by Ian McKay, firstname.lastname@example.org
Russian pictures and works of art provide the main story in this month’s selection, but a Raphael drawing is the big money lot—by miles. This month’s letter also wonders at the adventurous life and loves of Lady Jane Digby; admires a games board that even on the very eve of his execution, Charles I was loath to part with, and provides instruction on how, with a little effort, you can get your harewood to exhibit that special shade of grey.
As Dressing the Wounded, this large (3'4" x 11'6") oil on canvas by Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin (1842-1904) made its first auction appearance in an 1891 exhibition and subsequent sale held by the American Art Association in New York City. It would seem to have remained in the U.S. until last year and for the past 60 or so years has formed part of what Sotheby’s described as a “Distinguished American Collection.”
Familiar to scholars only from exhibition listings, a single black-and-white image and photographs of the artist’s studio, it is part of Vereshchagin’s monumental Balkan series of paintings documenting his impressions of the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78. He witnessed that war as a volunteer for the great Slavic cause in General Skobolev’s regiment, where he received neither wages nor uniform, but worked incessantly to document the war.
Depicting the retreat of the wounded to the Danube after the third and final assault on the Ottoman army that finally ended the Siege of Plevna and led eventually to Russian victory, it was offered at Sotheby’s on November 26 as Transportation of the Wounded and under that revised title sold for $1,501,420 to a Russian buyer.
In 1989, Christie’s sold a simple, outline pencil and watercolour drawing of this hardstone inkwell with jewelled gold mounts as part of a sale of “Designs from the House of Carl Fabergé.” The real thing had been sold by Sotheby’s in Zurich in 1978, and though I cannot tell you what either the drawing or the inkwell made in those earlier sales, I can report that on November 27 at Sotheby’s, the same 3 1/8" high inkwell with Neoclassical style mounts, as realised in the Fabergé workshops under the direction of workmaster Michael Perchin, 1899-1903, was bid to a high estimate $540,625.
Two Fabergé cigarette cases sold in London at the end of the old year. Seen at left is the case given to England’s Edward VII that sold for $504,335 at Christie’s on December 5 as part of the Harewood House sale, and at right is the case inscribed and presented by the Empress Alexandra to her husband, Tsar Nicholas II, on New Year’s Day 1895, which sold for $405,970 at Sotheby’s on November 27.
The Fabergé gold-mounted and guilloché-enamelled nephrite cigar cutter sold for $291,815 in the Harewood House sale at Christie’s on December 5.
Boris Kustodiev’s The Coachman, sold for $7,063,620 at Christie’s on November 26.
Simonetta Colonna, “First Lady of Italian Fashion” (as photographed by Clifford Coffin for Vogue in 1951), and her Fabergé study of cornflowers and oats in a rock crystal glass, circa 1910, that sold for $694,515 at Sotheby’s on November 27. The flowers are formed of translucent royal blue enamel, silver, and rose-cut diamonds, while the stems and the oat spray with its pendant husks are silver gilt.
The 1922 pencil portrait by Yuri Pavlovich Annenkov of the Russian theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold that sold for a wholly unexpected $1,681,990 to a Russian private buyer at Sotheby’s on November 27. It was part of a collection of Russian paintings and works of art sold from the collections formed by the pianist, conductor, and Hollywood composer Dimitri Tiomkin.
Grand Duchess Anastasia’s copy of Lidia Charskaia’s Dzhavakhovskoe gniezdo (The Nest of Dzhavakha) of 1912, sold for $26,000 in a November 29 Christie’s sale of books and manuscripts with Imperial provenance. Inset is seen the young Anastasia’s ownership signature.
Russian sales again produced some high bids in London at the old year’s end, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s providing the most spectacular pictures and works of art. I have selected a few high-priced pictures and works of art by Fabergé from those late November 2012 sales, and then added something from a dedicated Russian book sale of the same period that, while not remotely in the same price bracket, has poignant appeal—and would most certainly have appealed greatly to those Russian collectors who avidly seek out things with an Imperial association.
