Old Masters Day Auction
Online Auction: 1–7 July 2022 • 2:00 PM BST • London

Old Masters Day Auction 1–7 July 2022 • 2:00 PM BST • London

I n this summer’s sale of Old Master Paintings in London we are delighted to present a rich and wide variety of paintings, from Flemish landscapes, Dutch marines, Netherlandish still lifes, Italian religious paintings and classical landscapes, to British portraits and historic view paintings of London, and a variety of canvases from nineteenth-century continental Europe. Highlights of the auction include still lifes from the collection of the scholar Sam Segal, Caspar Netscher’s Portrait of Steven Wolters and a significant collection of London views from the eighteenth and nineteenth century. The July Day Sale also includes several newly rediscovered works by Francesco Solimena, Hendrick de Somer, François Perrier and Katherine Read.

Auction Highlights

Music and Art

It was none other than Leonardo da Vinci who is said to have expressed that ‘Music can only be called the sister of painting’. In his paragone, Leonardo compared the intervals of musical notes to the contour of limbs and chordal harmony to the outline of a human body. Such comparisons support the notion that there is something about the mysterious mathematics of music that pleases both the eyes and ears. Yet, as Leonardo later pointed out, music does not last forever like art and architecture can. It is ephemeral in nature, and its magic lies in the fact that it appears and disappears (otherwise we desperately want to switch it off).

Artists have for centuries tried to capture the ephemeral beauty of music through visual terms with a variety of different approaches. For some painters it was the magic of the live performance of music that captured their imaginations. Pictures of musicians by Joseph van Aken and Louis de Caullery exemplify this approach, where music is mixed with the worldly pleasures of dancing, eating, drinking and other decadent entertainments. In portraiture musical abilities were often celebrated, as seen in the French School painting of about 1815 Portrait of a Lady Tuning a Harp. For other artists musical instruments were used as a symbol to convey other deeper meanings. Harmony and its associations with love – social, familial and romantic – is the most obvious symbolic connotation. In moralising Dutch paintings, such as the one by Jacques de Clauew, musical instruments could symbolise the fleeting nature of life itself.

Views of London

This sale features a significant selection of historic views of London dating from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. These paintings by British painters fall into the rich tradition of view painting, which was established in the seventeenth century and matured during Canaletto’s visit to England in the mid-18th century.

Beginning with Joseph Nicholl’s London, a view of Westminster, we observe a finely painted detailed topographical approach pioneered by the likes of Samuel Scott earlier in the century. This is also the case with John Cleveley’s view of Old London Bridge, a painting imbued with nostalgia for an ancient part of the city which was changing rapidly in the face of the modern age. Capturing the atmosphere of the bustling metropolis, rather than just its architectural details, was an increasing consideration as the eighteenth century progressed. The details of the city's vibrant and historic skyline, with its many churches, alongside the textures, colours and air of these places, are found in William Marlow’s London, a view of Old London Bridge with Fishmonger’s Hall.

Moving into the nineteenth century with Henry Pether’s moonlight and morning views, the influence of romanticism is particularly visible in the dramatic use of moonlight. Such effects did not come at the expense of topographical detail. Pether’s views of the building of the new Palace of Westminster, designed by Barry and Pugin after the disastrous fire of 1834, memorialises the construction of perhaps the capital’s most significant and historic architectural jewel.

Fashion and Fabrics

Sitters in portraits were invariably dressed to impress, wearing the outfits and accessories in which they wished to be remembered for posterity. These garments invariably reflected the height of contemporary fashion, sometimes drawn from the artist's own wardrobe stock, or were chosen carefully in order to express an aspect of the sitter's circumstances or character. This selection of paintings represents a range of styles and periods of dress: from the fashionable robe worn by Steven Wolters, which speaks to his and his country's links to the East; to the silk and wool shawl, probably from India, worn as an accessory in France from the late 18th century; to the improbable fancy feathered hats worn by the children in the late 17th-century Dutch portraits; to the different forms of ruffs found in late 16th- and 17th-century Florence and The Netherlands. The eroticised portrait of Nero's wife, Sabina Poppaea, shows her wearing a diaphanous veil, associated in Roman times more with courtesans than Empresses, reflecting the predilection of the Fontainebleau School for the coquettish.

