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Art Market.

In June, a great collection of African art comes to the block, as well as a remarkable clock, an astonishing mirror and an early Kandinsky. In April, records were broken for intaglio jewels and Netherlandish painting, and a Raphael may have been discovered

Preview

Some 250 highlights of one of the great collections of African art come to auction at Sotheby's Paris on 19 June --certainly the finest single-owner offering seen on the market since the sale of the Verite Collection at Drouot in 2006. These are works lovingly amassed mostly 40 to 50 years ago by Marceau Riviere, now 82, whose fascination with Africa was first fired as a child of eight when a missionary showed him a film about the Congo. He bought his first mask at the age of 11. Having signed up for the French camel corps in Algeria in 1957, he subsequently chose an engineering career that allowed him to remain in Africa for more than 20 years, spending this time developing friendships and researching the art and ritual of the continent. An impressive series of reference books ensued, and a small gallery in Paris.

Riviere's name is most closely associated with the art of the Ivory Coast--by the Baule, Dan and Guro peoples--but the works here come from across the continent, and the quality is extraordinary. So is the variety of objects --from classical masks and figures to the likes of boxes, spoons, loom pulleys and jewellery. Some pieces are among the finest examples of their type and have been widely published and exhibited; others are great rarities or works of exceptional beauty. That many have belonged to the most celebrated collectors of the 20th century will reassure less confident buyers and tempt the connoisseurs.

For the deep-pocketed there are trophies such as the early and richly patinated Dan mask once owned by Henri Kamer (estimate 700,000 [euro]-1m [euro]) and a rare Baule 'moon' mask (Fig. 1; estimate on request). A particularly refined anthropomorphic Dan spoon achieves a perfect balance between statuary and functionality (400,000 [euro]-600,000 [euro]), while an oracle or divination box is one of only six known examples bearing a figure (300,000 [euro]-400,000 [euro]). Loom pulleys ornamented with birds or animals are particularly appealing, as is a little cup on a single foot. Estimates for jewellery start at a few hundred euros. The auction comes with an overall estimate of 15m [euro] but in this kind of sale, anything may happen.

A far smaller collection offered at Bonhams in London on 19 June will also have the world's specialist collectors out in force. For at its heart is a gem: the smallest ebony table clock ever made by Thomas Tompion, and almost certainly that commissioned for Queen Mary II around 1693 (Fig. 3). Tompion was--by a country mile--the greatest clockmaker of his day, and supplied four successive British monarchs as well as most of the royal or princely families of Europe. He also made scientific instruments. His most important early patron was the natural scientist Robert Hooke, whose diary entries of 1693 include mention of visits to Tompion where he saw 'Q. Marys clock' and the 'K and Q. clocks'.

This quarter-repeating clock, No. 222 in the Tompion inventory, bears the same royal heraldic silver mounts as the larger campaign clock made for William III, with an intricately engraved, mostly hidden, seven-pillar movement. Technological sophistication and aesthetic appeal aside, it is also an evocative aural time tunnel: its light and pretty, resonating strike, which hangs in the air for several seconds, is exactly the sound that Queen Mary would have heard, and it is tempting to think of her activating it in the dark of the night by means of a small lever to hear the hour and quarters. When it left the royal collection is unclear, as is how the case and mechanism came to be separated before being reunited in 1949. This much exhibited timepiece, now part of the Clive Collection and expected to realise over 2m [pounds sterling], is likely to become the most expensive English clock ever sold at auction.

For some, the London summer season is all about racing at Ascot, tennis at Wimbledon and Test match cricket just about everywhere else. This year, the British art sales offer a slightly different view. Instead of the hallowed turf of Lord's, the Oval or Old Trafford, Lowry's A Cricket Match of 1938 presents an impromptu children's game on a far from green--or flat--piece of debris-strewn waste ground in front of a dilapidated tenement building. When it last appeared at auction in 1996, it sold for a record 282,000 [pounds sterling]. At Sotheby's on 18 June, it bears an estimate of 800,000 [pounds sterling]-1.2m [pounds sterling].

Christie's Modern British Day Sale on 18 June offers a small group of very early paintings by Frank Bowling, who is the subject of a current retrospective at Tate Britain (until 26 August). Born in Guyana (then British Guiana) in 1934, Bowling studied at the Royal College of Art in London alongside Hockney and Kitaj, and these works date from his student years. The Beggar series, included in the artist's first exhibition in New York, highlighted his concern for those on the fringes of society. Beggar No. 3 of 1963 draws on memories of his mother's home and shop (estimate 60,000 [pounds sterling]-80,000 [pounds sterling]). A rare self-portrait also takes a bow (30,000 [pounds sterling]-50,000 [pounds sterling]).