I begin, however, with a Fabergé piece that was not part of those all-Russian sales. Purchased from Fabergé’s London branch in 1908 for what would then have been something like $130, a gold-mounted and guilloché-enamelled nephrite cigar cutter seen at Christie’s on December 5, 2012, was bought as gift for King Edward VII by the banker John Baring, 2nd Lord Revelstoke. It was subsequently gifted to or inherited by the king’s granddaughter—and I suspect the latter path, as she was only 17 when Edward died and probably not really much of a cigar woman.
Mary later married Viscount Lascelles, the future 6th Earl Harewood, and the cigar cutter formed part of the Royal Harewoodexhibition that ran at Harewood House in Yorkshire from March through September of last year. Weeks after that exhibition closed, the cutter was packed off to London, along with other Harewood treasures, and in a December sale called “Harewood: Collecting in the Royal Tradition,” it was sold to an American dealer for $291,815—getting on for nine times the predicted sum.
Even more expensive was a Fabergé cigarette case bought in 1909 for a sum equivalent to about $280 that followed the same path, via Edward VII and Princess Mary, Countess Harewood, to Harewood House. In guilloché enamel in the king’s racing colours of royal blue and scarlet, and made, like the cigar cutter, under the direction of workmaster Henrik Wigström, it went to a British dealer bidding on the telephone at $504,335—around six times the low estimate sum.
That cigarette case is among the accompanying illustrations, along with another given as a New Year’s Day 1895 gift by the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna to her husband of just a few weeks, Tsar Nicholas II.
Alexander III had died on November 1 of the previous year, and the marriage of his eldest son and successor to Alexandra had followed a little over three weeks later. The jewelled gold and blue enamel case, made under the direction of workmaster Carl Blank, is inscribed to the interior of the lid, in English, with the words “For darling Nicky from Alix…” and to the interior of the base, “yr. own Pelly.” The precise origin of this pet name is uncertain, but from early in their courtship Alexandra had been Pelly I and Nicholas, Pelly II to each other in their private communications.
Purchased in Russia shortly after the Revolution by a forebear of the Swedish consignor, the case has been locked away in a bank vault since World War II, but its emergence after some 70 years brought a bid of $405,970 from an American collector at Sotheby’s on November 27.
Anonymously bid up to $694,515 in that sale was a Fabergé study of cornflowers and oats in a rock crystal glass that came from the estate of Donna Simonetta Colonna, Duchessa di Cesarò (1922-2011)—or as she was dubbed in an retrospective exhibition held at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence just three years before her death, “The First Lady of Italian Fashion.”
A member of an ancient and noble family, Donna Simonetta, whose maternal grandmother was Russian, was as a student jailed in Mussolini’s Italy for her anti-fascist activities, but in the postwar years she emerged as an international style icon and fashion designer. Audrey Hepburn and Jackie Kennedy were among her celebrity clients and her designs were often seen in Fellini films, among them La Dolce Vita.
In the early 1970’s, she sold her business and exchanged the sweet life for a very different lifestyle. Inspired by the guru Swami Chidananda, she moved to India, immersed herself in Eastern spirituality, and lived and worked for many years in a colony caring for leprosy sufferers. Before returning to live in Paris and Rome, she wrote a vegetarian cookery book and her autobiography.
Simonetta’s cornflowers study and a Fabergé inkwell sold by Sotheby’s are also illustrated and further described here.
Boris Kustodiev’s cheery painting of The Coachmanin the snow, which more than doubled the high estimate and set a record for the artist in selling to a collector for $7,063,620 at Christie’s on November 26, was part of the collection of Peter Kapitza (1894-1984), a distinguished Soviet scientist who in 1978, by then in his 80’s, was awarded a Nobel Prize for his much earlier work on low-temperature physics.
