The View From Here: Highlights from Old Master Paintings

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The forthcoming Old Masters Evening Sale at Sotheby's in London will feature a number of exceptional works — among them some finest examples of view paintings to come to market in recent memory. Invented by Claude Lorrain in the mid-17th century, the art of modern landscape painting — or vedute — took the concept of the pastoral and poetic landscape of the Renaissance, but imbued it with a greater sense of naturalism. Claude was inspired by the Italian light of the landscape around Rome, especially at sunrise and sunset, and painted objectively perceived landscapes smothered in romantic light. Later generations of artists such as Canaletto, Vanvitelli and John Constable further explored these techniques that would ultimately culminate in the 1830s masterpieces of Turner. Here, we look at highlights from the sale that chart the development of this tradition, from Italy and beyond.

Old Masters Evening Sale
5 July 2017 | London

The View From Here: Highlights from Old Master Paintings

  • Claude Gellée, called Claude Lorrain, An Italianate landscape with a drover and his dog driving his cattle across a ford, a waterfall beyond.
    Estimate: £200,000–300,000.
    Circa 1646: Claude pays particular attention here to the warm evening light, which emanates from below the horizon, casting the landscape in a golden glow that unifies the vista from the soft, illuminated clouds, to the glittering cascade, to the hides of the cattle and the drover's outstretched arm.

  • Gaspar van Wittel, called Vanvitelli, Rome, a view of the church of Santi Marcellino e Pietro, from the Vigna Ciccolini, with the Palazzo Laterano, the church of San Giovanni in Laterano, the Ospedale di San Giovanni and ruins of the Claudian Aqueduct beyond.
    Estimate: £300,000–500,000
    Circa 1710: This exquisite view captures Rome from a rare viewpoint, never repeated by the artist, and provides a meticulously accurate record of this corner of the city that has transformed in the centuries since the artist's depiction. The Fleming Gaspar van Wittel, known by his Italian sobriquet Vanvitelli, took up the baton left by Claude Lorrain and created a new type of painting, the urban veduta, that would inspire several generations of artists in the years to come, among them Canaletto, Bellotto and Francesco Guardi.

  • Johann Richter, Venice, the piazzetta looking South from the basilica di San Marco Marco with the Biblioteca and a crowd gathered to watch a Comedia dell''Arte performance, the Columns of San Marco and San Theodoro, the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore and the Giudecca beyond.
    Estimate: £400,000–600,000.
    Circa 1715-20: These paintings (lot 22 and lot 23) are perhaps the largest that Johann Richter painted. In their vibrancy of colour, original viewpoints and high level of finish they may be considered his masterpieces, at once indebted to the vedute of his master Luca Carlevarijs and pre-emptive of the explosion in the genre in Venice in the 1720s.

  • Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, Venice, the Campo Santa Maria Formosa, with the Palazzi Dona, Vitturi, and Malipiero Treviani (A pair).
    Estimate: 2,500,000–3,500,000.
    Circa 1735: Canaletto's Venetian vedute are inconceivable without the progress made in the genre by Vanvitelli and Carlevarijs. These views of two of the city's most beautiful campos reveal a personal and intimate view of Canaletto's Venice. Painted in the mid-1730s, these pictures are rich in detail, their original surface wonderfully well-preserved.

  • Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, Venice, the Campo San Zaccaria, with clerics and other figures (A pair). Estimate: £2,500,000–3,500,000.
    Circa 1735: Still in their original Venetian carved and gilded rococo frames, the pictures were acquired from Canaletto under the auspices of his patron and agent, the entrepreneurial Joseph Smith (1682–1770), later Consul Smith. In style and date, as well as in their frame design, these vedute are closely comparable to those in the collection assembled by Smith himself and later acquired 'en bloc' by King George III.

  • Bernardo Bellotto, Venice, Piazza San Marco looking east towards the Basilica. Estimate: £2,500,000–3,500,000.
    Circa 1739: This quintessential view of Venice was painted by all the great view painters of the Serenissima, including Michele Marieschi, Antonio Canaletto and Francesco Guardi. To this majestic group can be added Bernardo Bellotto, to whom this splendid example of the Piazza San Marco was correctly reattributed when it was published by Beddington in 2004. The artist trained in the studio of his uncle, Canaletto, and by the age of sixteen was producing work of such quality that it was indistinguishable from, and indeed often sold as, the work of his celebrated uncle.

  • Michele Marieschi, The Campo san Gallo, Venice.
    Estimate: £1,500,000–2,000,000.
    Circa 1740: Marieschi's Venice is presented with a freer handling than that of Canaletto or Bellotto. This luminous painting is the only known view of the Campo San Gallo from the eighteenth century. Both its setting and mood capture a lesser-known side of Venice, and provide a snapshot of everyday life in an uncelebrated, but very Venetian, corner of the city.

  • Claude-Joseph Vernet, Le soir: a Mediterranean harbour at sunset with fisherfolk and merchants on a quay and Clair de lune: a Mediterranean harbour by moonlight with fisherfolk by a fire on the shore, a natural arch beyond, 1752. Estimate: £1,200,000–1,800,000.
    1752: These masterpieces by Vernet, painted in Rome at the apex of his career in 1752, draw on the romance of the Claudian landscape tradition, from which they are directly inspired, and add to it a finesse and level of detail that he learned from the Italian vedusti of the preceding decades. Works such as this would ensure his reputation as one of the leading landscape painter of the second half of the 18th century.

  • John Constable, R.A., A Suffolk landscape with a cottage, a windmill and a rainbow. Estimate: £200,000–300,000.
    Circa 1833-5: This late oil sketch by Constable, which has emerged recently from a private collection in America, is a remarkable new discovery. Closely based on a watercolour Constable made either in Kent in 1833 or, more likely, in Sussex in 1834, it can be firmly dated to around this period or slightly later, and throws interesting new light on his painting practice in his final years.

  • Joseph Mallord William Turner, R.A., Ehrenbreitstein, or The Bright Stone of Honour and the Tomb of Marceau, from Byron's Childe Harold.
    Estimate: £15,000,000–25,000,000.
    1835: The only oil painting by Turner of a German subject left in private hands, this magnificent picture is one of the artist's great late masterpieces. It is at once indebted to Claude, but also pre-emptive of the leaps to be made in the art of landscape painting  in decades to come, particularly by the Impressionists. When it was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835 Ehrenbreitstein elicited huge critical acclaim and it has been considered one of the artist's most celebrated masterpieces ever since.

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