Friday, June 9, 2017

Sotheby’s London 5th July, 2017

J.M.W. Turner, Ehrenbreitstein, 1835. Estimate: £15-25 million (US$18.7-31.2m / €17.3-28.9m). Photo: Sotheby's. 
Painted in 1835, Ehrenbreitstein is a late work, dating from a period that is widely considered Turner’s best: other works from this time now hang in the world’s greatest museums, with only a minute number of this importance and quality remaining in private ownership. The subject of enormous critical acclaim when it was first exhibited in 1835, the painting depicts the ruined fortress of Ehrenbreitstein near Coblenz – a place of special significance for Turner. Though he made many drawings and watercolours of German views, this is the most important oil painting of a German subject that Turner ever painted. The picture will be offered at Sotheby’s in London on 5th July with an estimate of £15-25 million (US$18.7-31.2m / €17.3 – 28.9m)

Often referred to as the ‘painter of light’, Turner is widely regarded as Britain’s foremost artist, whose unique and unprecedented style not only had a profound and lasting impact on British art, but was also a vital precursor to both the Impressionist and the much later Abstract Expressionist movements. (Monet openly acknowledged his indebtedness to Turner.) Major works of such astounding quality by Turner are rare on the international market.

The last example to be offered

(Rome, from Mount Aventine, painted in the same year as Ehrenbreitstein and offered at Sotheby’s in 2014) made a record £30.3 million/ $47.6 million – the highest price ever achieved for any British-born artist at auction, and placing Turner alongside Rubens and Raphael as one of just three artists from the pre-Impressionist era to have achieved prices at this level.

Julian Gascoigne, Senior Specialist in British Paintings, said: “Turner is one of those seminal figures who changed the way we see and think about the world. An artist rooted in the aesthetic philosophy and culture of his time, perpetually engaged with the art of both his predecessors and contemporaries, he was at the same time possibly the first ‘modern’ painter; who directly inspired the Impressionism of the nineteenth century, and presaged the Abstract Expressionism of the twentieth. These late works in particular, with their bold application of colour, treatment of light and deconstruction of form, revolutionised the way we perceive the painted image. By applying the techniques of a watercolourist to the use of oils, with successive layering of translucent colour thinly applied to the surface, which imbue his canvases with rich, hazy light, he gave his works an unprecedented poignancy and power that has rarely been rivalled since.”

Alex Bell, Co-Chairman of Sotheby’s International Old Masters Department, added: “This painting was one of five that Turner exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1835; the other four of which are now in some of the most distinguished institutions in the world. Of those five paintings, it was Ehrenbreitstein that caught the imagination of public and critics alike – and it’s easy to see why. Its extraordinary range and depth of colour, and typically inspired and imaginative use of light, would in any case mark this painting out as a masterpiece, but its true greatness lies in the way Turner applies his painterly genius to transform the ruins of the famous fortress into a poetic and symbolic image as resonant then as it is today.“

The area of the Rhine, and especially the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein, held particular resonance for Turner. He first visited the area in 1817 and would return many times over the years, producing countless drawings in his sketchbooks and numerous watercolours. This painting relates specifically to a series of sketches he produced during his third tour of Germany in 1833, when he travelled down the Rhine en route to Vienna and then Venice, via Salzburg.

The painting was originally painted for the illustrious publisher John Pye, a close friend of Turner’s, as the basis for a large single plate engraving – one of the important select series of large prints by which the artist established his contemporary celebrity. Pye had anticipated the artist would produce a watercolour, along the lines of Turner’s previous Rhineland views. When it came to it, however, so engaged with the beauty and symbolic resonance of the subject was Turner that he felt he could only do justice to its scale and grandeur in oil, with all its depth of emotional power and complexity of diaphanous light. What he delivered to Pye was this magnificent 93cm x 123cm full Royal Academy exhibition oil painting.

Turner’s unanticipated rendering caused Pye a good deal of frustration – working up an engraving from a painting of this size and complexity was not the easiest of tasks, taking some eleven years to complete, with a number of terse exchanges along the way.

The arrangement, however, was always that the picture should be returned to Turner’s gallery on completion of the engraving, and it was here that it was seen and acquired by the man that would become one of Turner’s greatest patrons, Elhanan Bicknell.