Kapitza’s working and collecting career could easily have ended much earlier. In 1921, having lost his father, first wife, and two children in the aftermath of the civil war that followed the Revolution and World War I, he had visited England and been invited by Sir Ernest Rutherford to work at the famous Cavendish Laboratory in Cambridge. He spent 13 years working in England, making regular return visits to his homeland, before the Soviet authorities finally forbade him to return to Cambridge and, to secure his cooperation, built the Institute for Physical Problems in Moscow especially to his requirements, as a means of ensuring that his work stayed in the Soviet Union.
But Kapitza was both courageous and loyal and used his academic and political weight to defend colleagues during the purges of the 1930’s. He was one of very few individuals who dared to voice criticism of Soviet officials and policies—often addressing his concerns to Stalin personally—and even quarrelled in 1945 with Stalin’s powerful secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria, head of the NKVD and soon to be Deputy Premier. Kapitza complained to Stalin about Beria’s ignorance of physics and his arrogance, and, fortunately for him, Stalin backed him up, telling Beria that he had to “get on with the scientists.”
Nevertheless, there followed a postwar period of exclusion or punishment for his outspoken views. Kapitza was stripped of the directorship of the institute and lived for seven years in his dacha outside Moscow, where he built his own laboratory, pursuing his own research and operating outside the political arena. After Stalin's death and Beria’s subsequent removal, Kapitza was reinstated at the institute and until the end maintained his independence and integrity. He was the only member of the presidium of the Soviet Academy of Sciences who was not a member of the Communist Party.
Kapitza had been both friend and patron to Kustodiev (1878-1927), whom he had first met in 1919, and for whom he had sat for his portrait several times. He bought this picture from Kustodiev’s widow, Iulia Evstafievna, in 1936.
The Coachman, arms outstretched and welcoming, was used as the poster image and emblem of a major Russian art exhibition that opened at Grand Central Art Galleries in New York City in 1924 and offered a selection of work by 100 of Russia’s finest contemporary artists.
Rather old-fashioned when one recalls that it was painted in 1923, eight years after Malevich produced his famous black square, The Coachman was painted in the last decade of the artist’s life—when he was confined to a specially adapted chair as a consequence of TB of the bones—and belongs to series of works depicting national types that may be seen as timeless. To quote the Christie’s cataloguer, “Kustodiev’s ability to express the eternal qualities of the Russian soul and not merely their current manifestation is precisely what rendered the work so suitable as the poster for the 1924 Grand Central Exhibition.”
And in Kustodiev’s own words: “I do not know whether or not I have succeeded to do and express in my works that which I wished—a love of life, joy, and vitality, devotion to all that Russia means to us—these have always been the solo subject of my pictures.”
A rediscovered narrative historical canvas by Vasili Vasilievich Vereshchagin that has been in American collections since acquired at an American Art Association sale in New York City in 1891 and sold for $1,501,420 as part of an “Important Russian Art” sale at Sotheby’s on November 26 is illustrated and briefly described among the accompanying caption stories. But where pictures are concerned, the real surprise result was seen among those paintings that were grouped under the more straightforward and less impressive title of just “Russian Paintings,” held by Sotheby’s on the following day.
This sale included lots from the collections of the Ukrainian-born concert pianist, conductor, and composer Dimitri Tiomkin (1894-1979), whose many Hollywood film credits include Oscar-winning scores for High Noon and The Old Man and the Sea, as well as many a stirring Western soundtrack.
One of these lots was a 1922 pencil portrait of an early friend of Tiomkin, the theatre director Vsevolod Meyerhold. It is a work by Yuri Pavlovich Annenkov (1889-1974), who excelled at portraiture and is perhaps best known for his depictions of figures from theatrical, musical, and artistic circles in Russia and abroad. Annenkov first met Meyerhold in 1914 and was fascinated by this flamboyant visionary of the new Soviet theatre, drawing his portrait several times throughout his life.
Meyerhold had founded his own theatre in Moscow in 1920, but by the late ’30’s had fallen out of favour with Stalin and the regime and in 1939 was arrested, charged with anti-government political activities, and executed by firing squad early in 1940.
