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Art Market.

A pared-back still life by one of the earliest professional-female artists goes under the hammer in New York this month. In November, that city's modern and contemporary results typified a market in which greed and guarantees hold too much sway

Preview

As part of its January season in New York, Sotheby's presents 'The Female Triumphant'--a focus on works of art by the relatively few professional women artists working in Europe from the 16th to the 19th centuries, accompanied by an exhibition of the latest tranche of photographs by the Dutch fine art photographer Carla van de Puttelaar featuring leading women in the art world. Is the title intended to be ironic or optimistic? Triumph remains a work in progress.

Like most early women artists, the Milanese Fede Galizia (1578-1630) was the daughter of a painter who undertook to train her at home. While Nunzio Galizia was a miniature painter, his precociously talented daughter I was unusual in producing a diverse body of work, from major altarpieces to portraits and early still lifes. Her sharply observed portrait of Paolo Morigia, executed in 1596--when the artist was just 18--and now in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana, Milan, shows the scholar and historian penning laudatory verses in her honour, the lenses of the spectacles held in his left hand reflecting the room around them.

On 30 January, Sotheby's Master Paintings evening sale offers one of the still lifes that constitute the largest body of her work (Fig. 1). It seems likely that her inspiration was Caravaggio's Basket of Fruit, thought to have been painted around 1595-96 and the first pure still life executed in Italy. In the first decade of the 17th century, this was in the collection of Federico Borromeo in Milan, as were a number of still lifes by Jan Brueghel the Elder. Galizia took the relative simplicity of the Caravaggio and pared down its elements still further, endowing her few fruits with a monumentality and quietness more familiar in the later Spanish still lifes of Zurbaran, Melendez and Sanchez Cotan. A Glass Compote with Peaches, Jasmine Flowers, Quinces, and a Grasshopper is one of four known versions of this particular composition but the only one to feature a grasshopper. This small oil on panel is expected to realise $2m-$3m.

The evening sale also includes a rather extraordinary painting on alabaster by Orazio Gentileschi (Fig. 3), an artist now somewhat unfairly, though understandably, overshadowed by his daughter Artemisia. This is one of a group of small and highly finished cabinet paintings executed on stone--the ground allowing for both an intensity of colour and for the imaginative use of the natural veining of the stone as part of the composition. Here, against a brilliant lapis blue ground, the Archangel Michael and his vibrantly hued army emerge out of golden 'clouds' to force the rebel angels into a flaming rocky chasm below the ocean. Like the Fede Galizia, this painting was identified only relatively recently, and it appears to predate the artist's altarpiece of the same subject of around 1608. Estimate $2.4m-$3.4m.

While the Old Master paintings sales at Christie's New York are now held in May, its Old Master and British drawings sale remains in this month. Although the sale on 31 January offers good 16th-century Italian drawings by the likes of Polidoro da Caravaggio, Primaticcio and Niccolo dell'Abate, it is likely that most eyes will be drawn to Sotheby's and its two stand-out highlights. Hung together during the London preview in December, the two works on paper seem to exemplify the realities of connoisseurship in this field.

One is a large and powerful black chalk drawing by Peter Paul Rubens--a great draughtsman as well as painter (Fig. 2). It is a preparatory study for a key figure in one of his two monumental masterpieces in Antwerp Cathedral, The Raising of the Cross, painted shortly after his return from Italy at the end of 1608. There is no doubt at all that this muscular near nude served as the model for the armoured soldier one of nine figures--straining to raise Christ on the Cross. Moreover, the drawing comes to auction with a long and distinguished provenance (the consignor is a member of the Dutch royal family). It's expected to achieve $2.sm-$3.5m.

Standing in contrast is the pen-and-ink drawing of a soldier in armour depicted in profile. 'This is a difficult drawing,' says Cristiana Romalli, senior director at Sotheby's. 'I have lived with this drawing for a year and I am now sufficiently confident to offer it as a Raphael.' It has been seen by many Raphael scholars and blessed by the majority of them, and has been dated to the period after the artist's arrival in Florence in 1504, when the young man fresh from provincial Perugia encountered the genius of Michelangelo and Leonardo. This was a period of experimentation and innovation. If it is not by the master's hand, it is most likely to be a copy of a lost original. It comes to the block with an estimate of $800,000-$1.2m.