In 1961, the literary patron and philanthropist Drue Heinz purchased the so-called Leverhulme mirror, a tour de force of rococo fantasy in the chinoiserie style, featuring beady-eyed ho-o birds craning their long necks to investigate fishing nets filled with the fruits of sea or lake. This watery theme continues with dolphins and trumpeting mermen, a four-tier fountain, and masks of Amphitrite and Poseidon, the latter garlanded by seashells. As if fringed with cascading water, the four were no doubt intended for the display of Chinese porcelain. The mirror is thought to date to around 1750-60 and to be the work of the carver and designer Matthias Lock, from whose published pattern books its design derives. It seems likely that the eagle cresting was added when the mirror was regilded in the 19th century. Offered by Christie's in London on 4 June as part of an estate sale, the mirror is expected to fetch 150,000 [pounds sterling]-250,000 [pounds sterling].

For its 65th anniversary auction, Ketterer Kunst in Munich flourishes a small early oil-on-board painting by Wassily Kandinsky long lost to scholars. Treppe zum Schloss (Murnau) of 1909 (Fig. 2) dates to the period of the artist's transition away from the simplified forms and glowing colour of Fauvism to his chromatic abstract work. The painting, it transpired, had been in Amsterdam, and turned up at Sotheby's New York last November consigned by the heirs of the Dutch-born art and music critic Paul Sanders. Previously estimated at $3m-$5m but failing to find a buyer, it is now being offered for a more tempting 1.5m [euro]-2.5m [euro] on 7 June.

Review

Classic Week at Christie's New York drew strong prices and an impressive 85 per cent average sell-through rate --a signal of a return to the tried and tested in troubled times, or a reflection of the rarity of exceptional material on the market?

In various sales that week, buyers seemed to favour the small. In the case of the Giorgio Sangiorgi Collection, this was the very small indeed. Here were masterpieces in miniature: ancient engraved gems. Some were cameos, portraits in raised or 'positive' relief, but most were intaglios, where the engraver has painstakingly created 'negative' sculptural relief images of extraordinary dimensionality and detail. Precision and durability mattered when seals made of semi-precious hardstones mounted on rings were used to validate documents. The finest group of gems to come to auction in a generation, all 40 lots sold--17 to the Getty--and most soared over estimate.

The top lot was an unusually large (3.4cm long) Roman black chalcedony intaglio portrait of Antinous which has been hailed as the finest surviving portrait, in any medium, of the Emperor Hadrian's beautiful young favourite (Fig. 2). Missing parts of this bust had been restored in gold sometime during the Renaissance. The highlight of the celebrated 18th-century gem collection of the 4th Duke of Marlborough, it came to the block with expectations of $300,000-$500,000 but fetched $2.1m.

An even more extraordinary Roman amethyst, with a portrait bust of the Greek orator Demosthenes, signed by Dioskourides, was estimated at $200,000-$300,000 and fetched $i.6m. It is so deeply cut that in the impression it reads almost like a statue in the round. Another of the finest engraved gems of its period was a Greek mottled jasper scaraboid engraved with the figure of Perseus, c. 4th century BC. That spiralled 10 times over estimate to change hands for $855,000. In all, the 29 April sale fetched $10.6m--more than the Antiquities sale that followed.

Here too the most astonishing price was found for a fairly minute objet, an Egyptian amulet of blue chalcedony, 3.8cm wide, in the form of a solar disc flanked by outward-facing cobras, an emblem of the sun god Ra. Thought to date from around 664-630 BC, it went 10 times over estimate, realising $759,000. But the highest price was found for a Roman portrait bust of the Emperor Didius Julianus, murdered in 193 AD after reigning a mere nine weeks. In superb condition, it more than doubled expectations to change hands for $4.8m.

The top price of Classic Week, however, was the record $10m paid for Jan Sanders van Hemessen's highly original double portrait of a man (note his intaglio) and wife seated playing tables, a predecessor to backgammon (Fig. 1). Signed and dated 1532, this double portrait is unusual for its scale and striking for its playfulness. It is ripe for interpretation in relation to the game--the hinged board and table are tilted so that we may see the counters in play--and the still life of fruit, not least the cut quince, a common allusion to marriage. No doubt the painting's fortunes were not hindered by a provenance that included both the notable Scottish collector the 25th Earl of Crawford (and 8th Earl of Balcarres) and the artist Frank Stella, in whose bedroom it had hung since 1984. The price set a new auction record for an early Netherlandish painting.

