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Old Master Drawings


10:15 AM, Weds., January 26, 2000

Excavation of a Roman Ruin by Fragonard

Lot 95, "The Excavation of a Roman Ruin," by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, 261 by 313 millimeters

By Carter B. Horsley

Part of the mystique of being a "connoisseur" is the drawing cabinet where precious but perishable sketches are stored and only rarely but very lovingly studied. Another part of that mystique is that many of the greatest "draughtsmen" were not always famous painters. Yet another aspect of the mystique is that the style of many famous painters is not always, indeed, very often, not the same in their drawings.

Because of these and other factors such as their low public visibility and accessibility, the collection of drawings is rather a rarefied yet very rewarding field. For many fledging collectors, however, they afford an opportunity to occasionally purchase a drawing by a famous artist at a small fraction of what a painting by the same artist might bring.

Lot 95 in this auction, for example, "The Excavation of a Roman Ruin," shown above, by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), is a drawing (261 by 313 millimeters, the catalogue’s measure) that has an estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $145,500, which includes the buyer's premium as do as the prices in this article. Drawn with brown and gray wash with blue, red and olive-green watercolor over traces of black chalk, it is quite impressionistic and fluid for the artist and yet a very specific composition with numerous figures. The catalogue notes that "The delicate touches of watercolor which Fragonard has used in this large-scale and particularly atmospheric landscape are found only very rarely in his oeuvre. Though very different in scale, the drawing can e compared in this respect with a small group of Italianate landscapes, apparently capricci, which Eunice Williams dates to the early 1760s, shortly after the artist’s return to Paris in 1761. Particularly close is the Temple in a Garden, in the Baltimore Museum of Art)(on deposit from the Robert Gilmour Collection…)." In the composition, the figures occupy the foreground in front of a tall colonnade divided by an angled sweep of trees with another colonnade in the background. Fragonard is often preoccupied with fleeting, but luxurious, moments and this interesting and rather complete sketch captures much of his joie de vivre, even though it is not a masterpiece.

Weeping and Wailing by Goya

Lot 39, "Weeping and Wailing," by Goya, 192 by 155 mm

Similarly, Lot 39, ""Gimiendo y Llorando" (Weeping and Wailing), a 192 by 155 mm, black chalk and lithographic crayon drawing, shown above, by Francesco José de Goya y Lucientes is a rare work by this great Spanish master. According to the catalogue, "This belongs to the first of two albums which were composed of drawings Goya made while he was in Bordeaux between 1824 and 1828. "[Pierre] Gassier, the co-author with Juliet Wilson of a 1971 book on Goya] underscores the importance of these works because they reveal Goya’s interest in the new techniques of lithography. He has abandoned his previous use of ink and wash in favor of black chalk and lithographic crayon, used with an energy which belies his age and failing health. These late drawings are bold, largely of single figures, and include some of his most haunting images of human foibles and suffering as well as his characteristic blend of reality and dream. Of the fifty-drawings which Gassier records for Album G, the highest number inscribed by Goya being 60, thirteen are in the Prado, Madrid, sixteen were sold to the German collector Gerstenberg, and subsequently destroyed in Berlin in 1945, and the rest are in various public and private collections," the catalogue continued. "This imploring old man …is a cross between the central figure in the Shootings of May Third and Christ on the Mount of Olives; he is neither defiant nor submissive but a grief-stricken supplicant," the catalogue quotes Gassier of writing about this work, which is numbered 50 and has an estimate of $400,000 to $600,000. It sold for $937,500, tying the artist's drawing auction record, and the highest price realized at this auction. Dr. Nancy Bialler and Gregory Rubinstein, the specialists in charge of the sale, commented afterwards that they were "delighted with the results..., which made $4,837,880, well above the $4.2 million high estimate for the sale. Nine of the top ten lots sold above their pre-sale estimate, a trend which was reflected throughout the sale with 58 percent of the lots selling above their high estimate," a quite strong showing. The second highest lot was Lot 12, a "portrait of Gilles Van Breen," by Hendrick Goltzius (1558-1617), which was the cover illustration for the catalogue and sold for $486,500, and had had a high estimate of $120,000. Of 198 lots offered, 72.2 percent, or 143 sold, a not impressive percentage in general but not unusual for drawing sales.

