Their purchases tended to focus on views of the places they visited as well as the kind of baroque pictures that reflected their classical schooling.
‘Grand Tour pictures’, however, might also denote the wider range of works painted by artists who similarly travelled around Europe to broaden their horizons and refine their technique. There is, of course, some crossover but when it comes to what appears on the market today, these latter works are probably more common.
One significant picture from this latter camp, recently discovered in Norfolk by a man clearing out his family home, emerged at Dreweatts’ (25% buyer’s premium) Old Master, British and European Art sale on May 26. The view of The Pantheon in Rome on market day by Jean Victor Louis Faure (1786-1879) was an example of the works produced by the French artist during and after his Grand Tour of Italy as a young painter.
Faure was born in Berlin to French parents but settled in Paris, studying under Jean-Victor Bertin (1767-1842), a specialist in Italianate landscapes.
His extended trip to Italy had a profound effect on his art, both in terms of subject matter, compositional arrangement and in the way he handled the effects of light. He produced a number of views of the Forum Romanum, the Colosseum and other Roman landmarks but nowadays any work by the artist is a something of a rarity at auction – the Artprice database shows only 22 emerging in the last 30 years.
This work showed how Faure’s art developed, in this case combining both a detailed depiction of the best-preserved ancient Roman monument as well as a study of local contemporary life.
The 4ft x 5ft 8in (1.21 x 1.72m) oil on canvas, signed and inscribed Roma to the lower right, had been bought by the vendor’s father, Major H Mosse of Mendham Priory, and kept in the hallway of the family home in Harleston, near the Norfolk-Suffolk border. Having only given it “the occasional glance to acknowledge its existence”, the owner was reportedly stunned when the auction house proposed a £30,000-50,000 estimate – and so presumably was even more astonished by the final result of £160,000.
The picture itself showed the influence of the likes of Ippolito Caffi (1809-66) on Faure as well as other Italian architectural painters working at the time, often themselves inspired by the great earlier masters such as Bernardo Bellotto and Canaletto.
The work offered at the Newbury auction benefited not just from its appealing size and subject but also its exceptional condition – it had not been relined and, although rather dirty, promised to clean well. Dreweatts’ head of British & European pictures Brandon Lindberg said: “It is rare to find a work on this scale and age in such untouched and original condition. Faure’s work only occasionally comes on the market and the most comparable example to this sold over a decade ago for in excess of £200,000, which is still the record price for the artist.”
On the day, the bidding took off with interest from both UK and European bidders taking it well over estimate before it was finally knocked down to an international private collector.
The price was the second highest for Faure at auction, only behind the above-mentioned view of the same scene, although with a busier composition, which made £230,000 at Christie’s in July 2009.
Elsewhere at the Dreweatts sale, a Flemish Old Master also drew attention. The Banquet of the Prodigal Son was thought to relate to a series of approximately 10 works which mix the Italian tradition of musical scenes with Flemish banquet pictures, all either attributed to Ambrosius Benson (b.1495-1550) or his workshop. Today three are in public collections: one in Verona’s Museo di Castelvecchio, another in Basel’s Öffentliche Kunstsammlung and one in the Louvre in Paris.
The 4ft 3in x 5ft 6in (1.3 x 1.67m) oil on panel carried an inscription on the bucket in the lower left corner which included the words Filivs Prodig… hinting that the work was derived from the biblical parable of the Prodigal Son. Details to the background landscape also alluded to this with the presence of a swineherd (in the bible, the son is forced to undertake herding swine after squandering his father’s fortune).
With its provenance including previously being owned by the 7th Viscount Gort, Dreweatts catalogued it as ‘Circle of Ambrosius Benson (b.1495-1550)’ and gave it an estimate of £15,000-25,000 – a level that proved to be sensible given that its condition was not ideal.
The panel, which was made up of at least five planks of wood, had a few old cracks which had been filled up and there were some other areas of restoration. However, the paint surface was well preserved and key areas were still untouched.
Offered unframed, it sold at £38,000 to a private collector.
Stubbs and Thorburn
Among the British works drawing attention at the auction were two animal pictures. A painting of a King Charles spaniel by George Stubbs (1724-1806) was estimated at £10,000-15,000 – a low level for the artist on account of its thick discoloured varnish, extensive overpainting and the fact that it had been unsold at Sotheby’s New York against a $40,000-60,000 estimate in 2019.
In terms of his dog paintings, spaniels were the breed that Stubbs painted most frequently, appearing in at least 10 portraits and two further works as part of the composition in a larger portrait of a horse.
While he had painted hounds with great skill in earlier hunting scenes, by the mid-1770s his portraits of single dogs began to feature more regularly and pictures of King Charles spaniels in particular appear to have been in demand as they had been popular pets among the rich since the restoration.
Despite those obvious concerns, the 23½in x 2ft 4in (60 x 71cm) signed oil on canvas drew decent bidding against the lower pitch and sold at £30,000 to a UK buyer.
Also bringing demand against a £15,000-20,000 estimate but selling to a European buyer was a watercolour of woodcock and chicks by Archibald Thorburn (1860- 1935). Measuring 10½ x 14¾in (27 x 38cm), it was signed and dated 1933.
Pictures of birds with their chicks are relatively rare in the artist’s large canon of work but they tend to be popular on the odd occasion when they do appear.
While this was not the largest work and woodcock are generally further down the pecking order compared to grouse and pheasant in terms of Thorburn subjects, this watercolour was published as a limited edition print by WF Embleton which added to its commercial appeal.
Knocked down at £36,000, it made the second-highest sum for the artist so far this year, other than the £60,000 for a depiction of blackgame sold at Bonhams in March.
It also surpassed the £27,930 it fetched at its last auction appearance at Christie’s back in 1991, although it was a lesser amount taking inflation into account.