By Carter B. Horsley
This auction of property from the estate of Lillian Rojtman Berkman including property from the Rojtman Foundation includes many very attractive Old Master paintings, many with very conservative estimates and several with attributions that have changed over the years, as well as French and English furniture, ceramics and Asian works of art. The catalogue describes the collection as "distinguished and eclectic," adding that it "helped transform Mrs. Berkman's six-story East 64th Street townhouse into one of the most revered homes in New York."
Her husband, Marc B. Rojtman, was president of the American Tractor Corporation and J. I. Case Company, died in 1967 after which she became president of The Rojtman Foundation that had been established in 1956 to advance education in the arts. "Marquette University and the Haggerty Museum of Art in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where the Rojtmans made their home, were the principal venues for the Foundation's gifts....Along with numerous gifts of Old Master paintings to Marquette, the Rojtmans donated the 15th Century St. Joan of Arc Chapel, a Gothic structure originally imported from Chasse, France, and reassembled stone by stone where it stands today at the heart of the university's downtown Milwaukee campus....She and her husband donated the Rojtman Medieval Sculpture Gallery in 1964" to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. She donated two statues by Canova to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and two other Canova statues to the National Gallery of Art in Washington.
One of the loveliest works in the auction is Lot 509, "Madonna and Sleeping Christ Child," by Giovanni Battista Salvi, called Sassoferrato (1609-1685). An oil on canvas, it measures 29 3/4 by 25 inches and has a very conservative estimate of $30,000 to $40,000. It sold for $168,000 including the buyer's premium as do all results mentioned in this article. The catalogue notes that this composition "was clearly one of Sassoferrato's most celebrated and most repeated," noting that "The design appears to derive from an invention of Guido Reni's, known to us today through contemporary engravings, though no painting of the composition by Reni survives and the coloring and handling is entirely Sassoferrato's own."
Another beautiful depiction of the Madonna and Child is Lot 522, "Madonna of the Cherries," that the catalogue states is by the studio of Joos van Cleve, who died in Antwerp in 1540-1. The catalogue notes that "The composition of the present work was derived from an idea by Leonardo da Vinci, and exists in a number of versions of Van Cleve and his studio," adding that "The present work appears to be painted by a 17th century follower. It has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $120,000.
Lot 523, "The Madonna and Child with Saints Bernard (?), Anthony of Padua and John the Evangelist (?)," is a tonda by Luca Signorelli (1450-1523) and studio that is 28 1/2 inches in diameter. The catalogue notes that it "relates directly to an autograph work by Signorelli today in a private collection in Italy." It adds that in the opinion of T. Henry, the author of "The Complete Paintings of Luca Signorelli" (2001, London), "this version, which is faithful to the original in every detail, was painted under Signorelli's supervision in his workshop and he believes that he may have been involved inparts of the picture's execution," adding that "he dates the present variant to circa 1510." It also observes that "Laurence Kanter believes the present painting to be by Luca Signorelli with workshop assistance." The painting and many others in this collection were acquired from Central Picture Galleries in New York in the late 1950s. It has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It failed to sell.
Lot 541 is an impressive painting by Sir Anthony Van Dyck (1599-1641) and studio entitled "The Incredulity of St. Thomas." An oil on canvas that measures 49 3/4 by 44 1/4 inches, it is a copy "with slight differences" of a work by van Dyck in the State Hermitage museum in St. Petersburg. Susan J. Barnes, the author of "Van Dyck: A Complete Catalogue of the Paintings," (2004, New Haven), is said in the catalogue to believe this work to "be by van Dyck with Studio assitance." It has a conservative estimate of $80,000 to $120,000. It sold for $329,600.
Lot 542 is a fine oil on canvas by Jacob Adriaensz. Backer (1608-1651) that is entitled "Saint Peter Holding the Keys to the Church." An oil on canvas, it measures 46 3/4 by 38 inches. It has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $114,000.
Lot 587 is a very fine and large portrait of three children as Ceres, Ganymede and Diana by Nicolaes Maes (1634-1693). It is the back-cover illustration of the catalogue and was the cover illustration in November, 1962 of The Connoisseur magazine. An oil on canvas that measures 74 by 55 inches, it is dated 1673. It was sold at Sotheby's in London June 22, 1960 for 800 pounds. It has a modest estimate of $250,000 to $350,000. It sold for $240,000.
