Thursday, January 17, 2019

More on Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Master Paintings on 30 January

– Sotheby’s Evening Sale of Master Paintings on 30 January will offer one of the most important work s by 18 th -century French artist Elisabeth -Louise Vigée Le Brun ever to appear at auction.

Offered with an estimate of $4/6 million, her life -sized Portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan will headline The Female Triumphant – a group of masterworks by trailblazing female artists of the Pre -Modern era, being offered across Sotheby’s Masters Week auctions this January in New York.

 As the most widely -recognized female French artist of the 18th century, Vigée’s popularity has prop elled in recent years, most notably as the subject of a blockbuster exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York in 2016. A precocious and talented artist from a young age, she succeeded in gaining entrance to the Académie de Saint -Luc at just 19 – a remarkable accomplishment for a woman at the time. By the late 1770s, her reputation as a painter had become well established, as she was commissioned to paint a portrait of the young Queen Marie Antoinette. The tremendous success of this portrait led to a number of royal commissions and the continued patronage of the Queen and her circle. It was this special Royal connection that granted Vigée the ability and power to capture the portrait of Muhammad Dervish Khan, a Muslim ambassador from India, which stands today as a symbolic testament to the relationship between Pre -Revolutionary France and India. 

In July of 1788, Tipu Sultan, the powerful ruler of Mysore in southern India, sent three of his ambassadors to France to seek the support of Louis XVI in his goal of driving the British out of India. The French had militarily supported Tipu in the early 1780s, in his quest to resist British colonialism and the British East India Company – but after the American Revolution , France signed a peace treaty with England and retreated from India. Eager to re -engage the French both militarily and commercially, in 1786, Tipu began planning the delegation to France, in which he would ask for the support of Louis XVI and the French army and woo them with commercial goods to bring French artisans back to the Mysore Court. The three ambassadors led a grand and impressive embassy, causing a sensation in Paris as they made their way to Versailles. 

Most Parisians had never seen a person from India, much less Mysore, and local newspapers like the Journal de Paris reported on the ambassadors’ whereabouts almost daily. They attended plays and operas, toured French silk and wallpaper factories, and did not shy away from romances with local wom en. 3 By 1788, Vigée Le Brun’s fame and influence was flourishing – she had been painting Marie - Antoinette for a decade and was well -ensconced in the powerful elite of Paris and Versailles.

 When the artist saw the ambassadors at the Opera, she knew she had to paint them, as she wrote her in memoirs : “I saw these Indians at the opera and they appeared to me so remarkably picturesque that I thought I should like to paint them. But as they communicated to their interpreter that they would never allow themselve s to be painted unless the request came from the King, I managed to secure that favour from His Majesty.” As Muslim men, the idea of having themselves represented pictorially – let alone by a female artist – was unheard of. Vigée’s tenacity and resourcefulness in achieving the sitting was a remarkable feat. After the request came from the King, they agreed to sit for her at their hôtel in Paris. 

The intensity in which Dervish Khan is portrayed is unlike any other portrait by Vigée, whose oeuvre tends more towards a sympathetic portrayal of handsome and elegant royal courtiers. 

The life-size portrait is an extraordinary reflection on a French woman’s perception of a powerful Indian man, painted with exceptional skill and delicacy. Dervish Khan is imposing and formidable, clutching and displaying his curved sword, showing off his power both physically and culturally. He wears the traditional costume that so enamored the French men and women who encountered his embassy and were fascinated by the fabrics whic h were making their way into French fashions. 

Vigée’s decision to focus the painting on Dervish Khan’s luxurious clothing brings a feminine note to the otherwise very masculine painting and provides an interesting commentary on French fascination with exotic goods and luxury fabrics from outside the continent. 

When the paintings had finished drying, Vigée sent for the works but was refused – Dervish Khan had hidden his portrait behind the bed. As Vigée enthusiastically wrote, she strategically convinced his servant to steal it back for her, only to later hear that Dervish Khan had then planned to murder the servant for this transgression. Luckily, an interpreter convinced the ambassador that murdering  your valet was not acceptable practice in France, and he falsely claimed that it was the King who wanted the portrait . 

The painting, along with that of Dervish Khan’s fellow ambassador Osman Khan, was exhibited at the Salon of 1789 in August and was received by the public with immense curiosity and critical acclaim. Two months later, Vigée had fled Paris in fear of her life after mobs had invaded Versailles. Given that the painting next appears in 1841 in the estate sale of her husband, Jean -Baptiste Pierre Le Brun, it can be assumed that she kept the work in her personal collection but left it at home in France when she went to Italy. The painting was featured in the family collection of Louis -Alexandre Marnier Lapostolle, the founder of the orange -flavored liqueur Grand Marnier for over a century, before being offered by the present owner.

