Three very different aspects of the art of drawing, and the collecting of works on paper, provide the focus of this year’s New York Old Master Drawings sale. The first is a group of drawings collected by King William II of the Netherlands (1792-1849) and his Russian wife Anna Pavlovna, (1795-1865), who together assembled one of the greatest collections of paintings and drawings that was formed anywhere in Europe in the 19th century. Almost entirely dispersed in 1850, the collection contained masterpieces by Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, Rubens and Rembrandt, to name only a few; the drawings that are now coming for sale have, however, remained until now in the possession of the collectors’ descendants. The star of the group is the monumental figure study by Peter Paul Rubens, the greatest master of the Flemish Baroque, which is one of a small handful of similarly monumental figure studies that survive for the key figures in Rubens’s great altarpiece, The Raising of the Cross (1609-11), now in Antwerp Cathedral. Of astonishing power, the drawing reveals Rubens’s working method in all its glory.
The second great highlight of the sale is a substantial, newly discovered drawing of a standing figure in armour, by Raphael. Dating from the artist’s early career in Florence (circa 1506-7), the drawing shows all the unpredictable originality that characterises Raphael’s works of this period, yet can be convincingly compared with other early drawings. It is a discovery of considerable significance, as well as an impressive, striking drawing.
Lastly, the sale includes an outstanding collection of 18th-century Dutch drawings and watercolours, formed with great care and discernment by an American couple, over some four decades. Though the drawings of the so-called ‘Silver Age’ of Dutch art are much less familiar than those of the previous century, many of them are of the very highest quality: humorous gouaches and theatres scenes by Cornelis Troost, designs for decorative wall-paintings, for the houses of Amsterdam’s wealthy merchants, by leading lights such as Jacob de Wit and Jurriaan Andriessen, flower pieces by Jan van Huysum, topographical and other landscapes by Jacob Cats. Works such as these define the distinctive aesthetic of the 18th century in Holland, and form the heart of this fine collection. A particular highlight is the series of works by that master of gently probing satire, Cornelis Troost, whose Drinkenburg is one of the greatest works by the artist that remains in private hands.