While the Fragonard drawing is a bit atypical of his painting style, the Goya drawing is quite recognizable stylistically. Neither work, however, would be considered "beautiful," but the auction certainly has some drawings that are "beautiful" on their own merits.

Madonna and Child with Mary Magdalen by Joseph Heintz the Elder

Lot 4, "Madonna and Child with Mary Magdalen,"

by Joseph Heintz the Elder, 253 by 183 mm

One such example is Lot 4, "The Madonna and Child with Mary Magdalen," by Joseph Heintz the Elder (1564-1609), a black and red chalk drawing, 253 by 183 mm, shown above. The work bears the attribution "Correggio" in brown ink and the catalogue notes that "as the old inscription suggests, Correggio seems to have been the inspiration for this composition, which is particularly reminiscent of the Madonna of St. Jerome, now in the Galleria Nazionale, Parma." "Correggio’s painting, always one of his most admired works, was in the church of Sant’Antonio Abbate in Parma by 1550. Heintz was in Italy between 1583 and 1589, and his copies after paintings, frescos and sculpture seen there are well documented. The faces of the three figures are entirely characteristic of Heintz and, though less highly finished, this drawing may be compared in technique with The Toilet of Venus…and with a study of two putti after Raphael, and a study of A Standing Satyr, both in the Albertina, Vienna…Heintz used the motif of a female saint kneeling before the Madonna and Child enthroned in an architectural setting for his altarpiece for the chapel of St. Barbara in the Church of St. Thomas, Prague." The lovely work has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $63,000.

Another admirer of Correggio is Giorgio Gandini del Grano (1848-1538) and Lot 11 is a very fine study of two kneeling saints in red chalk, 105 by 168 mm, that has an estimate of $6,000 to $8,000 and the catalogue says that only "some thirty drawings are known that can be attributed" to this painter. It sold for $25,875.

Lot 19 is a very fine red chalk drawing, 194 by 254 mm, of St. Jerome by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Il Guercino (1591-1666). It has a modest estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $43,125.

Lot 25 is a small and very interesting pen and brown ink drawing of a bearded old man leaning on a stick by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641), which has a sketch of a female torso on the other side. The 98 by 73 mm work has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000 and the catalogue notes that the figure is similar to several in some of the artist’s paintings. It failed to sell.

A good mate for Lot 25 is Lot 77, a 150 by 125 mm pen and brown ink and wash with traces of red chalk (possibly offset from another sheet) of a standing man with one knee resting on a ledge by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778), the great designer of fantastic architectural spaces. It has a slightly ambitious estimate of $50,000 to $70,000. It also failed to sell, perhaps a reflection that small dark works are not in high demand.

A very beautiful, though faint, work is Lot 31, a study of two male heads, by Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640). The black and white chalk with gray wash on buff paper drawing, 206 by 318 mm, bears a signature and has a conservative estimate of $35,000 to $40,000. It sold for $31,375.

Lot 34 is an excellent drawing with two studies of the head of a bearded old man by Abraham Bloemaert (1564-1651) with a study of feet on the other side. The red and black chalk on oatmeal paper, 187 by 180 mm, has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $48,875. The drawing, according to the catalogue, "belongs to the sizeable series of studies of figures and parts of figures which Bloemaert seems to have amassed" and whose son, Frederik engraved and published around 1650.