Elisabeth-Louise Vigée Le Brun, Portrait of Mrs. Spencer Perceval, née Jane Wilson (1769-1844), Bust-length, signed and dated lower right: LeBrun / 1804, pastel on paper, 19 by 14 3/4 in.; 48 by 37.5 cm. Estimate $150/250,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

ARTEMISIA GENTILESCHI Rome 1593  – circa -1656 Naples 

Artemisia’s oil on canvas  of  Saint Sebastian , an impressive  recent  addition  to the artist’s  oeuvre (estimate $400/600,000). 
With Artemisia Gentileschi the concept of the true “woman -artist” appeared for the first time in the  history of painting, a field which had previously been dominated by men. The daughter of the famous  painter Orazio Gentileschi, she liberated herself to claim her artistic independence after having  learned the secrets of the trade from her father. Though she was raped by a tutor hired by her  father, and underwent a historically famous court case, she did not let the experience stop her from  pursuing painting . She called upon the style of Caravaggio – but with her own distinct brushstrokes.  Her paintings were celebrated by the noble and powerful families of Rome and Naples, as well as the  ruling Spanish viceroys, and fetched high prices. 

As her success grew, Artemisia became a valued  member of society, attending the Florentine court of the Medici, as well as a friend of Galileo Galilei  and of the learned Cassiano del Pozzo. She was so respected that she became the first woman in  history admitted to the prestigious Accademia del Disegno, founded by Giorgio Vasari. 
Sometimes presented by latter -day scholars as a  proto-feminist, Artemisia reveled in depictions of  female heroines such as Judith and Sisera, as well  5as more traditional subjects such as Cleopatra, Danaë, and female personifications of allegories.  Here, she once more celebrates female virtue by showing Irene and Lucina giving relief to the Roman  deserter Sebastian, after he had been repeatedly wounded by arrows.  

Paris 1754 - 1820

Marie-Victoire Lemoine is said to have studied under Vigée Le Brun. While many artists – including Le Brun – fled France during the Revolution given their associations with the court, others like Lemoine stayed and enjoyed fresh opportunities from the upheaval. In 1791, the new government opened up the biannual Salons to all artists, including women like Lemoine who had previously been held back by the Académie Royale’s restrictions on women members. Her breakthrough came in 1796 when she first exhibited at the Paris Salon, where she would go on to find success. Though she never married, she was able to support herself entirely by her painting – a remarkable feat at the time.

This sumptuous portrait of a young and attractive girl depicts Madame de Genlis, a writer who later became the first female governess to the royal princes, charged with the education of the sons of Philippe, duc d'Orléans (estimate $60/80,000). Marie-Victoire Lemoine painted Madame de Genlis with a soft yet commanding beauty, elegantly and directly looking out at the viewer in this sensual depiction of the young writer, alluding more to her role as mistress to the duc d'Orleans rather than as a formidable governess. The Female Triumphant also will offer the vibrant Still life of spring flowers in a basket – the only known, pure still life by Lemoine (estimate $80/120,000).

Milan 1578 - 1630

Daughter of the miniaturist and painter, Nunzio Galizia, Fede Galizia trained under her father. Her precocious talent was already on full display as a young teenager, and by the age of 20, she had achieved international renown as a painter of portraits and devotional compositions. Although early modern female artists rarely received commissions for major history paintings, Galizia was best known in her lifetime for devotional works and commissioned portraits. While most 17th-century painters specialized in a single genre, she produced a diverse body of work – an especially unusual feat for a woman artist. While her still lifes were virtually unknown to scholars until the 20th century, it is now apparent that Galizia was one of the female artists who would play a vital role in the emergence of the relatively new genre of still life. Although she produced fewer than 20 refined, naturalistic still life compositions on panel, these works inspired followers in her lifetime and are now considered her most important paintings.

Fede Galizia’s A glass compote with peaches, jasmine flowers, quinces, and a grasshopper (estimate $2/3 million) is a beautiful example of the revolutionary female artist’s contributions to the Italian still life genre, which she helped to invent in the early 17th century. Exhibited internationally, the work was described as one of Galizia’s finest paintings in the second edition of Flavio Caroli’s definitive monograph of the artist’s work. Despite the intimate size of the panel, Galizia has created a sense of monumental scale with her placement of objects. Her close observation of details – such as the softness of the peaches, the modulations in the green on the leaves, and even the stripes on the grasshopper’s abdomen – continues to enchant viewers today.

