Orpheus set to charm bidders in London sale

A fine Flemish painting depicting the much-loved scene of Orpheus Charming the Animals is among the highlights of the Chiswick Auctions’ Old Masters sale in London this month. The oil on panel attributed to Gillis Coignet (Flemish c. 1542-1599) comes for sale from a London private collection with an earlier provenance to the dealership Dickinson Fine Art. The estimate in the sale on April 12 is £4,000-£6,000.

The Greek myth of the musician and poet Orpheus who could tame the birds and the beasts with his lyre was a popular subject in Renaissance art. Important to the classical literary canon, it also provided the artist with the opportunity to paint all types of exotic species.

Gillis Coignet, a master of the Antwerp Guild of Saint Luke, often included objects and animals that held religious significance in his pictures.

From the same collection is the oil on canvas depicting Hercules enduring a brief period of servitude under Omphale as punishment for killing Iphitus. In this image of ‘role reversal’ Hercules is made to dress in women’s clothing and perform menial tasks while Omphale wears his lion skin and wields his club.

According to the records of the Fototeca Zeri, this work was on the London market before 1967 and has long been attributed to Pierre Subleyras (1699-1749) who moved from his native Montpellier to Rome after he was awarded the prestigious Prix de Rome in 1727. It has a modest guide of £2,000-£3,000.

Among the works by female artists is an oil of a Nymph and Satyr by Marie-Francoise-Constance La Mariniere Mayer (1775-1821). She studied under Joseph-Benoît Suvée and Jean-Batiste Greuze, before joining the studio of Jacques Louis David in 1801 and then that of Pierre-Paul Prud’hon in 1802 with whom she collaborated on a nearly equal basis.

After Prud’hon’s wife was committed to an asylum, Mayer helped raise his children, and lived close to him in the Sorbonne in an apartment given to her by Napoleon (who owned two of her paintings). She exhibited at the Paris salons from 1791 and enjoyed considerable success after the exhibition of her picture of Le Flambeau de Vénus (now in the Wallace Collection, London) in 1808. Tragically she committed suicide when Prud’hon refused to marry her. Nymph and Satyr, also from a London private collection, is expected to bring £2,000-£3,000.

By coincidence a watercolour portrait of the artist is included in the sale. This 8cm miniature Constance Mayer, Self-Portrait is thought to be an early to mid 19th-century copy of the original that is held by the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. Very finely painted and housed in a verre églomisé surround it is guided at £1,500-£2,500.

The sale will include 40 lots of period pictures frames. Among the best is an ebonised ‘ripple’ frame made in 17th-century Northern Italy. The perfect setting for a small oil of a similar date and period, it is guided at £600-£800.