Monday, December 1, 2014

Christie’s Old Master Prints, 3 December: Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Francisco de Goya

Christie’s is pleased to announce the sale of Old Master Prints, to take place on Wednesday, 3 December at King Street. Comprising 117 lots, the sale offers a remarkable array of rare works by the most acclaimed masters of printmaking, including Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt van Rijn, Giovanni Battista Piranesi and Francisco de Goya.

Exemplifying the quality of prints to be offered in the Old Master Prints sale is Rembrandt’s The presentation in the temple in the dark manner,  circa 1654 (estimate: £100,000 -150,000). This exquisite and extremely rare etching, from the important collections of Marsden Perry and Otto Gerstenberg, depicts the presentation of the Christ child in the temple, as related in the Gospel of Luke (2:22-39). It was a favoured subject of the artist: in the course of his career he created five different variations on the theme, three etchings and two paintings (Hamburger Kunsthalle and National Museum, Stockholm). In the present late etching Rembrandt diverted from convention by focusing almost entirely on Simeon and the priest. Bright highlights illuminate the figures of these two old men in the twilight of the temple, while the Child’s head is surrounded by a pale halo and Mary and Joseph almost disappear in the deep shadows to the left edge of the composition. The group of Simeon, the priest and the Child is further emphasised by the temple guardian towering above them. With the light flickering on his opulent garments, headgear and staff, he is arguably one of the most grandiose figures in all of Rembrandt’s printed oeuvre.

Another example of dazzling chiaroscuro effects is Prince Rupert of the Rhine’s large mezzotintThe Great Executioner with the head of Saint John the Baptist  of 1658 (estimate: £100,000–150,000), one of the great oddities in the history of printmaking. As a royal prince – he was born in 1619 in Prague to Elizabeth Stuart, the eldest daughter of James I of England, and Frederick V, Elector Palatine - Rupert was an unlikely artist and printmaker. A soldier for most of his life, he was however also the first great master of the mezzotint method. The Great Executioner is his stunning first attempt in the technique on a grand scale.  Impressions of this print are of utmost rarity and none have been offered at auction for decades.  The present fine impression is in impeccable condition and comes with a historical provenance: it is signed on the reverse by the famous Paris print dealer Pierre Mariette and dated 1664.

A broad selection of other rare and unusual works demonstrates the variety of the Old Master Prints category, ranging from the monumental and virtuoso Feast of the Gods by Diana Mantuana,circa 1575 (estimate: £15,000–25,000), one of the first female engravers and holders of a papal privilege; to a group of exceptionally fine Views of Rome by Giovanni Battista Piranesi; (See previous auction results here and here and some examples below:)

S. Maria Maggiore with the Column from the Basilica of Constantine in the foreground, from: The Views of Rome (Hind 9)

GIOVANNI BATTISTA PIRANESI (1720-1778). The Piazza del Popolo, from Vedute di Roma (Hind 14)

and a beautiful, early set of William Blake’s Book of Job, 1823-25 (estimate: £30,000–50,000). (See previous results here and here and examples below:)

Highlights of the sale are two outstanding sets of prints by Francisco de Goya:  La Tauromaquia, a series of 33 etchings with aquatint, completed in 1816 (estimate: £250,000-350,000); (see previous results here and here  and examples below:)

With LaTauromaquia Goya perfected his command of the aquatint technique to create a fascinating visual account of the history of the bullfight, from rural hunts to a professional spectacle in the arena. Towards the end of his life, he once more turned to the theme of the bullfight. Never ceasing to experiment, this time he turned to lithography, a technique invented some twenty years earlier in Germany. Mainly used for commercial printing, Goya was one of the first artists to realise the true potential of the new technique: by drawing with a crayon directly onto the lithographic stone, composing the image and creating the printing matrix had become one single process. Without further complication, lithography allowed Goya to create lines and surfaces of infinite variety.

Also included in the sale: four lithographs known as The Bulls of Bordeaux of 1825 (estimate: £300,000-500,000).:

Nowhere in Goya’s printed oeuvre is his virtuoso draughtsmanship as apparent as in The Bulls of Bordeaux – his ability to create scenes bursting with life, movement and emotion, out of near-abstract marks of ink on blank paper. Although amongst the earliest works of art in the medium, in their immediacy, spontaneity and understanding of the technique, The Bulls of Bordeaux are often considered the greatest lithographs ever made.

Also in the sale:

Lot 20. Albrecht Durer, Melencolia, 1514. Engraving on laid paper.