Lot 36 is perhaps the highlight of the sale as it is a very large, very dramatic and very detailed "Antique Battle Scene with Elephants" by Charles Le Brun (1619-1690). The 441 by 1121 mm pen and brown ink and brown and gray wash, over black chalk on two joined sheets of paper, was once in the collection of Nathaniel Rothschild and had a conservative estimate in the catalogue of $60,000 to $80,000. Shortly before the auction, however, the attribution was downgraded to "follower" of Le Brun and the estimate was "amended" to $10,000 to $15,000. It sold for $20,700.

The catalogue’s description of this museum-quality work is as follows:

"The subject of this drawing, and also its format, suggests that it could well be a rejected compositional study for one of Le Brun’s famous series of paintings depicting The History of Alexander, and specifically for a representation of The Battle of Porus. In 1660-61 Le Brun received his first important commission from Louis XIV: summoned by the King to the Chateau of Fontainebleau, he was asked to illustrate on a grand scale the story of Alexander the Great, an historical hero with whom Louis XIV clearly sought to identify himself. Le Brun was left to select the individual subjects himself, and his first painting in the series, now at Versailles, represents The Queen of Persia at the feet of Alexander….Following this painting’s rapturous reception, Le Brun continued the series with four further canvases, depicting The Passage of Grancius, The Battle of Arbella, the Triumph of Alexander, and Porus Before Alexander, all now the Louvre….The popularity of these paintings was further reinforced when they were reproduced as tapestries, and they were subsequently also engraved…"

The Deposition by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo

Lot 70, "The Deposition," by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, 181 by 162 mm

Perhaps the most beautiful drawing in the auction is Lot 70, shown above, "The Deposition," a pen and brown ink and wash, 181 by 162 mm, by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770). This work was sold by Ronald and Marietta Peabody Tree at Sotheby’s in 1976 and has a conservative estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. It sold for $45,125.

Many of the members of the Tiepolo family were fabulous draftsmen and there are two fine works by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo (1727-1804), Lots 76 and 83. The former is a pen and gray ink and brown wash drawing, 199 by 275 mm, of "Putti Among Clouds" and has a conservative estimate of $10,000 to $15,000. It is signed. It sold for $16,100. The latter is a pen and light brown ink and wash over black chalk drawing of "St. Anthony and the Christ Child with Angels and Putti among Clouds." The 488 by 381 mm drawing has an estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $74,000.

Lot 87 is a quite strong and beautiful, signed black, white, red and blue chalk drawing of the head of a young girl with a scarf around her hair, 211 by 151 mm, by Francois Boucher (1703-1770) that is quite lovely, though a bit more pensive than one normally associates with this always delightful artist. It has a conservative estimate of $12,000 to $15,000. It sold for $37,375.

Claude Gellé, called Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) is best known for his large landscapes often with classical buildings. Lot 37, "Moses and the Burning Bush," is an atypical work for the large scale of Moses, who appears as a youth, in the landscape. According to the catalogue, the work is a "finished study for the figure of Moses in one of the paintings commissioned from Claude by the French envoy in Rome, Louis d’Anglute, Sieur de Bourlemont," a painting that was completed in 1664 and is now in the collection of the Duke of Sutherland. The envoy was a major patron of the artist and a beneficiary in his will. The black chalk and brown and gray wash drawing is 194 by 254 mm and was formerly in the collection of Norton Simon, Inc., Museum of Art and the catalogue says it was also "probably" once in the collection of Queen Christina of Sweden. It has an estimate of $70,000 to $90,000. It failed to sell.

Lots 32 and 33 are very nice landscape drawings from the estate of Emile Wolf by Jan van Goyen (1596-1656) that are conservatively estimated each at $12,000 to $18,000. Both lots failed to sell.

Collectors interested in "names" may consider Lot 27, a simple drawing of a seated old man warming his hands by the fire. The quill and reed pen and brown ink and wash with oxidised white heightening in the corrections around the figure’s hands is 151 by 175 mm and has an estimate of $200,000 to $300,000, reflecting its "undisputed," according to the catalogue, attribution to Rembrandt Harmensz. Van Rijn (1606-1669). The work is rather freely drawn, which adds to its appeal. It sold to an American private collector for $277,500.

