Peter Paul Rubens,

Titian and Rubens Star in Sotheby’s Big Old Masters Season

A Met trustee’s divorce and re-discovered Titian are adding excitement to the Old Masters sales in December and January.

Sotheby’s announced today the most significant Peter Paul Rubens work to come to market since “Lot and His Daughters” sold for $58 million in 2016. The work, Salome presented with the severed head of Saint John the Baptist, was painted in 1609, the same year as Rubens’s Massacre of the Innocents which Sotheyb's sold in 2002 for $76 million. 

The Rubens which is estimated at $25 million will be sold in January during Sotheby’s Old Masters sales in New York. It comes from the Fisch Davidson collection which also includes an Orazio Gentileschi work Pentitent Magdalene from 1621, estimated at $4 million, which will be sold in the same auction. The Gentileschi comes from a set of three works commissioned by the same patron. The other two works are now in the Getty in Los Angeles. One of them is Gentileschi's Danaë which sold for $30 million in 2016. That work had been owned by the dealer Richard Feigen.

The Fisch Davidson collection—assembled by Metropolitan Museum of art Mark Fisch who is divorcing his wife, retired New Jersey judge Rachel N. Davidson—“distills the essence and power of Baroque art between 1600 and 1650," according to Sotheby’s, "comprising some of the very finest paintings in private hands by Guercino, Bernardo Cavallino, and Valentin de Boulogne.” The couple’s works have featured in important museum exhibitions at The National Gallery, London, the Prado, Madrid, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

Titian_Venus and Adonis_ Sothebys_£8-12 million

If the Fisch Davidson collection is the big show for the New Year, Sotheby’s has a curtain raiser lined up for London in December when it plans to auction Titian’s Venus and Adonis with an estimate of £8 million. The painting has only recently been acknowledged as a work by Titian primarily because it had not been exhibited publicly for more than two centuries. It first appeared to contemporary scrutiny at the "Titian’s Women" exhibition put on by the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna late last year.  The scholar Thomas Dalla Costa made a convincing case for the painting to be upgraded. Since then, opinion has coalesced around the work having been conceived and overseen by Titian himself as well as having “clear evidence of the artist’s hand.”

Where the painting has been all these years remains a bit unclear. Sotheby’s does point to the Austrian Prince Eugene of Savoy as having owned the painting in the early 18th century. From there it passed to the painter Benjamin West, one of the 18th century’s noted history painters. The work reappears in the collection of Maximilian von Heyl, who made a fortune in the German leather business. The work stayed in Germany until 1966. It eventually made its way to England.

With the new historical research on its provenance and the art historical support as a work conceived and overseen by Titian, the painting comes back to market with the public support of the Vienna exhibition at a whole new level. 

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