In the mid-1930’s, the theatre management had actually written to Annenkov, by that time living in Paris, asking if he would donate this original version of the drawing, as they had only a reproduction of it hanging in the theatre lobby. Annenkov, who was very fond of this portrait, declined and later explained, “…the ensuing destruction of not only the theatre but also of Meyerhold proved that I did the right thing. The portrait is now in America in a private collection.”
The Tiomkin property also included other Annenkov portraits and set designs, among them a portrait of the composer Sergei Prokofiev that sold at $22,040 and a 1954 set design for the Max Ophüls film Lola Montès, about the exotic 19th-century dancer and actress Lola Montez (born Eliza Gilbert), a lover of Franz Liszt and King Ludwig I of Bavaria, that made a much higher than expected $184,750. While the Meyerhold portrait was always recognised as the prime Annenkov lot, and duly valued at $50,000/80,000, the sum for which it finally sold came as a real surprise. It was bid to $1,681,990!
This year marks the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the Romanov dynasty, and on November 29, in celebration of that imminent event, Christie’s offered what was billed as the largest group of Russian books and manuscripts with Imperial provenance to come to auction in decades.
There were plenty of things which made more, but among the more poignant inclusions were four children’s books that had once belonged to Anastasia, Nicholas and Alexandra’s youngest daughter. Pictured with this report is a colour plate illustration and Anastasia’s ownership inscription from her copy of Lidia Charskaia’s Dzhavakhovskoe gniezdo (The Nest of Dzhavakha) of 1912, which sold for $26,000. There was also a copy of Olimp: Mifologia Grekov i Rimlian, a 1913 Russian selection of tales from Greek and Roman myths, inscribed by Alexandra as a gift from Nicholas and Alexandra to Maria, another of their doomed young Grand Duchesses, which made $24,000.
Front and top views of one of the pair of the Cobb style commodes, sold for $388,455 by Sotheby’s on December 4.
A pair of knife boxes in the style of George Oakley that made $166,250 at Sotheby’s.
The price of $269,505 paid for this carved mahogany centre table at Bonhams on November 21 would tend to support the salesroom’s suggestion that it may be of Irish origin.
The harewood name crops up again in this piece on three items of English and, perhaps, Irish furniture that made good prices in end of year sales, but this time it is not the noble Harewood family, but one of the woods—along with mahogany, satinwood and parquetry work—used in the creation of a pair of George III period commodes that sold for $388,455 in a Sotheby’s “Arts of Europe” sale of December 4, 2012.
Dated to circa 1770 and in the manner of one of the great 18th-century English cabinetmakers, John Cobb, the gilt-metal mounted commodes (one illustrated) show both French and Neoclassical influence in their design. They are not signed, but can be closely related to other pieces of furniture attributed to the royal cabinetmaker whose high quality furniture often incorporated a variety of exotic woods.
I must admit to having been unsure about the origins of harewood, but it seems that it is sycamore or maple, dyed silver-grey and used in veneering and banding.
At the time when these commodes were made, it was actually called silver wood or air-wood, and in an 1830 edition of The Cabinet Maker’s Guide by G.A. Siddons I find the following detailed directions for dyeing wood silver-grey: “Take a cast-iron pot of six or eight gallons, and from time to time collect old iron nails, hoops & c. & c., expose them to the weather till they are covered with rust; add one gallon of vinegar, and two of water, boil all well for an hour; then have your veneers ready, which must be of air-wood (not too dry), put them in the copper you use to dye black, and pour the iron liquor over them; add one pound of chip logwood, and two ounces of bruised nut-gall; then boil up another pot of the iron liquor to supply the copper with, keeping the veneers covered, and boiling two hours a day.”
Got that? Well if not, it seems that the name harewood has also been used when referring to San Domingo satinwood, a brilliant yellow wood that becomes silver-grey when seasoned.
Moving on, the pair of knife boxes of circa 1800, seen below center, are mahogany, strung with ebony. Catalogued as “in the manner of George Oakley,” a London cabinetmaker, the 2' high boxes, once part of the furnishings at Heslington Hall in North Yorkshire, home of the Lords Deramore, were valued at around $20,000/30,000 in the Sotheby’s sale but sold in the end for a far more substantial $166,250.
