The first Fine Paintings, Works on Paper and Sculpture auction at Olympia Auctions in London under the auspices of new head of department Adrian Biddell takes place on June 14. Highlights include an exquisite pen and ink drawing by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591-1666) and an intriguing painting of a statuette depicting a contemporary celebrity by Henri Gaudier-Brzeska (1881 –1915) with serendipitous association to Olympia London.
The sale of 55 lots encompasses a cross category group of Old Masters, European and Modern British works. Each section is interspersed with pictures or sculptures by established artists, as well as those undiscovered or who are the subject of scholarly debate, illustrated and described with erudite cataloguingby the department. Among the Old Master pictures, the exquisite The Virgin and Child with an Owl in pen and brown ink by Guercino (Giovanni Francesco Barbieri) (1591-1666) of impeccable provenance having been in the 18th century in the renowned collection of John Bouveriein, shows the artist’s virtuosity of line and bears resemblance, in subject, style, and medium, to the pen and ink drawings of the 1620s, and in particular, The Virgin and Child with St Anne, circa 1620-25. The finished nature of the work suggests that it was either intended as an end in itself or, perhaps, a preparatory study for an unexecuted print. Owls, and bird imagery more generally, began appearing in Guercino’s oeuvre in the early 1620s and attracted a wide variety of interpretations. In this Virgin and Child, the owl’s presence could symbolise the clarity of spiritual vision, illustrated by theanimal’s positioning onthe same level as the Virgin’s sightline. It is estimated at £8,000 -£12,000.
Other highlights in the Old Master section include A pair of Still Life paintings, each depicting summer flowers in a glass vase on a marble ledge’ by Georg Frederik Ziesel (1756 –1809), which are excellent examples of their genre. Ziesel who spent much of his life in Antwerp, became an established still life painter and miniaturist. During his career he also lived and worked in Paris for several years and exhibited at the Salons of 1802, 1805 and 1809. It carries an estimate of £8,000-£12,000.
The Finding of Moses, French School, 17th century has baffled scholars for decades. It has been considered to be by Claude Lorrain (1600-1682), and also from circle of Gaspard Poussin, called Gaspard Dughet (1615-1675). Since 1987 a range of attributions have been proffered, mostly to French hands of the 17th century. More recently the name of Dutch painter Johannes Glauber (1656-c.1703) has been proposed. This is estimated at £8,000-£12,000.
Among the topographical works is a drawing Near the Barrier by George Chinnery (1754 –1852), estimated at £1,000 -£1,500, a place of significance in Anglo-Chinese history. Constructed in 1573, the Barrier was the border wall on the isthmus that separated Macau peninsula from mainland China. In August 1840, four years after Chinnery sketched the present work, the Battle of the Barrier between the Chinese and the British broke out. It was sparked by the kidnap of Reverend Vincent Stanton while swimming at Casilha Bay in Macau which caused uproar in the British community. The ensuing rout of the Chinese by the British was a defining moment during the first Opium Wars (1839-1842). Another work by the same artist Blacksmith and other Studies offers insight into the local tradespeople of Macau. Chinnery was an inveterate recorder of everyday life, as evident in the present very full page of annotated sketches. This is estimated at £1,500 -£2,500.
Leuvehaven Rotterdam by Dutch artist Evert Moll (1878-1955) is a glorious panoramic painting and notable work in the European section. Moll was born in Voorbug, Netherlands, close to Rotterdam, where he kept a studio until 1930. He painted a series of views of the harbour town, Leuvehaven, which is located close to the centre of Rotterdam. This is one of his largest works to come to auction,where Moll’s loose impressionistic brush strokes capture the bustle of the port. Estimated at £3,000 -£5,000.
Among the Modern British pictures The Madonna of the ‘Miracle’ with a Self Portrait by Gaudier-Brzeska, painted in 1912, is of particular West London interest. The painting depicts the painted plaster sculpture Gaudier did of the stage and screen actress Maria Carmi in the lead role in the part medieval play, part musical pageant The Miracle performed that year. This extraordinarily successful show took place at the London Olympia, the performance and event venue located directly opposite Olympia Auctions. The painting was executed in the Thameside home of his patrons, Mr and Mrs Leman Hare, on nearby Chiswick Mall. Thomas Leman Hare (1872-1935) was a painter, collector and writer on art, who subsequently became editor of Apollo magazine. The plaster of Maria Carmi as the Madonna is now in the collection of Kettle’s Yard, Cambridge. Estimated at £15,000 -£20,000.
Another highlight is a rare flower painting Pussywillow by war artist Christopher Nevinson ARA (1889-1946). The painting appeared among 20 other such works in a 1936 solo exhibition at Barbizon House, London titled Flower Paintings by C. R. W. Nevinson. According to notes from a previous owner, the exhibition featured in a write-up in The Times, which highlighted two works Catkins and Pussywillows (the present work) as of ‘exceptional quality.’ The group of delicate flower paintings Nevinson completed in the 1930s were inspired by his wife, Kathleen, who was a professional gardener and Fellow of the Royal Horticultural Society.
Among the works on paper by twentieth century British artists is an especially evocative drawing in pencil and coloured crayon of Christ crucified by artist and modernist poet David Jones(1895 –1974). Titled in Welsh Twysog Cariad (Prince of Love) and inscribed Brenhnv Cariad (King of Love) it is one of a small number of works on this theme Jones completed in different media in the 1920s which combine the horror of his experiences in the trenches (captured in verse in his acclaimed epic poem In Parenthesis), his devout Christian faith and the pride he took in his Welsh heritage. The last Crucifixion by Jones to appear at auction was in the David Bowie sale at Sotheby’s in 2016. The present workis a typically thoughtful and sensitive rendition of the subject. It has an estimate of £8,000-£12,000).
Two drawings by Augustus John (1878-1961) in the sale are of his wife to be Ida Nettleship, a fellow student at the Slade School of Art. Drawn circa 1898, before their marriage in 1901, John’s delicate head studies of Ida turned three-quarters and looking into the distance capture her fresh-faced youth to perfection, estimated at £1,500-2,00 and £2,500-3,500. Fellow Slade students and close friends with John and Ida were the two Rothenstein brothers –William (1872-1945) and Albert (1881-1953); the latter changing his name to Rutherston. Both are featured in the sale with evocative canvases painted while studying in Paris and travelling through France. Estimates range from £1,000-1,500 to £4,000-6,000. Post-World War Two artists in the sale include good examples by Mary Fedden (1915 –2012), and Keith Vaughan (1912 –1977).
Adrian Biddell commented: “All pictures tell stories, whether of the artist, the subject presented or the work’s subsequent history, and the vast majority of the lots in our ‘Fine’ sale on June 14 sale combine all three of these qualities to optimum effect. Bringing together a wide array of fascinating works from mainly private sources that are fresh to the market and reasonably priced, a good many of the works are ‘rediscoveries’, like the Guercino – not seen in public for centuries; the Gaudier Brzeska – last on the market over forty years ago; Pussywillow by Nevinson, an artist who surprises us as a wonderful flower painter, or the powerful yet stripped-bare Crucifixion by David Jones whose work so sensitively overlays a universal symbol of suffering with his own profoundly personal experiences of faith and experience.’’