Record prices were also found for two of the dealer-collector Richard Feigen's paintings. Both The Madonna and Child with Saint Lucy and the Young Saint John the Baptist by Annibale Carracci, and Lorenzo Monaco's small (19.7cm diam.) early 15th-century tondo of The Prophet Isaiah comfortably exceeded their estimates to sell for just over $6m and $3.6m respectively. Unusually, paintings by Guercino and Hans Baldung Grien were withdrawn --pre-sold to an as-yet-undisclosed good home. The sale was a remarkable 79 per cent sold by value and 92 per cent by lot; those figures were matched by the 'Masterworks' from the estate of Lila and Herman Shickman later that morning.

The newish habit of withdrawing valuable works of art from a sale where there appears to be no interest skews a reading of the results and the market. Thus a Melendez still life of artichokes and tomatoes in a landscape, estimated at $2m-$4m, was not offered. While a wonderfully grand and austere Juan van der Hamen y Leon still life did, as expected, set a new auction record for the artist, its $6.5m price with premium looked disappointing in relation to an estimate that started out at a mighty $8m-$12m and ended up at $6m-$9m. A Willem Kalf still life sold for a record $2.8m against an estimate of $2m-$4m.

The biggest surprise of the three Old Master sales, however, was the success of the middle-market offering, which was 91 per cent sold by value and 84 per cent by lot. 'I have never seen a Part II sale like it,' commented Jonquil O'Reilly, Christie's head of sale, noting that clients responded with enthusiasm to the idea of the first 19 lots being offered without a reserve.

Most Old Master dealers and collectors dream of finding an unrecognised 'sleeper' at auction--like the Annibale Carracci, in fact, which Richard Feigen had acquired in 1987 as a painting by the artist's pupil Sisto Badalocchio. So there was much interest in a metalpoint, pen and brown ink drawing with white heightening that took a bow in a modest sale held by Drouot Estimations in Paris on 12 April. This Holy Family with the Infant St John the Baptist (Fig. 3) came attributed to Giovanni Francesco Penni (1488-1528). Penni was a pupil of Raphael, and the image, crucially, relates to the Spinola Madonna, a painting by the master's most distinguished disciple, Giulio Romano, sometimes thought to have been based on a drawing made in Raphael's workshop, perhaps by Penni. The drawing came with an estimate of 5,000 [euro]-7,000 [euro]--and was hammered down, after heated competition, to drawings specialists Galerie de Bayser for a breathtaking 1.1m [euro]. The jury is still out, but many are persuaded that this is indeed a drawing by Raphael.

In Milan, the subtle and contemplative still lifes executed by Giorgio Morandi in the aftermath of World War II found particular favour at Christie's on 3 April, with two small paintings fetching over 1m [euro]. Sotheby's offering on 11 April launched with the Hockemeyer Collection of post-war Italian ceramics. Most lots soared above pre-sale estimates, with pieces by Lucio Fontana hardly surprisingly securing some of the highest bids. A cut, incised, glazed and lustred form of 1966-67, expected to fetch 100,000 [euro]-150,000 [euro], changed hands for 648,500 [euro]--significantly more than an identically estimated and more familiar Crocifisso of 1948 in the main body of the sale.

Caption: 1. Double portrait of a husband and wife, half-length, seated at a table, playing tables, 1532, Jan Sanders van Hemessen (c. 1504-56), oil on panel, 111.1 x 127.9cm. Christie's New York, $10m

Caption: 2. Intaglio portrait of Antinous, c. 130-38 AD, Roman, black chalcedony with later restorations in gold, length 3.4cm. Christie's New York, $2.1m

Caption: 3. Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist, n.d., Giovanni Francesco Penni (1488-1528), metalpoint, pen and brown ink on paper, 19.5x 12.2cm. Drouot Estimations, 1.1m [euro]

Caption: 1. Moon' mask, late 19th/early 20th century, Baule people, Ivory Coast, wood, ht 22.5cm. Sotheby's Paris (estimate on request)

Caption: 2. Treppe zum Schloss (Murnau), 1909, Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), oil on board, 44.9 x 33cm. Ketterer Kunst (estimate 1.5m [euro]-2.5m [euro])

Caption: 3. King William & Queen Mary Royal Tompion, c. 1693, Thomas Tompion (1639-1713), silver-mounted ebony with a gilt-brass dial and blued-steel hands, ht 17.7cm. Bonhams (estimate in excess of 2m [pounds sterling])
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Author:Moore, Susan
Publication:Apollo
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 1, 2019
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