Antwerp Panel-Makers and Their Marks

It is common to find the reverse of Flemish 17th-century panels stamped and branded with the mark of their panel maker. This was a practice first described for easel paintings in Antwerp in November 1617, when the panel makers of the city petitioned the magistrates to regulate their profession due to the increase in demand for panels. A better organisation was necessary, with formalised training and regulations on quality control. As a consequence, a new ordinance was issued, stating that no joiner was allowed to let ‘any joined panel, large or small, leave their house before they had it checked and branded by the dean of the Guild in order to be sure that the aforementioned panels have neither resinous areas or are damaged by fire, and that neither white or red worms are present, on the penalty of twelve guilders for each panel’. The names of twenty-one panel makers alongside their marks were recorded on the petition, providing an important documentary source on panel production and allowing us to place them in a specific time and context.

Our sale includes two panels which are stamped with the mark of their maker. The first is a work by Flemish painter Joos de Momper depicting an extensive mountainous landscape. The reverse is incised with the panel maker's mark of Guilliam Aertssen who was active from 1617 until after 1638. It also bears the letter ‘A’, a so-called annual letter only found in the guild year 1619–22, pointing to a fabrication date in this period.

The second work on panel worthy of note is a collaborative painting by Jan Brueghel the Younger and Frans Francken the Younger. The reverse of the panel bears the interlaced initials ‘A’ and ‘E’, which correspond with the panel maker mark of Ambrosius Engelants, active in Antwerp after 1625.

Still-life Paintings from the Collection of Dr Sam Segal

We are delighted to present in this sale a group of still lifes from the collection of Dr Sam Segal. Few scholars have both championed a previously neglected genre of painting and at the same time nurtured a whole generation of art collectors. Many depended on his guidance and built their collections upon the foundation of a knowledge which he made freely accessible to all. Sam Segal, a botanist by training, did not start out as an art historian but became one, indeed in his heyday he was the leading historian in the field of still-life painting. Despite the high prices that artists such as Jan Brueghel, Jan Davidsz de Heem and Jan van Huysum were able to charge for their paintings in the century and a quarter that span the Golden Age, still-life painting was not regarded as a prime pictorial discipline until the latter half of the 20th century.

Following in the footsteps of Ingvar Bergström and N.R.A. Vroom in the 1950s and ’60s, Sam Segal went on to bring Dutch and Flemish still-life painting to a wider audience and a broader marketplace. His three pioneering exhibitions: A Flowery Past in 1982, A Fruitful Past in 1983 and A Prosperous Past in 1988 opened the eyes of many who were new to collecting pictures to the rich variety of still life-painting in the Low Countries in the 17th century; and it was he, more than anyone, who made the sublimely beautiful so widely popular. These landmark exhibitions were followed in 1991 by another devoted solely to the greatest of the still-life painters of the Golden Age – Jan Davidsz de Heem. The scholarly catalogues for these exhibitions are the publications for which he is best known but they comprise just four of over a hundred such works.

His last publication was the two-volume Dutch and Flemish Flower Pieces: Paintings, Drawings and Prints up to the Nineteenth Century, co-authored with Klara Alen and published posthumously in 2020. This provides an overview of all known Dutch and Flemish artists up to the nineteenth century who painted or drew flower pieces or made prints of them. Containing lists of the names of flowers, insects and other animals, the book documents the earliest still-life depictions of flowers, the development of floral arrangements and artistic techniques, and explores the symbolism behind these subjects.

Sam Segal’s archive of some 90,000 images of paintings and drawings now forms the kernel of the still-life holdings of the photographic archive of the RKD – the Netherlands Institute for Art History in The Hague.

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