S otheby’s London’s Old Master Prints sale surveys the evolution of Western printmaking with fine and fascinating graphic works spanning four centuries. The brilliance of the Northern School is represented by Dürer’s virtuosic woodcuts and Rembrandt’s masterful etchings, alongside intricate compositions by the Kleinmeister. Rarities from the French, Italian, and Spanish schools are also well represented by experimental works ranging from 16th-century metalcuts to Venetian chiaroscuro woodcuts, and a scarce Goya proof. Altogether the works on offer celebrate the genius and vision of Europe’s early modern printmakers.
Access the Old Masters | Rembrandt, Dürer and Goya for Under £10,000
Rembrandt recorded his own image in etchings, paintings and drawings throughout his career, becoming one of the art world’s most instantly recognisable faces. As much as these portraits were exercises in self-representation, they were also studies in expression, light and the art of self-fashioning. Individually, they provide snapshots into the artist’s feelings and fortunes at each moment of execution.
Among his most sought-after etchings, Rembrandt’s early self-portraits demonstrate his masterful skill in the medium at a young age: Self-Portrait in a Cap: Laughing and Self-Portrait in a Cap, Wide-eyed and Open-mouthed were produced when he was only 24 years old. Rembrandt’s young features set against mops of curly hair are here presented on a jewel-like scale, showing almost comical expressions of laughter and surprise. Conversely, Self-Portrait in a Cap and Scarf with the Face Dark, a much more sombre rendering, demonstrates an interest in light and experimentation in chiaroscuro.
In a more elaborate portrayal, Self-Portrait Leaning on a Stone Sill, the artist depicted himself in opulent 16th-century costume. Referencing Raphael’s Portrait of Baldassare Castiglione (circa 1514-15) and Titian’s Portrait of Ludovico Ariosto (1508-10), Rembrandt firmly staked his claim to artistic excellence.
David G. Carter and Louise Belknap met in the library stacks of the Met: Louise was cataloguing after graduating as an Art History major from Bryn Mawr and David had a newly established fellowship at the museum. Their subsequent union in 1951 began a lifelong passion for collecting in the field of Old Masters.
David was known as a Dutch and Flemish scholar with a discerning connoisseur’s eye. He was also a passionate museum leader. In his roles as Director of the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design and The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, if he found a picture he felt his museum should collect he was ardent in his pursuit of the work. He also employed his deep understanding of artistry and quality when selecting works of art for his and Louise’s personal collection.
Sotheby’s is honoured to be offering here a selection of important Old Master prints from the collection of David and Louise Carter, including scarce engravings and woodcuts by Dirk Vellert, Matthäus Zasinger, Hans Sebald Beham, Nicolas Beatrizet and Lucas Cranach the Elder.
Artists have long been inspired by beasts and monsters both real and surreal. Populated by lifelike and mythical creatures, many prints in this sale explore the natural and imaginary worlds of early modern Europe. Albrecht Dürer, famous for his realistic Young Hare (1502) and Rhinoceros (1515), was also a master of fantasy: his grotesque Sea Monster and the seven-headed beast belonging to The Whore of Babylon easily rival Hollywood’s most petrifying CGI monsters.
Similarly, Dirck Coornhert combined fantasy and reality to create ornate series such as the Triumph of Patience, wherein some animals appear drawn from life, while others feature creative liberties. Goya, on the other hand, specialised in living monsters and beasts. His Los Desastres de la Guerra grapples with man’s monstrous offences, making the bull tossing a blind man in Dios se lo pague a usted appear rather tame.
Goya: Master of Intaglio
Goya’s ability to illustrate fantastic and frightening narratives was arguably his most exceptional talent. In his virtuosic intaglio prints, Goya condemned the decay of rationality in Spanish culture with acidic criticism. Works such as Le descañona and Dios se lo pague a usted showcase the extravagances, prejudices and follies Goya believed to be rampant in society. Through dark humour, these prints illustrate the wish for better days to come.
Los Desastres de la Guerra, the set of eighty etchings with aquatint, drypoint and engraving, was created between 1810 and 1820. These images were not based on a particular wartime event; rather, they were a result of Goya’s discontent with the ruling of Spain and the tyranny of King Ferdinand. Paired with satiric text, this important and controversial body of work was unpublished during the artist’s lifetime and was only issued in 1863. In their stark graphic power, these beautiful yet disquieting images represent the pinnacle of Goya's achievement in intaglio printmaking.