Bid to $269,505 in a Bonhams sale of November 21—where it had been estimated at around $30,000/50,000—was the carved mahogany centre table of George II vintage seen near left. Bonhams suggested that it might be of Irish origin, pointing to a group of stylistically similar mid-18th-century Irish carved mahogany tables illustrated in a 2007 study of Irish Furnitureby The Knight of Glin and James Peill. The Irish attribution could not be securely claimed, but the high price suggests that at least two bidders thought the auctioneers could well be right in their supposition.
Open and closed views of the magnificent amber games board of 1607, attributed to Georg Schreiber of Königsberg and probably first owned by two Stuart Kings of England, which sold for $968,120 at Sotheby’s on December 5, 2012.
The story that King Charles I had the stunning German amber games board described and illustrated here with him when he was led to the scaffold and publicly beheaded outside Banqueting House in 1649 may be apocryphal, but there is no reason to dismiss the belief that it had belonged first to his father, James I, and that Charles had inherited it either directly from his father or from his elder brother, Prince Henry, who had died of typhoid fever when he was just 18, leaving Charles as heir to the throne.
The size of an ordinary chessboard, it has a wooden core and ebony carcass, but in essence is constructed entirely of opaque and translucent orange and cream amber over white amber reliefs laid on painted metal (probably gold or silver) and has chased and pierced silver mounts and lockplate.
The exterior features playing boards for nine men’s morris and chess, while the interior presents a backgammon board whose decorative roundels are decorated with episodes from Ovid’s epic poem Metamorphoses. The counters, or draughtsmen are decorated with white amber cameo relief portraits of the Kings of England, including the supposed original owner, James I.
Board games were popular in the Jacobean and Caroline courts, and Charles, who had been encouraged by his father in this respect, was passionate about chess. There is a story that on one occasion, at the height of the English Civil War, Charles did not even rise from the chessboard when a messenger arrived to inform him that he had been betrayed by the Scots to the Parliamentarian forces.
Charles is known to have owned an amber games board, and this may well be the one mentioned in a royal inventory of 1649-51. Other factors contributing to a royal association and provenance include one of the inscriptions it bears, “Zu Gott Allein Die Hoffnung Mein” (My Only Hope Is God Alone), which closely resembles the personal motto of James I’s father-in-law, Frederick II of Denmark, whose own magnificent amber collection can still be seen at Rosenborg Castle in Copenhagen.
This remarkable board dates from the golden age of amber production in Königsberg during the first half of the 17th century and it is believed to be the first such games board created by the man who came to be known as the “Master of Royal Chess Sets,” Georg Schreiber. This one is dated 1607, but though it is not signed, it shows striking similarities in design, construction, and virtuoso technique to a board, signed and dated 1616 by Schreiber, that sold for $528,000 in the same rooms in 1990 (see M.A.D., June 1990).
Whatever the truth of the tale that Charles I took it with him to the scaffold, and that prior to his execution he bequeathed it, along with his copy of the King James Bible, to William Juxon, Bishop of London and his close confidant and friend, it certainly ended up with the Juxon family and was left to Susannah Marriott, who later, as Lady Fane, bequeathed it to Sir Robert Hesketh, whose descendants, the Fermor-Heskeths of Rufford in Lancashire, sent it for sale at Sotheby’s on December 5, 2012.
The games board was sold for $968,120 to Galerie Neuse of Bremen, Germany.
Jane Digby, Lady Ellenborough, seen here in a miniature portrait by Sir William Charles Ross that sold for $21,895 by Bonhams on November 21, 2012, looks the very picture of a demure Victorian lady, but many of her contemporaries regarded Jane as, at best, a femme fatale, and her scandalous life was indeed one that boasted a series of glamorous and exotic lovers and several failed affaires marriages.
