Sunday, January 27, 2013

Christie's Old Masters Sale Preview: Estimates in the Millions of Dollars for "Rediscoveries" on Public View for the First Time

Fra Bartolommeo, Madonna and Child
Christie's has a stupefyingly beautiful show of Old Masters on view now to be auctioned later this week.

Some of the highest estimates are for paintings previously ascribed to other names, or reappearing after decades in obscurity.  Such "rediscoveries" often raise questions about attribution -- which, after all, is largely a matter of scholarly consensus reached over time -- and the auction house has rolled out some big names to argue the new attributions.  Some of these big-ticket items are on public view for the first time.

Here are some examples:

Bronzino, Portrait of a Young Man, ca. 1525 (estimate: $12-$18 million).  This painting, with the highest estimate in the sale, spent decades in oblivion as a work by Bronzino's teacher, Jacopo Pontormo, and was even considered by some a copy of a Pontormo.  It's now making its debut as an early work by Bronzino, court artist to the Medici in Florence and one of the most admired of all portraitists.

The new attribution and the bulk of the Christie's catalogue entry are courtesy of Carlo Falciani, who organized the 2011 glorious, first retrospective of Bronzino's paintings.  Falciani said he saw it when he was working on the exhibition, which begs the question -- why didn't he include it in the retrospective?

Annibale Caracci, Annunciation, 1580s (estimate:  $1.5-$2.5 million).  A work of sensuous color, the Annunciation was "previously known only from a decades-old black and white photograph," according to the catalogue.  It had been given to Annibale's older, less adventurous cousin, Ludovico, an attribution some still accept.  The Met's Keith Christensen and Andrea Bayer support the attribution to Annibale, who's credited with turning Italian painting toward realism after decades of Mannerism.

Fra Bartolommeo, Madonna and Child (top), mid-1490s (estimate: $12-$18 million). The catalogue lists no exhibitions for this painting, which was unknown until it was published in 1992. It shows a tender moment when the Christ child is climbing up to receive a kiss from his mother, their faces framed against a luminous sky.

Botticelli, Madonna and Child with Pomegranate, 1460s (estimate $3-$5 million).  Formerly given to Filippo Lippi, the Florentine painter in whose workshop Botticelli trained, this "rediscovery" is now called an early Botticelli by Everett Fahy, former Met chair of European paintings and now a Christie's consultant, who wrote the catalogue entry.  The surface of the painting is so dull that it's hard to make heads or tails of it.

Watteau. The Declaration, ca. 1718 (estimate: $500,000-$700,000).  This tiny oil on copper -- in which a man seems to be copping a feel, was, according to the catalogue, "unknown to recent scholars and missing from the modern scholarly literature on the artist."  It's delightful, and will appear in the catalogue raisonne of Watteau's paintings currently in preparation.

Here are a few other standouts:

Chardin, The Embroiderer, 1730s, $3-$5m

Lucas Cranach the Younger, Madonna and Child with St. John, after 1537, $1.5-$2.5m
Antonio Joli, View of the Bay of Naples, ca. 1770, $400-$600k
Photo of Joli from Christie's.  Other photos and text (c) Copyright 2013 Laura Gilbert.