Provenance alone unites the contents of the Royal & Noble sale at Sotheby's London on 17 January. From the latter camp comes a small gem of an Italian maiolica egg stand hailing from Urbino, and decorated by one of the best maiolica painters of all, Francesco Xanto Avelli. Sitting on three paws, this unusually shaped piece of canted triangular form was moulded to have four wells, the central one bearing Xanto's monogram, the others labelled 'sale', 'sped' and 'ova'. Dated to around 1535, it was purchased in 1855 by the 4th Earl Spencer for 15 [pounds sterling] and sold by his descendants in 2010 for 26,250 [pounds sterling]. It now carries an estimate of 25,000 [pounds sterling]-35,000 [pounds sterling]. The children of the 1st Earl Spencer--including Georgiana, the future Duchess of Devonshire --sat for the portrait by Angelica Kauffmann offered in Sotheby's Master Paintings sale in New York on 30 January ($600,000-$800,000).

A little corner of England found its way to New York state when the anglophile American antiques dealer Harriet Meeker Cox Hooper built Little Cassiobury, incorporating masonry and panelling from Cassiobury House, Hertfordshire, before its demolition in 1927. A later owner, Susan Lyall, continued her mission, and on 16 January Christie's New York offers the house's contents. Expect to find Lavery, Irish Georgian furniture and Chinese works, including Qing furniture and Tang pottery figurines.

One of the great collections of imperial Chinese art is to be found in Taiwan, soon to host a new contemporary art fair, Taipei Dangdai (18-20 January). Its director, Magnus Renfrew, previously at the helm of Art Basel Hong Kong, does not intend to compete with that event. 'Our aspiration is to create a sustainable fair that can retain a strong Asian identity and respect its domestic and regional context,' he says. 'At the same time, we want to create a platform to enable those international galleries with a serious commitment to the region to engage with one of the longest established and most sophisticated collector bases in Asia.' Twenty of the fair's 90 exhibitors are from Europe and the United States, of which 10 have permanent gallery spaces in Asia and a further five have full-time representatives in the region.

Caption: 1. A Glass Compote with Peaches, Jasmine Flowers, Quinces, and a Grasshopper, c. 1600-10, Fede Galizia (1578-1630), oil on panel, 30.5x43.2cm. Sotheby's New York ($2m-$3m)

Caption: 2. Nude Study of a Young Man with Raised Arms, c. 1609-10, Peter Paul Rubens (1577-1640), black chalk with white heightening on paper, 49.1 x31.5cm, Sotheby's New York ($2.5m-$3.5m)

Caption: 3. The Fall of the Rebel Angels, c. 1601-02, Orazio Gentileschi (1563-1639), oil on alabaster, 49.8 X 40.3cm, Sotheby's New York ($2.4m-$3.4m)

Review

Almost $2bn--$1.99bn to be more precise --changed hands in just eight days of Impressionist, modern and contemporary art auctions in New York in November. While it is anyone's guess what amount private sales added to that figure, the number still begs the questions of who is buying all this very expensive art and why. And it is becoming increasingly expensive.

Once again numerous auction records were set, some at multiples of previous highs. David Hockney's Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures) broke the auction record for a work by a living artist when it was knocked down at its exact and rather arbitrary pre-sale estimate of $80m at Christie's on is November --$90.3m with premium. That title had previously belonged to a Jeff Koons balloon dog, which cost its buyer considerably less --$58.4m--in 2013. The equivalent auction series in 2017--discounting the anomalous SalvatorMundi--totalled $1.83bn. Even the average sales prices in the lower-value day auctions increased. As The Fine Art Group's Guy Jennings neatly put it: 'Every year, the bar is raised a little bit higher and people manage to jump over it.'

Raising the bar is a killer combination of voracious competition between the auction houses to secure major consignments and the expectations--a euphemism for greed --of consignors. That buyers are prepared to pay these ever-inflating prices is perhaps a reflection of the dismal performance of other asset-class investments in the past year--and it is probably fair to state that most players at the very top level are investors hoping to make money out of either buying and selling art or guaranteeing the sale of works at auction. Perhaps 40 per cent of this season's lots offered at evening sales were guaranteed. The fact that the Hockney came to the block without a guarantee has fuelled immense speculation about the nature of the deal behind this sale.

What is alarming about these apparently strong sales, however, is the high proportion of top-dollar lots that were either sold to the guarantor or on a bid above. The skin of the art-market drum is being stretched very thin indeed. Even the sale of a collection as exceptional as that of American modernist painting amassed by the late travel magnate Barney Ebsworth lacked any sense of drama or occasion, though at Christie's on 13 November it exceeded its punchy expectations to total a mighty $317.8m, finding the highest price of the week and a new record for American art.

