French still-life paintings were the toast of two Old Masters auctions held within days of each other in Paris: one by the 18th century master Jean-Siméon Chardin, the other by Louyse Moillon, a 17th century specialist of this genre.
Both made sums that set new auction highs for the artists.
The record-breaking €20.5m (£17.425m) still-life of a basket of wild strawberries by Jean-Siméon Chardin (1699-1779) gave a massive boost to the statistics for Artcurial’s (26/20/14.5% buyer’s premium) March 23 sale of Old Master and 19th century paintings, propelling the final total for the 189-lot sale to just under €31m including premium. The 15 x 18in (38 x 46cm) oil on canvas, which was signed lower left, had been exhibited by the artist at the 1761 Salon.
The price for the Chardin (reported in News in ATG No 2536) more than trebled the previous high for a work by the artist: his Water Urn sold by Christie’s Paris rooms only last November for €6m (although that was an example of the artist’s genre studies rather than one of his still-life compositions).
Both Christie’s urn and Artcurial’s wild strawberries had come from the same collection: that of Eudoxe Marcille (1814-90), then by descent. Father François (1790-1856) and sons Eudoxe and Camille (1816-75) were notable for a massive collection of 18th century French Old Masters and for putting Chardin back on the map in the 19th century.
The Chardin was secured at the auction by a New York gallery but is now likely to be subject to a 30-month export block (see News this edition).
Two days after Artcurial’s result Aguttes (25/23% buyer’s premium) at Drouot achieved a new auction high for a work by Louyse Moillon (1609/10-96), when it sold her still-life of strawberries in a blue and white bowl with a basket of cherries and branch of gooseberries for €1.3m (£1.1m).
Moillon, who was born and worked in Paris, was a specialist still-life painter and one whose paintings with their simplified arrangement of components influenced Chardin’s work in this genre.
Her 14 x 19½in (36 x 50cm) oil on oak panel, which is signed and dated Loyvse Moillon 1631 on the ledge where the fruits are placed, was painted when she was just 21. A similar version of the same subject painted by her teacher and father-in-law François Garnier was offered at auction in a sale by Piasa back in 2003.
Aguttes’ painting, which was the cover lot of the auction house’s 59-lot of Old Master paintings and drawings, had a provenance to a French private collection and a label to the reverse of the frame which is probably for the JA Ponsin collection rue Fortuny, Paris.
The final price paid was a multiple of the €150,000-200,000 estimate and surpassed the previous record for the artist of €950,000 paid at Sotheby’s Paris in June 2016 for a still-life of a basket of plums signed and dated 1629.
While there was one really big hitter in the Artcurial auction, the sale included some other keenly contested works.
Testimony to the institutional interest in the contents of this auction was a count of no fewer than 10 pre-emptions by the French state. A further four pre-emptions were added the following day when the auction house offered just under 100 lots of sculpture and paintings from the Charles Auzoux collection which added another €761,095 to the final tally.
The other lot to surpass the six-figure barrier in the auction was the small early 14th century Quattrocento predella panel by the Florentine artist and pupil of Giotto, Bernardo Daddi (c.1290-1348).
Like the Chardin, this was being offered by Artcurial in conjunction with the Old Master specialist Cabinet Turquin as expert, but it came from a different source, albeit with an equally lengthy provenance.
The panel had the wax seal to the reverse of Johann Anton Ramboux (1790-1866) who was a Nazarene artist, collector and curator of the Wallraf-Richartz museum in Cologne. The painting was included in an auction of his collection held by Lempertz in Cologne the year after his death (when it was catalogued as by Taddeo Gaddi).
It was acquired at the Lempertz auction by Baron Jean-Baptiste de Béthune, a Belgian architect and art collector, especially of Haute Epoque works, and it had remained with his descendants since then.
The 15½ x 14¾in (39 x 35cm) panel in egg tempera on wood depicts St Dominic resurrecting the young Napoleone Orsini after his fall from a horse and formed part of the predella of an altarpiece executed by Daddi in 1338 for the Dominican church of Santa Maria Novella in Florence.
The subject of this now partly lost altarpiece is thought to have been given over to the lives of three Dominican saints – Dominic, Thomas Aquinas and Peter of Verona – but only four predella panels, all now in institutional collections, were hitherto known to have survived.
This unpublished work, which matches the others in size and style and in its oval top format, is therefore a significant addition. While the panel had visible old damage it had not, said the auction house, been subject to any drastic restoration to the picture surface. The estimate of €200,000-300,000 proved to be well shy of the final price as it was contested to €1m (£847,460) before the hammer fell to a European buyer.
A Northern panel painting by the Flemish painter Pieter Brueghel the Younger (c.1564-1637/8) made the third-highest price of the auction at €320,000 (£271,185), over double its €100,000-150,000 top estimate.
The oil on a parqueted panel with restorations, measuring 16in x 2ft (41 x 60.5cm), depicted a winter riverscape bordered by houses with skaters on the frozen river and, to the right foreground, a group of birds drawn to the scattering of grain hidden under an old door to form a trap.