Lot 543 is a very handsome "Portrait of Titian, half-length," that was said by G. M. Richter in 1931 and Bernard Berenson in 1957 as having been executed by Titian. In his four-volume work on "The Paintings of Titian," however, H. E. Wethey maintained that it was a 17th Century copy after Titian, an opinion shared by F. Rusk Shapley in his 1979 "Catalogue of the Italian Paintings, National Gallery of Art" in Washington. In 1990, B. Aikema attributed the work to Pietro della Vecchia. "This would appear to be the picture formerly in the collection of the Earl of Ashburham, Ashburham Place, Sussex, where it was long considered to have been a self-portrait by Titian," the catalogue entry observed, adding that Aikema considers "it an autograph variant of Della Vecchia's Portrait of Titian in the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC." "A painting believed to be by Titian," the catalogue entry continued, "showing the artist drawing with a statue of Venus beyond, is described in a letter of 1675 from Marco Boschini to Cardinal Leopoldo de' Medici though it is by no means certain that the attribution to Titian was correct." This lot has a modest estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It sold for $192,000.
Lot 562, "The Penitent Magdalene," is ascribed in the catalogue to "circle of Leonardo da Vinci or Andrea Verrocchio." da Vinci, of course, was a member of Verrocchio's studio. An oil on panel transferred to canvas, it measures 29 1/2 by 24 1/2 inches. The catalogue notes that "the head of the Magdalene is based upon a drawing inthe Uffizi, Florence, formerly attributed to Leonardo da Vinci but now considered to be by the workshop of Andrea Verrocchio....The painting is faithful to the drawing in every detail, particularly in the inricate headdress won by the figure." The entry also observed that "The present painting is accompanied by a photocertificate from Professor Erik Larsen dated July 16, 1957 that states that the painting is by Leonardo da Vinci." The frame is 18th Century Italian. The bright red lips are rather unusual and the hands are a bit weak for Verrocchio, who also was not famous for black backgrounds. Regardless of the attribution, the rather lovely painting has a modest estimate of $20,000 to $30,000. It sold for $132,000.
Lot 564 is a handsome "Portrait of a Man in Black" by a follower of Hans Holbein the Younger. An oil on canvas that measures 21 by 17 1/4 inches, it has an estimate of $60,000 to $80,000. It failed to sell. It was sold at Christies in London July 27, 1946 as by Hans Holbein and again at Christie's in London June 26, 1959 as "Circle of Holbein." This catalogue notes that "The present portrait most likely copies a lost Holbein original that was probably painted by a Holbein copyist or imitator working around 1600."
Lot 573, "Salome with the Head of St. John the Baptist," is, according to the catalogue, "directly related to Titian's famous work of circa 1515 in the Galleria Doria Pamphilij in Rome, though there are small differences between the two, such as the omission of the putto above the archway behind Salome." "The Doria picture may have been in the collection of Lucrezia d'Este, Duchess of Urino, until at least 1592, and this is where the artist of the present work would have seen it....The present painting, like Titian's original, was considered to be a work by Giorgione during the 19th Century." It was sold at Sotheby's in London July 16, 1930 as a Giorgione. Titian studied under Giorgione. This lot has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $340,800.
Lot 581, "Diana's Return From the Hunt," is a version of a composition in the Dresden Gemaldegalerie. It was exhibited as by Rubens at the Gagosian Gallery in NewYork in 1995. It is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity from Dr. Erik Larsen dated November 12, 1957 and a second certificate from Jacob Kainen dated October 26, 1971. It is a fine composition and the figures and faces are definitely Rubensesque. It has a very conservative estimate of $15,000 to $20,000. It sold for $90,000.
Lot 582 is a "Madonna and Child" that the catalogue states is by Pieter I Claeissins (1499-1576). An oil on panel that measures 46 by 34 inches it was sold to the Lillian Rojtman Berkman in1961 by Central Picture Galleries in New York as Gerard David. It is accompanied by a photocertificate from M. J. Friedlander, dated March 5, 1956, stating it to be a work by Gerard David and a photocertificate from J. Kainen, dated November 2, 1971, stating it to be "a characteristic work by the Flemish master Gerard David (1450-1523)." It was the cover illustration of the December 1961 issue of The Connoisseur magazine. It has a modest estimate of $40,000 to $60,000. It sold for $114,000.
See The City Review article on the Recap of Old Master Paintings auction at Christie's, May 25, 1999