Venice circa 1681 - 1747

Bold in her art, refined in her intellect, yet reserved in her nature, Giulia Lama is one of the most enigmatic and fascinating figures of Venice in the early 17th-century. As an artist, poetess, embroiderer and scholar, she transcended the boundaries placed upon women during her lifetime. Born in 1681 as the eldest of four children, she remained close to her family her whole life, never marrying and largely living a life of seclusion. She was lauded for her intelligence, and her skills as a poet were stylistically linked in style to Petrarch. Economically independent, she supported herself financially through her creative talents, including her fine lacework and paintings, which ranged from large and dramatic altarpieces to mythological scenes and sensitively executed portraits.

Unlike the Rococo style of her contemporary Rosalba Carriera, Giulia Lama executed large, energetic, and naturalistic compositions, often turning to subjects and techniques considered unconventional for women at the time. The present pair of canvases – which share a simple setting, restrained color palette, and a dramatic diagonal arrangement with each other – illustrates two lesser-known stories from the Old Testament: Joseph Interpreting the Eunuchs' Dreams and Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar consoling Job (estimate $400/600,000). Untraced until recently, these two paintings serve as visual testaments to her unwavering character and artistic prowess that for many generations was overshadowed by her male contemporaries.

Coira 1741-1807 Rome

One of the most cultured and influential women of her generation, Angelika Kauffmann holds a place of particular importance in European art history. A talented musician, she was both a brilliant history and portrait painter. Born in Switzerland and trained in Rome, she first came to England in 1766. In London she quickly became a close friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, who she is rumored to have nearly married at one point, as well as many of the most prominent cultural figures in England, including David Garrick. Fluent in English, French, Italian and German, her charm, wit, intelligence and skill attracted much attention. As a result, she was highly sought after as a portraitist by many of the foremost connoisseurs of the day – including members of the Royal family. In 1768, Kauffmann cemented her status by becoming one of only two female founding members of the Royal Academy. In her later years, following her marriage to the Italian decorative painter Antonio Zucchi, she returned to Rome where her studio became a popular stop for fashionable visitors on the Grand Tour, including artists, writers, aristocrats and dealers from across Europe. Her clients included many of the crowned heads of Europe, including Catherine the Great of Russia, and she was close friends with international luminaries such as Goethe, Canova and Sir William Hamilton.

One of the wealthiest families in England, the young generation of Spencers likely depicted in Angelika Kauffmann’s Portrait of Three Children were prominent figures in the English aristocracy, and amongst the artist’s earliest British patrons (estimate $600/800,000). Seated at left with a handful of flowers is Georgiana Spencer, later Duchess of Devonshire upon her marriage to William, 5th Duke of Devonshire in 1774. As Duchess, she became one of the most famous and powerful women in 18th-century British society. Her sister, Lady Henrietta Frances, later the Countess of Bessborough, is depicted at the center holding an arrow. To her right is George John, Viscount Althorp, later 2nd Earl Spencer, who would become a Member of Parliament for Northampton and later for Surrey.

Mons 1604 - 1689 Brussels

Born in 1604 in Mons, Wautier was the only daughter in a family of nine children, and appears to have begun her career later in life, around age 39. Her brother Charles was also a painter, and the two moved to Brussels in 1645, where they both remained unmarried and shared a studio. Michaelina’s absence from the art historical canon is all the more surprising given that she worked in multiple genres: portraiture, floral still life, genre painting, and history painting. The latter was the most unusual feat for a woman artist as it was considered the genre of highest importance and typically required studying live models, from which women were barred. After her death in 1689, most of her works remained with her family. This fact, combined with a lack of documentary evidence about Michaelina, led to her paintings being incorrectly attributed to others, with her artistic impact forgotten – until a recent monographic exhibition in Antwerp in 2018 introduced her work to the public for the first time.

This recently discovered Study of a young boy turned away with a red cloak over his shoulders, turned almost in profile to the left, displays Wautier’s ability to convey both the naturalistic appearance of her subjects as well as their internal mood (estimate $60/80,000). The addition of this sensitive head study to Wautier’s oeuvre reveals the careful modeling, inventive use of color and chiaroscuro, and compassionate treatment of young subjects that earned Wautier success in her lifetime and the long overdue attention she has finally received. Wautier also excelled in other genres, including still lifes, as seen in her Garland of Flowers, Suspended Between Two Animal Skulls, A Dragonfly Above (estimate $200/300,000). Drawing inspiration from her Flemish contemporaries as well as from ancient Roman iconography, the work stands out as one of only two still lifes known by her hand.