Of far more visual interest is Lot 45, a drawing for a frieze decoration of "A Pieta with Duke Cosimo de’ Medici and Eleonora di Toledo," by Baccio Bandinelli (1488-1560). The catalogue notes that the sheet was "enlarged by the artist at the right with a vertical panel and through the centre of the drawing with an irregular strip (from two sheets)." The drawing measures 489 by 533 mm and has a very conservative estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $31,625. Letters from the duke indicate that he and his consort, Eleonora, accepted a design by Bandinelli for a Pieta and ordered it to be executed as an altarpiece in oils by Bronzino, under Bandinelli’s supervision," the catalogue states. With such names and with such interesting detail in this work, what more does one want at such a modest price level.

Drawings, of course, are not always in perfect condition as artists sometimes grab at scraps in moments of inspiration, leave things lying about their studios and sometimes start off a drawing that gets larger than they planned.

One of the most exquisite drawings in the auction is Lot 52, a standing male nude holding a ring, by Giovanni Battista Naldini (1537-1591). The 403 by 245 mm pen and brown ink over traces of black chalk drawing is cut off above the figure’s forehead. It has an estimate of $25,000 to $35,000. Naldini worked with Pontormo. It failed to sell.

Another "imperfect" work is Lot 68, another drawing by Boucher, which has a slight tear in the upper left corner, which does not effect any of the drawing, which is a very lively, almost abstract study of two woman, one reclining and the other playing a flute in red chalk. The 174 by 245 mm work has a conservative estimate of $10,000 to $15,000 and is a preliminary study for a tapestry, examples of which are in the Petit Palais in Paris and the Royal Collection in Stockholm. It sold for $14,950.

Lot 61, on the other hand, is a fine example of a drawing with its own very elaborate drawn framing. The 294 by 140 mm drawing is a design for part of a mural decoration and depicts a high priest addressing a kneeling woman who holds a tablet with other figures in roundels and brackets surrounding the central picture. It is by Taddeo Zuccaro (1529-1566) and is very nicely drawn with white highlights and has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $23,000.

A more robust and dynamic work is Lot 67, a 317 by 275 mm drawing of a design for a chariot with Neptune surrounded by four allegorical figures, possibly the continents. The attribution is only to Roman School, 17th Century, but the catalogue notes that it is "close to the style of Bernini and Gaulli; it must be a work of an artist in their orbit. It has a conservative estimate of $3,500 to $4,500. It sold for $7,475.

Lot 69 is a fine example of a highly detailed, complete composition. It is a 360 by 480 mm red and black chalk, pen and brown ink and wash, heightened with white drawing by Hubert Robert (1733-1808) that has an estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. "This is a particularly beautiful and elaborate work, unusual among Robert’s drawings in the extensive use of white heightening," the catalogue notes. It sold for $37,375.

Lot 98 is a study by Jean-August-Dominique Ingres (1780-1867) of "Paolo and Francesca" and has a conservative estimate of $20,000 to $30,000 in light of how desirable and rare his drawings are and this is a complete, though lightly done, composition. It sold for $25,875.

Andromache Mourning the Death of Hector by Jacques-Louis David

Lot 105, "Andromache Mourning the Death of Hector,"

by Jacques-Louis David, 290 by 245 mm

Lot 105, in contrast, shown above, is a very strong drawing of "Andromache Mourning the Death of Hector" by Jacques-Louis David (1748-1825). The 290 by 245 mm work is a newly discovered version of a signed and dated version in the Musée du Petit Palais in Paris. This very finished, though not overly appealing, drawing has an estimate of $70,000 to $80,000. It sold for $112,500 to an American private collector.


See The City Review article on the Old Master Drawings auction Jan. 28, 2000 at Christie's

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