This bird-trapping subject was popular in the oeuvre of the Brueghel dynasty. The prototype is considered to be the version by Pieter Brueghel the elder in the Musées Royaux des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.
Artcurial’s panel had come from a private collection and was last under the hammer at Drouot in 1990 when Poulain le Fur sold it for Fr341,000.
Sharing the joint third-highest price in the auction with the panel painting of bird trappers at €320,000 was a much later work: an 1874 Alpine view of the Chamonix glacier by Gabriel Loppé that was pre-empted by the Alpine museum in Chamonix.
This was the most expensive of 10 museum pre-emptions in the sale, which also included purchases made by the Château of Versailles, the Louvre and a number of institutions in the French provinces.
Portrait bought by Versailles
Versailles secured the catalogue cover lot: a portrait of the century specialist flower painter Catherine Duchemin (1630-98) by an as yet unidentified French 17th century artist, paying €230,000 (£194,915) against an estimate of €100,000-150,000.
Duchemin was the wife of the sculptor François Girardon and the first woman to enter the French Académie royale de peinture et sculpture in 1663, fifteen years after its foundation. The 4ft 3in x 3ft 2in (1.3m x 96cm) oil on canvas shows her at her easel set against a curtain with a vase of flowers in the foreground and a distant mountainous landscape in the background.
It had a 19th century provenance to the collection of Eugene Féral, then a private collection in Paris and it could be the work of the same size mentioned in a 1713 inventory of Girardon’s possessions which lists portraits of Mr and Me Girardon.
The Louvre spent €70,000 (£59,320) on a 15½ x 10½in (39.5 x 26.5cm) red chalk double-sided drawing by the northern Italian artist Boccaccio Boccaccino (c.1460-1525); an auction record for a drawing by him. One side shows the birth of the Virgin, the other the healing of a possessed man.
The museum’s other purchase at €82,000 (£69,490) was a 9 x 4in (24 x 11cm) terracotta sketch from c.1639 for one of the caryatid figures on the pavillon de l’Horloge (pavillion Sully) of the Louvre that was attributed to the sculptor Jacques Sarazin (1592-1660). This had come from the family of Hector Lefuel, who was appointed by Napoleon III to conduct building works on the Louvre-Tuileries in 1861.
While the Moillon still-life was much the most expensive work in Aguttes’ sale, other top lots included a second 17th century still-life, this time a more elaborate composition by the Flemish artist Christiaan Luyckx (1623-57) that sold for €74,000 (£62,710).
The 3ft 1in x 3ft (95 x 92 cm) oil on canvas depicted an arrangement of the type of items one might find in a cabinet of curiosities of the period: a celestial globe that features a portrait of the astronomer Tycho Brahe, an arrangement of shells, a book open at an engraving of a portrait of Laura Dianti by Titian, a lizard and butterflies.
Selling for €135,000 (£114,405), just under the lower end of its €150,000- 200,000 estimate, was a 22½ x 18½in (57.5 x 46.5cm) pastel portrait by the Swiss artist Jean Etienne Liotard (1702- 89) of a young woman in a scarlet dress trimmed with ermine.
The portrait, which had come from a Parisian collection, featured in the posthumous 1779 auction in Paris of the collection of Vassal de Saint Hubert, a fermier général and valet de chambre of the Comte de Provence.
Making substantially more than the €30,000-40,000 estimate at €95,000 (£80,510) were two oil paintings of opera scenes by the north Italian artist Francesco Battaglioli (1714-96).
Each measured 2ft 7in x 3ft 7in (81cm x 1.1m) and showed scenes from librettist Pietro Metastasio’s operas: one from Didona Abbandonata, the other from Nitteti.
These works date from the period when the artist was working in Madrid as a set painter for operas at the Coliseo Buen Retiro directed by the famous castrato Farinelli, who was working for the Spanish royal family at the time.
Opera scenes in oil rather than engravings or drawings are rare. These two form part of a group of at least 12 whose commission was arranged by Farinelli, c.1756-69, to decorate the walls of Coliseo royal opera house. Eight of these were still at Buen Retiro in 1800 while four others returned with Farinelli to Bologna.
Friend to sculptors and painters
This plaster roundel by Aimé Jules Dalou (1838-1902) was the best-seller in the auction of works from the collection of Charles Auzoux (1836-1922) that were offered for sale by his descendants at Artcurial on March 24. Auzoux, a lawyer by profession, was a friend to many of the best-known sculptors and painters of the late 19th century.
The 3ft 7in (1.1m) diameter roundel is one of several similar large-scale versions of a bacchanale of nymphs and fauns conceived by Dalou. One plaster version, now in the Victoria and Albert Museum, was produced during his exile in London in 1879 and another was executed in 1897 in stone as a fountain for a municipal flower garden at Auteuil.
The Auzoux example offered by Artcurial was one of a small number produced by the sculptor after the Auteuil version and in this particular instance was ordered to decorate the fireplace of the Auzoux dining room in Fontaine-Bellenger. It sold for a hammer price of €140,000 (£118,645).
£1 = €1.18