This December, Sotheby’s will bring to auction a 17th-century masterpiece which has been unseen in public since the late-19th century. Emerging from the collection of the Viscounts Gage, having been passed by inheritance since the 1770s, the momentous canvas by the celebrated Flemish artist, David Teniers the Younger, will be offered for sale at Sotheby’s London Old Masters sale on 10 December 2020, with an estimate of £3-5 million.
Measuring 56 x 104 ins (142.4 x 264.1 cms), The Wine Harvest is the largest, and certainly the finest work by Teniers to come to market in living memory. Rivalled in scale only by two other masterpieces, both of which now reside in international museums, the painting is presented in a remarkable state of preservation, undoubtedly due to its unbroken ownership having been passed by inheritance since being acquired, probably in the 1770s, by Peniston Lamb, 1st Viscount Melbourne. Last displayed in public when it was exhibited at the Royal Academy of Arts in 1881, this spectacular work has seldom been seen in almost 140 years.
While not dated, it was painted in Antwerp at the apex of Teniers’ career, the mid-1640s. Margret Klinge, leading worldwide specialist on David Teniers, has described it as masterpiece of the Antwerp years and believes it to be a one-off commission for a special and unprecedented family portrait from the wine-merchant depicted in the centre with his wife and children. Given the setting and the surrounding narrative, this would appear to be a unique commission in Flemish portrait painting. The figure raising his glass prominently in the right foreground bears a striking resemblance to Teniers himself and may be a self-portrait at the age of about thirty-five.
“True masterpieces by important painters come to the market all too rarely these days so we are particularly thrilled to offer for sale such a work by the most famous and influential painter of genre and landscape scenes working in Flanders in the 17th century. Teniers did not often paint on this scale but the result is a spectacular display of colour and activity. Painted with breathtaking confidence, the work is a dazzling celebration of Flemish baroque painting by one its finest exponents, and a celebration, too, of Flanders itself.”
A prolific and celebrated artist of his time, David Teniers the Younger is most well-known for his lively and rich depictions of 17th-century peasant life. Displaying at the same time the artist’s customary fine detail in the principle figures, alongside a vigorous and spirited technique in some of the background revellers, this work is a supreme example of Teniers’s talent in depicting the everyday life of the 17th-century working class, with the large scale of the canvas allowing plentiful room for a rich narrative. In it he displays his unrivalled talent for story-telling. In the middle-distance we see the grape harvesters, heavily laden with baskets of fruit, returning along the riverbank to unload their harvest. In the left foreground two burly individuals are treading an earlier delivery in a huge wooden vat while yet more grapes are unloaded before them. Nearby two coopers are busily fixing up barrels for the wine, the tools of their trade scattered around them. In the centre the foreman proffers a saucer of the new vintage to a well-dressed wine merchant with whom he is hoping to seal a deal, the merchant’s wife guarding his bags of money until the deal is done. To their right a throng of villagers and harvesters, one or two rather worse for wear, raise their glasses raucously towards the temple on the hilltop inhabited by the Roman God of wine, agriculture and fertility, Bacchus, which may be based on the temple of Bacchus at the vineyard of Montmartre, Paris, and perhaps suggestive of a French patron. The scene is set towards the end of a late summer’s day, the sun glowing its final embers of pinks and yellows above the distant horizon.
Peniston, 1st Viscount Melbourne, acquired the painting for Brocket Hall in Hertfordshire where it hung over the fireplace in the Saloon/Dining Room. Peniston was, with his wife Elizabeth Milbanke, one of the greatest patrons of the arts of the day. The Melbournes transformed both Brocket Hall, Hertfordshire and Melbourne House on Piccadilly (now Albany) with the aim of establishing both a country seat and London town house to enhance his title, and where they could entertain royalty. Thomas Chippendale provided furnishings for both, Sir Joshua Reynolds painted two of his finest conversation pieces for them (both still in the present family collection, by descent), one depicting Elizabeth with their son and heir Peniston, the other all three children, and they commissioned important works from both George Stubbs (National Gallery) and Joseph Wright of Derby (Yale Center for British Art). Brocket Hall was inherited by William, 2nd Viscount Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s celebrated Prime Minister. The queen visited on 30th July, 1841, and recorded her awe of the house and collection in her diary. The Melbourne estates passed first to William’s sister Emily, then to her grandson Francis, the 7th and last Earl Cowper who, with his wife Kathrine, made his home at Panshanger House, in Hertfordshire, so that when Brocket was leased out in 1887, many of the most important works, including Teniers’ Wine Harvest, were moved to Panshanger. The 7th Earl Cowper, was custodian of arguably the finest collection in England at that time. Along with other highlights from the collection, including both Raphael’s ‘Small Cowper Madonna’ and ‘Large Cowper Madonna’ (both now National Gallery of Art, Washington), the Teniers was lent to the seminal 1881 exhibition at the Royal Academy, the last time the painting was lent to a public exhibition. The painting subsequently passed by inheritance into the present collection.
London Hanae.Rebelo@Sothebys.com +44 (0)20 7293 6000Hanae Rebelo
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