As anticipated, the top lot was Edward Hopper's Chop Suey (1929; Fig. 1). Estimated at $70m-$100m, it was knocked down at $8sm. With premium, the final price was $91.9m more than double the previous auction record for the artist. A new auction high was also found for Willem de Kooning: Woman as Landscape (1954-55) came with a pre-sale estimate of $60m-$90m and the hammer went down at $61m--$68.9m with premium.

Not everything sold. The November series had opened with Christie's Impressionist and Modern sale, in which a number of top lots failed to attract a buyer--a collective murmur of disbelief greeted the fate of Van Gogh's vibrant Coin de jardin avec papillons (1887), which was making its auction debut with an ambitious estimate of $40m. Sotheby's more successful sale also had its major casualties, not least Marsden Hartley's much publicised Pre-War Pageant of 1913, which carried an estimate of $3om--over four times the current auction record for the artist. Ludwig Meidner's Apokalyptische Landschaft (1912) did, however, establish a new high at $14.1m, and five bidders chased the recently restituted Egon Schiele, Dammernde Stadt (Die Kleine Stadt II) (1913), which reached a price of $24.6m with premium.

Another restituted tour de force--previously in Swedish museums--was Oskar Kokoschka's compelling early portrait of Joseph de Montesquiou-Fezensac, whose face the artist said 'looked like that of a wax figure' (Fig. 2). This realised $20.4m--Ave times the artist's previous auction record. It was another portrait, however, that found the biggest price of the evening: Rene Magritte's Le Principe du Plaisir--a depiction of Edward James, commissioned by this great patron of Surrealist art in 1937, which, typically, concealed the sitter's face. It fetched a record $26.8m.

Perhaps the most interesting post-series statistics, produced by Artnet, concern contemporary art. A dramatic decline in the number of works offered in day sales, and lower estimates, point to a perceived uncertainty and stagnation in this market. Numbers were up, however, for the volume of post-war and Impressionist and modern lots. In a real or anticipated economic downturn, collectors tend to play it safe, buying the tried and tested. There was less Asian bidding in the contemporary arena, too.

Asian bidders were also sitting on their hands at Christie's Hong Kong, whose autumn auctions total was down from HK$3.43bn in 2017 to HK$2.75bn--even with the inclusion of the 11th-century scroll painting believed (though not by all) to be by the pre-eminent Song dynasty poet, statesman, calligrapher and artist Su Shi. Su was hailed by auctionhouse publicity as 'the Chinese Leonardo da Vinci'. That analogy, plus the extraordinary rarity of Su's work, enabled Christie's to attach to the ink and brush Wood and Rock a pre-sale price tag of 'upwards of HK$400m' (40m [pounds sterling]). There was, however, no Salvator Mundistyle bidding frenzy here. The painting and its extensive colophons attracted just three bids and while it did exceed its estimate changing hands for HK$463.6m--it did not, as anticipated, break the auction record for a Chinese painting.

After all the hype and financial subterfuge of these high-octane, high-risk markets, it was pure pleasure to re-engage with reality at Fine Arts Paris (7-11 November). The scale of the Carrousel du Louvre lent itself to the material on offer, and the display was simple yet elegant. Ironically, the most impressive array of French art--the lion's share of this fair--was presented by an American dealer, Jill Newhouse. However, the prime aim of this initiative is to offer real collectors and museum curators the opportunity to buy affordable drawings, paintings and sculpture; it was one buyers enthusiastically embraced. Despite a clashing dinner for Les Amis du Louvre, the opening preview was busy. By the end of the fair, several dealers had sold in significant numbers.

Sculpture was the focus this year and the fair was generously endowed with good pieces. The outstanding display was offered by Trebosc & Van Lelyveld. Unsurprisingly, a plaster Bust of Madame la Baronne de Sipiere (1872; Fig. 3) by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux sold during the preview (asking price 120,000 [euro]), while a bravura terracotta bust of the sculptor Albert-Ernest Carrier-Belleuse by Rodin, made after 1888 and passed down in the sculptor's family, was whisked away by a major client for her museum in China.

Caption: 1. Chop Suey, 1929, Edward Hopper (1882-1967), oil on canvas, 81.3 x 96.5cm. Christie's New York, $91.9m
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Author:Moore, Susan
Publication:Apollo
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 1, 2019
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