Bicknell may well have been introduced to Turner’s work by John Ruskin, a Herne Hill neighbour and a staunch advocate of Turner’s work. In the space of just two years, between 1841 and 1844, Bicknell acquired no fewer than seven large-scale masterpieces by Turner – the majority of which now hang in some of the world’s greatest museums, including Tate Britain, The Yale Centre for British Art, The Frick Collection, and The Metropolitan Museum in New York (see below for full details).

On his death in 1863, Bicknell’s vast collection, including this painting, was dispersed at auction, generating huge excitement and achieving sensational prices. Since then the work has appeared only twice on the market, most recently in 1965, when it achieved a price of £88,000, setting a new world record for a work by the artist.

The mid-1830s saw the production of some of Turner’s most celebrated paintings.

The great Rosebery view of Rome, from Mount Aventine, which sold at Sotheby’s in 2014 for a record £30 million ($47.6 million), would have been nearing completion in the artist’s studio when he set to work on Ehrenbreitstein, and

The Fighting Temeraire was shown at the Academy just four years later.

In May 1835, Ehrenbreitstein was exhibited at the Academy alongside four other great works:

Keelmen Heaving in Coals by Moonlight (now in the National Gallery of Art in Washington);

Venice, from the Porch of Madonna della Salute (The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York);

Line Fishing off Hastings (Victoria and Albert Museum, London);

and The Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons (The Cleveland Museum of Art, Ohio).

Of all five exhibits, however, it was Ehrenbreitstein that the public loved most, and that the critics judged the best. The correspondent for The Spectator called it ‘a splendid tribute of genius to one of the champions of freedom’, whilst The Times lauded ‘the force of colour and the admirable harmony of tone [which] are not to be equalled by any living artist’.

More than just a landscape, Turner’s full title for the painting, Ehrenbreitstein, or The Bright Stone of Honour and the Tomb of Marceau, from Byron’s Childe Harold, reflects a passage from Canto III of Lord Byron’s epic poem, Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage – bringing together two of the most romantic figures of the nineteenth century. Turner shared Byron’s romantic sensibilities and had long held him in the greatest admiration. Also, both had lived through the tumult of the French Revolutionary wars, and both had a keen sense of the deep significance of the ensuing peace.

In the poem Byron refers to the fortress of Ehrenbreitstein in the context of his own sense of melancholy and disillusionment in the aftermath of those wars. But for Turner it would seem that the fortress represents something more positive: that peace has vanquished war. The ancient fortress, almost dissolved in a hazy light, is now but a backdrop to the enduring everyday activities of the Rhine and Moselle valleys.

Beneath the fortress can be seen the stone obelisk to the great French General François-Sévérine Marceau-Desgraviers. Having taking part in the sieges of Ehrenbreitstein in 1795 and 1796, Marceau was a French hero par excellence. At the same time, his courage and magnanimous nature won him the respect of even his greatest enemies. His funeral, just north of Coblenz, was attended by a delegation from the same Austrian army who had been responsible for his death. Like the fortress itself, Marceau has slipped into history but still represents the possibility of peace and unity in Europe.

In Ehrenbreitstein, Turner has created an image that speaks in a profound way to both the eye and the mind – a duality that is at the heart of his unique artistic genius.

La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore, by Italian artist Michele Marieschi

A rare eighteenth century oil painting by Italian artist Michele Marieschi, as part of its flagship London Old Master evening sale on 5 July. La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore, comes to the market following a successful restitution settlement, led by Art Recovery International, between the current possessors and the heirs of the previous owners - the Graf family who last saw the painting in 1938, before they fled Nazi occupied Austria. Following over 15 years of negotiations, the work will be offered this summer with an estimate of £500,000 – 700,000.

