By: Sheila Gibson Stoodley
Every July in London, Christie’s and Sotheby’s shine the spotlight on Old Masters. Christie’s will hold its evening sale on July 7 and will offer 19th-century works alongside the Old Masters, although these will be relatively few; Paul Raison, London head of Old Masters and 19th-century art for Christie’s, estimates that there will be half a dozen newer selections among the 60–65 lots. Traditional material will include Sir Anthony van Dyck’s Portrait of Mrs. Oliver St. John, estimated at £800,000–1.2 million ($1.2–1.8 million), while 19th-century art will be represented by J.M.W. Turner’s undated watercolor Off Yarmouth, offered at £200,000–300,000 ($313,000–469,000).
The 1636 portrait “was painted at a time when Van Dyck was called to England by the king to do portraits of nobility,” Raison says. The artist included details hinting that the sitter, Catherine St. John, was pregnant: The hand resting on her rounded, seemingly spotlighted belly holds a rose, which Raison says is symbolic of pregnancy.
On July 8 Sotheby’s will hold two Old Masters sales. The first will feature 54 lots of Renaissance and Baroque paintings, sculpture and furnishings from the collection of Johnson & Johnson heiress Barbara Piasecka Johnson, with the various-owners Old Masters sale to follow. Among the Johnson items is Prometheus, a Caravaggesque image of the mortal fire-stealer writhing in torment, which was painted in the 1630s by Jusepe de Ribera, also known as Lo Spagnoletto, and is estimated at £800,000–1.2 million.
“De Ribera is capable of great excellence and run-of-the-mill work. This is one of the great ones, partly because it is secular and partly because of the subject matter,” says Alex Bell, international head of Sotheby’s Old Masters department.
A debut event piggybacking on the July auctions promises to give Old Masters even more attention: Twenty-three of London’s Old Master dealers will participate in Master Paintings Week, running July 4–10. Simon Dickinson, Johnny Van Haeften, The Weiss Gallery and others will be open on the same schedule, and many will mount special exhibits.
Jonathan Green, managing director of Richard Green and one of the three Master Paintings Week committee members, says the project was developed over the better part of a year and will showcase the city as well as the dealers. “London is the center of the world for Old Master paintings,” he says. “Why not play on it and appreciate it?”
Rather than a themed exhibit, Green intends to hang 40–50 Old Master pictures in his gallery, including what appears to be the earliest version of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s St. George’s Kermis With the Dance Around the Maypole (1627), priced at £2.8 million ($4.3 million), and Flemish artist Frans Snyders’ The Gamedealer, an undated scene of a bearded man in his market stall holding a brace of ducks, for £220,000 ($344,000).
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