The only daughter of Admiral Henry Digby, who had fought with Nelson at Trafalgar, and Lady Jane Elizabeth Coke, she was brought up at the family home at Minterne Magna in Dorset and educated as befitted a girl of her social standing. At 17 she married the 34-year-old Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough and later Governor General of India.
The marriage lasted just six years before in a scandal of the day, Lord Ellenborough was able to divorce her on the grounds that she had committed adultery with a cousin (whom she believed to be the real father of their son, who died in infancy) and an Austrian diplomat, Prince Felix Schwarzenberg. Jane had one daughter, Mathilde, with Felix, but left him shortly after the death, at just a few weeks old, of their second child, a boy. Thereafter she had only minimal involvement with the upbringing of her daughter.
Like Lola Montez, mentioned in passing in this month’s lead piece on the Russian sales, Jane became at one time a mistress of Ludwig I of Bavaria, but went one better than Lola in that many years later, when she was almost 40, she also conducted an affaire with Ludwig’s son, King Otto of Greece!
In 1832, whilst still resident in Ludwig’s Bavaria, she had married another aristocrat, Baron Karl von Venningen, by whom she had two more children, but six years later she took another lover, the Greek Count Spyridon Theotokis. When her husband found out, von Venningen challenged Theotokis to a duel and wounded him but subsequently and gallantly released Jane from the marriage and took care of their children.
Though not legally divorced from von Venningen until the following year, Jane converted to the Greek Orthodox faith and married Theotokis in 1841, but in 1846, after their son’s fatal fall off a balcony, they divorced and Jane turned this time to Greece’s King Otto for consolation.
Otto was in turn swapped for Hristodoulos Hadzipetros, a hero of the Greek struggle for independence from Ottoman rule. Jane took the role of “queen” of his brigand army, living in caves, riding horses, and hunting in the mountains, but in a slight diversion from the usual rules of her sexual adventures, she walked out on him when he proved unfaithful!
By now in her mid-40’s, Jane travelled to the Middle East, where she fell in love with Abdul Medjuel el Mezrab, a Syrian sheikh. He was 20 years her junior, but the two were married under Muslim law, and she took the name Jane Elizabeth Digby el Mezrab for a final marriage that lasted until her death 28 years later.
Jane adopted Arab dress and learned Arabic in addition to the many other languages in which she was by this time fluent, and divided the rest of her time between the nomadic desert life and a palatial villa that she had built in Damascus. Quite a life!
As a footnote, I should perhaps add that Jane was the great-great-aunt of the late Pamela Churchill Harriman, who was born Pamela Digby and raised and educated in the same ancestral home at Minterne Magna.
For many years now, one of the very first new year, new season London sales I cover in these pages has been the annual ski sale at Christie’s South Kensington. I have no wish to break with such time-honoured traditions, but it has to be said that the January 23 sale was not one of their best.
This year’s sale offered just 140 posters and most of them sold amidst what the salesroom called furious bidding—but there were 245 posters offered last year in what was one of their best ever sales—and there was a further clue in the sale title that things had changed a little.
This latest auction was called “The Ski Sale: Travel in Style,” and it was one of those pieces of smart luggage that made up the 20-lot “style” bit that topped the day’s bidding—with another four or five of these lots finding their way into the Top 20 list.
As a result, I am illustrating just one poster with this piece, along with a great big Louis Vuitton trunk.
A late 19th-century piece, standing almost 40" tall, the leather and brass-bound trunk pictured here is covered in striped canvas, has brass handles to either end, and fittings for a leather strap. All very thoughtful, but one would still not envy the porter who had to deal with this outsize trunk—and several others beside, I imagine. The interior, which bears the Vuitton London & Paris label, is lined in cream linen, and the padded lid has studded ribbon taping. Valued at $6000/9000 by Christie’s, it went on to sell for $58,890.
A second such high trunk (not shown) was covered in a patterned canvas that repeats the LV monogram of the maker but also bore a large blue letter “G” to either end and a blue and white stripe around the centre of the trunk, beneath a leather strap. This trunk was fitted to the interior with four removeable trays, but it showed rather more signs of regular use and rougher handling, as well as sporting the remains of some old hotel or resort labels. On a similar estimate, it sold at just $21,740.
