over a thin layer of yellow oil size, a technique rarely used before the latter part of the 1800s.
The idea for this composition is loosely based on prototypes by Rogier van der Weyden. Van der Veken reused the same baldacchino as is found here in another pastiche of the Annunciation, last seen on the market in 1915.
Due to lack of political stability and patronage, the visual arts were slower to develop in Ireland compared to its neighbouring countries. However, the end of the seventeenth century is characterized by a revival of the arts and progressive development of a patriotic consciousness and national style. Despite tumultuous upheavals throughout the century, the arts flourished under the patronage of the landed Protestant Anglo-Irish gentry. Moreover, parliament promoted art and industry by setting up organizations such as the Dublin Society (1731) and the Royal Irish Academy (1755).
We are delighted to be presenting a variety of works associated with Ireland, exemplifying the country’s diverse output during this period. The sale includes a fashionable portrait of Emma Hamilton as a Bacchante by Robert Fagan, reflective of the growing taste towards classical culture and the antique that was spreading throughout the country, but also works closer to home depicting Irish local celebrities, such as the portraits of John O’ Keefe and Andrew Cherry, both actors and playwrights. Also on offer is a seascape by Peter Monamy, depicting The Royal Yacht Dublin.
The sale features a vast range of paintings by accomplished followers and students of some of the greatest old master painters. It is clear that the market for replicas - contemporary to the originals, or later - is stronger than ever. This auction offers the opportunity to own fascinating interpretations of some of art history’s most famous images.