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 early Italian gold-ground panels, to works produced by the Brueghel dynasty and their entourage, dramatic Baroque pictures, elegant 18th-century portraits and view paintings, and canvases dating from the early 19th century. Highlights of the auction include high-quality Early Netherlandish and Dutch Golden Age paintings from two private European collections, which have not been seen on the market for at least a generation.
- ‘To crap on the world’: to despise everything
- ‘To bang one’s head on the wall’
- ‘To have the roof tiled with tarts’: a metaphor for great wealth
- ‘To bell the cat’: to attempt to perform an impossibly difficult and impractical task
- ‘One shears sheep, and one shears pigs’: compares the unequal position of two figures to expose an unfair outcome
- ‘To piss against the moon’: to waste one’s time on futile activities
- ‘She puts the blue cloak on her husband’: a metaphor for adultery; similar in meaning to ‘pulling the wool over someone’s eyes’
- ‘To fill the well when the calf has already drowned’: warns against taking measures too late
- ‘The Misanthrope robbed by the world’: he who turns his back on the wicked world is at risk from robbery by its very evils
- ‘Pulling to get the longest end’: to attempt to gain advantage from a situation
- ‘He who has spilt his porridge cannot scrape it all up again’: similar to ‘crying over spilt milk’
- ‘To be barely able to reach from one loaf to another’: to struggle to make ends meet
- ‘To fall through the basket’: to be exposed as a liar or incompetent
- ‘To play on the pillory’: to attract attention to one’s own misdeeds
- ‘The hay chasing the horse’: cautions against the active and unseemly pursuit of men by women
- ‘To hang one’s cloak according to the wind’: to adapt to the current situation
- ‘To run as if one’s arse were on fire’: to act in haste
- ‘To throw one’s money into the water’: to waste or squander money
- ‘The blind leading the blind’: known to all modern viewers; taken from Matthew 15: 14
- ‘The man with a moneybag and his followers’/ ‘To crawl into someone’s hole’: wealthy men will always have flatterers
This painting presents us with an extraordinary compendium of images illustrating roughly 130 old Netherlandish proverbs and folk sayings, many of which are still in current use to this day. The design of this famous composition is derived from an original panel by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1526–1569) of 1559, today in the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. Bruegel’s original reflected the widespread contemporary interest in old Netherlandish proverbs awakened in the 16th century by works such as Erasmus’s Adagia first published in 1500. A generation later, from 1607 onwards, the composition was popularised by his son Pieter Breughel the Younger (1564–1636) and his Antwerp workshop, probably working from a surviving preparatory drawing by his father. Some specific details of this design suggest that its author was familiar with the original painting by the elder Bruegel, and others that he had also had access to a version from the Younger’s workshop, while at least four proverbs here are taken from another source altogether, namely the Twelve Proverbs, a set of engravings made around 1568 by the Antwerp engraver Johannes Wierix (1549–after 1618). The unknown painter, who was probably active in Antwerp in the early 17th century, thereby shows a degree of creative and technical independence well removed from the mainstream production of such images.
Music in art is a paradox that has challenged artists for centuries, from the illuminators of medieval manuscripts to the abstract paintings of Wassily Kandinsky – how to depict the sense of sound through purely visual, and therefore silent, means? Sometimes musical instruments are included in paintings precisely in order to convey the atmosphere of the scene to feed the viewer’s imagination – look at the figures merrily playing pipes and banjos in the pair of works by Gaspare Diziani, with peasants carousing; or the Bacchic figures brandishing tambourines and dancing in the Il Grechetto and Workshop painting. In other instances, musical instruments act as symbols, often signifying love – which is probably the case in the contemplative portrait by Sir Peter Lely; or vanitas, as in the Grechetto composition; or as the mark of a well-rounded, learned sitter – as the boy in the Pietro Labruzzi portrait is shown to be. Musical instruments are also the attributes of genre figures, such as the Workshop of Dirk van Baburen depiction of a young man dressed in the festive costume of the tavern scenes popularised by the Northern followers of Caravaggio. And of course the allegorical figure of Music, in the version of the Laurent de La Hyre canvas, is shown tuning a theorbo - an act signifying harmony - surrounded by other instruments of her Art.
This sale features paintings from three important British private collections – two pictures from the Estate of the Rt. Hon. The Countess of Sutherland; a group of portraits by descent from Wimpole Hall, Cambridgeshire; and two pictures from the collection of the late Baron Eden of Winton. The Eden collection began with Sir William Eden, 6th Bt of West Auckland and 4th Bt of Maryland (1803-1873) and his purchase at the age of twenty-six of the arresting ‘La Pescatrice’. Eden records buying this painting in Florence in 1829; a year later in Madrid, he acquired The Rest on the Flight into Egypt, and the Still life by Juan de Arellano was also purchased in that city. Lots 125 and 145 are visible in a hand-drawn plan by William Eden of the hang at Windlestone Hall, County Durham, as hanging on the South side of the West Hall (please refer to the banner image).