The Graf family
Originally acquired by Heinrich (Heinz) and Anna Maria (Anny) Graf in 1937, the painting hung in the family’s Vienna apartment - a highlight of their small but refined collection. In March 1938, the family’s lives were upended with the German annexation of Austria. Ousted from his job and under threat from the growing tensions under a dictatorial regime, Heinz and his young family were forced to flee their home. In anticipation of the forced emigration, which by then had become so commonplace in Vienna, all of the Graf’s possessions were put into storage, to be forwarded once the family settled into a new home. Having paid the substantial ‘exit tax’ demanded by the Germans, the Grafs made their way first to Italy, and then several months later to France, where they were joined by their two grandmothers in Quillan, a small town in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

Following the outbreak of war in 1939, Heinz was confined to the notorious Camp Gurs in Southwest France - where Jews of non-French nationality were interned. Anny worked desperately to secure her husband’s release (she too was interned for a brief period), finally managing to obtain visas for the United States for all but one member of the family. Required by the terms of his Gurs camp release to leave the country immediately, Heinz was forced to leave his family behind and travel to the safety of Portugal alone. The family eventually reunited in Lisbon months later, sailing together to the United States and reaching New York on 26 May 1941.

Settling in Queens, the family rebuilt their lives, with Heinz, now ‘Henry’, finding employment again as an investment banker. Attempting to recover the belongings that they had placed in storage, Henry and Anny undertook extensive correspondence with the United States occupation forces in Germany, but to no avail. It later came to light that their possessions, including this Marieschi painting and portraits of Anny’s parents by Umberto Veruda, had been seized by the Nazi regime in 1940 and subsequently sold at auction. Despite years of searching, all efforts to locate their possessions failed, with both Henry and Anny passing away without having ever seen their paintings again.

The current Possessor
The exact whereabouts of the painting from 1940 to 1952 is not known. However, in 1952 it was acquired by Edward Speelman who purchased the painting from Henry James Alfred Spiller (1890 – 1966), a frequent purchaser at auction during WWII.

The current possessor bought the painting in 1953, unaware of the painting’s history and has had unbroken enjoyment of the work for more than 60 years. In 2015, the decision was made to reach out to the Graf family to resolve all title issues before moving forward with a sale.

Following the discovery of this painting nearly 15 years ago, and nearly 80 years after Henry and Anny Graf last saw the painting, a settlement between the heirs of the Graf family and the current possessors was successfully negotiated by Art Recovery International last December, leading to the subsequent sale of this remarkable work this summer.

The Painting
Painted in 1739 - 40, La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore is a rare example of a unique work by Marieschi, who often created multiple paintings from the same viewpoint. Depicting the Dogana with the Church of San Giorgio across the Bacino in the distance, and animated by a host of colourful figures and gondolas in the foreground, this painting is notable for its broad panorama and the depth of its composition, and is one of Marieschi’s most successful works. Encouraged by the success of the great Venetian artist Canaletto in the genre of vedute, Marieschi adopted a very personal and instantly recognisable style in the genre, characterised by rapid brushwork, richness of colour, and shimmering effects of light.

Richard Aronowitz, Sotheby’s Head of Department for Restitution, said, “Having followed the story and been involved in the discussions of this marvellous painting for more than a decade, I am delighted that its turbulent history has now been resolved with a settlement between the Graf heirs and the current possessors, and that it will be offered as one of the highlights of Sotheby’s summer sale. Restitution settlements are understandably difficult to resolve, so it is always very rewarding when you are able to help bring a case to a positive conclusion.”

Henry and Anny Graf’s son-in-law, Stephen Tauber, commented wistfully, “Michele Marieschi created this magnificent view of the Dogana to give pleasure. We are sad that Heinz and Anny Graf enjoyed that privilege for just a few months after they had bought the painting with so much anticipation. We are glad, however, that after so many years members of our family are finally able to become reacquainted with the painting, which will surely give pleasure to others for years to come.”

Christopher Marinello, Founder of Art Recovery International said, “I commend the parties involved in this decades old dispute in reaching an amicable accord. I strongly encourage collectors, dealers, and institutions to bring known or suspected Nazi-looted works out from the shadows and resolve these disputes discreetly without the need for costly and embarrassing litigation. Facing these issues head on takes courage and, in some cases, sacrifice on the part of a good acquirer. However, leaving these issues for the next generation to deal with is never the answer.”

Michele Marieschi, La Punta della Dogana e san Giorgio Maggiore, will be offered at Sotheby’s London Old Master Evening Sale on 5 July 2017.