Tuesday, 12 May 2015

The final sale of a great collection: I.Q. van Regteren Altena at Christie's

Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child, after Lucas van Leyden
I'm just back from a few days in Paris and Amsterdam where I caught the viewing of the final part of the stupendous I.Q. van Regteren Altena collection of old master drawings that Christie's is selling today. It's a scholarly collection, but it's attracted intense interest and some astonishingly high prices. The St Christopher above is a really refined copy of an engraving of  by Lucas van Leyden, drawn by Jacques de Gheyn II. It's a lovely thing, estimated at a modest €20k - €30k. Attribution of copies is especially tricky, but van Regteren Altena was the authority on the de Gheyns and wrote the catalogue raisonnĂ© of Jacques de Gheyn II.  A copy is less desirable than an original, but this beautiful sheet linked to two significant artists deserves to sell well. Mr Market will pass his judgment later today.
Four studies of a black-winged stilt (Himantopus himantopus)
This sheet of Studies of a Black Winged Stilt is one of Regteren Altena's Gheyn attributions that hasn't held up, because we now know that the paper was produced after his death. It's now being sold as anonymous Dutch seventeenth century, with the same estimate as the St Christopher. It's a high estimate for an uncommercial picture of dead birds without an attribution, but reflects its obvious quality. You can particularly appreciate it in the context of this sale, where there's a plethora of studies of flora and fauna that range widely in quality. The opportunity to see a gathering of related drawings collected by one connoisseur was the attraction of this viewing, a chance to get to know the minor masters as well as the most famous and celebrated. I wasn't disappointed. Saftleven's Litchi Tomato (€18k - €25k) and a study of a Male Lumpsucker from Goltzius's circle were the other natural history highlights for me. There are also more obviously attractive flower studies, including a Van der Ast and some pretty studies in mixed lots. 
Study of a plaster cast of the head of a crying child
Another cheaply estimated copy is this wonderfully striking Study of a Plaster Cast of a Crying Child, by the relatively little-known Leendert van der Cooghen (€6k - €8k). I expect it'll make much more, but it's odd what goes cheaply in these sales. This drapery study by Bloemaert will be good value if it sells within its estimated €3k - €4k, and there's also his tiny study of a Nun estimated at €6k - €8k. Cheap works by a fine draughtsman. The estimate that's most inexplicable to me is the mere €1,800 - €2,000 against a charming and fine Willem van Mieris Man Holding a Tankard, which is sold without reserve. Just not today's fashion, it seems.

Do peruse the online catalogue. There's much else to enjoy, including some nice Jan de Bisschop copy after Joos van Cleve, an unusual sheet of studies from the Prague school, a handful of sixteenth century drawings and a range of works by eighteenth and nineteenth century artists that are much less well known than the golden age masters. Many are attractive, and all modestly estimated. I leave you with Aert Schouman's A Pale Kangaroo Mouse. Because who doesn't love a pale kangaroo mouse?
A pale kangaroo mouse (Microdipodops pallidus)
(All pictures from Christie's)

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