The runner-up in the price lists, the best-selling poster was the 1929 advertisement for the attractions of the Swiss ski resort of St. Moritz. This condition A- example of a poster, designed by Plinio Colombi, was bid to $39,525.
Is this portrait of a thoughtful-looking saint the work of El Greco? A bid of $1,274,700—some 20 times the low estimate figure—in a Bonhams sale of December 5 provides food for even more thought and speculation.
The Raphael cartoon of a Head of a Young Apostle from Chatsworth House, sold for $47,856,600 at Sotheby’s.
Portrait of the young Giovanni Gaddi, an anonymous Florentine portrait of 1505-08, which made $2.05 million at Sotheby’s.
Where portraiture is concerned, the big end of year story came on December 5, 2012, at Sotheby’s, where a Raphael black chalk drawing of the head of an Apostle was offered. Cristiana Romalli, a senior director of the Old Master department at Sotheby’s, said, “This very moving study is a paramount example of Raphael’s draughtsmanship—and shows exactly why he is revered as possibly the greatest master of drawing who has ever lived.”
Revered, certainly—and he continues to be valued above all others. The long bidding battle the drawing provoked saw it become the most expensive drawing ever sold at auction—in Sterling terms at least.
For a U.K. readership, I would have said that the winning bid just beat the price paid for another Raphael drawing, Head of a Muse, seen at Christie’s in December 2009, but looking back at my old M.A.D. files I see that exchange rate differences mean that the bid of $47,856,600 on the Head of a Young Apostlefell just short of the $47,941,095 bid for that Muse.
As far as all Old Master pictures are concerned, only one has ever made more than this 15" x 11" preparatory drawing—the Rubens The Massacre of the Innocents, which in July 2002 made $76.7 million at Sotheby’s.*
Executed 1519-20 as a study, or auxiliary cartoon for one of the figures in his late masterpiece The Transfiguration (commissioned by Cardinal Giulio de’ Medici and now in the Vatican collections), the Head of a Young Apostle came from the Chatsworth House collections of the Duke and Duchess of Devonshire and until last September was among the nine (of 17 recorded) drawings for The Transfigurationassembled for an exhibition of the later works of Raphael at the Prado Museum in Madrid.
As to the question “Who bought it?” the favourites among those who wanted to know were either one of those billionaire Russian collectors (since Natasha Mendelsohn of Sotheby’s, who made the winning bid, is known to represent Russian clients) or Leon Black, the New York financier who bought that Head of a Musein 2009.
The sale of the Raphael may be seen as a loss for Chatsworth House, but it should be remembered that there are still 14 of his drawings in that superb collection, including another study for The Transfiguration.
Whether any more will be sold remains to be seen, but as the present Duke of Devonshire has been on the board of Sotheby’s for 18 years and is deputy chairman, it seems safe to assume that Bond Street is where they would be sold—should the need arise.
Sold to an anonymous on-line bidder for a mere $2,050,160 in the same sale was a striking 16th-century Florentine painting, the anonymous head and shoulders portrait of the young Giovanni di Taddeo di Agnolo Gaddi, a member of a well-known Florentine family of artists and bankers, that is illustrated above far right.
The portrait, which is dated to 1505-08, when the sitter would have been in his early teens, was produced at a time when Florence was the unchallenged centre of artistic achievement, with Raphael, Leonardo da Vinci, and Michelangelo all working there. It has in the past been attributed to Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, but that is not an attribution that has convinced everyone.
The third portrait illustrated here, which is seen above left, falls very much into the seriously speculative category. Included in a December 5 sale held by Bonhams, the head of St. Peter (or, as it might be, St. Joseph?), perhaps a fragment of a larger canvas, was attributed to El Greco and given an estimate of $65,000/95,000. It sold for $1,274,700, so one or two bidders must have been thinking that it might well be the work of old Domenikos Theotokopoulos.
Originally published in the March 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest