LONDON - Christie’s announces the annual sale of Old Master Prints taking place at King Street on Tuesday, 3 December, to coincide with the sale of Old Master & British Paintings. Beginning with an anonymous metalcut from around 1480 and concluding with a lithograph printed in 1801, the sale comprises 103 lots that span four centuries of printmaking in Europe. Each period, from the 15th to the 18th century, is represented by the defining printmakers of their time, from Martin Schongauer to Albrecht Dürer, Rembrandt and Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. With estimates ranging from £1,000 up to £220,000, the sale offers exceptional opportunities for established and new collectors to acquire rare, celebrated and unusual prints by great masters of the medium.
Martin Schongauer (1450-1491), the first engraver known to us by name and the most important printmaker before Dürer, is strongly represented in the sale by a group of six lots, that range from a small and quietly beautiful Virgin and Child on a grassy Bench, circa 1474 (estimate: £ 7,000 – 10,000) to the dramatic Tribulations of Saint Anthony, circa 1496-73 (estimate: £ 80,000 – 120,000). This engraving of the hermit saint being carried into mid-air and harassed and tormented by a host of fanciful demons predates the nightmarish fantasies of Bosch and Bruegel. It is one of the most influential – and most eccentric - prints in the history of European art, and a great rarity. Quite different in character, yet equally haunting is Schongauer’s The Virgin and Child in a Courtyard, circa 1470-82 (estimate: £60,000 – 80,000), showing the mother and child-group seated in an austere courtyard – one of the first three-dimensional spaces depicted in European printmaking.
The section of engravings, woodcuts and etchings by Albrecht Dürer is led by two of his most famous and complex prints: a rich and dark impression of Adam and Eve, 1504 (estimate £120,000 – 220,000) and a silvery impression of that most intellectual of all Renaissance prints, Melencolia I, 1514 (estimate: £120,000 – 180,000). Christie’s is proud to have been chosen by the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Massachusetts, to sell these two fine impressions, which have recently been de-accessioned from the institute’s collection. Together with other duplicate prints by Dürer, both prints have been selected for sale to benefit the Clark Art Institute’s fund for future acquisitions.
While Dürer has always been admired for his technical and conceptual brilliance as a printmaker, Rembrandt is unparalleled in his ability to create atmosphere and sentiment with only the use of a copper plate, black ink and paper. Three landscape prints offered in this sale in very fine, early impressions – all from the same anonymous collection - exemplify his stupendous skill and sensibility. His large etching The Three Trees, 1643 (estimate: 150,000 – 200,000), is perhaps the greatest print depicting a landscape ever made. The present, superb impression displays the most dramatic and most subtle effects of this summer landscape under the approaching storm clouds in equal measure. On a smaller scale and by different means, the two other landscapes convey an equally strong sense of a place and a moment in time: the small Landscape with a Milkman, circa 1650 (estimate: £30,000 – 50,000) on Japan paper; and the rapidly sketched Six’s Bridge, 1645 (estimate: £50,000 – 70,000), both rare and in remarkably good condition.
An unusual selection of prints of the 18th century includes fine prints by a variety of artists at an accessible price level, from Canaletto and Piranesi to the French printmakers Saint-Aubin and Debucourt. Giovanni Battista Tiepolo is particularly well represented with an outstanding group of early impressions from Scherzi, circa 1740, a series of whimsical and utterly charming fantasies of a lost, magical world. Estimates start from £2,000 to £3,000.
The sale concludes with one of the earliest lithographs ever printed by an artist, Benjamin West’s The Angel of the Resurrection, 1801 (estimate 4,000 – 6,000). Printed only one year after lithography had been patented, it was part of an album called ‘Specimen of Polyautography’, meant to promote the new technique when it was still in its infancy. When Benjamin West drew this devious-looking angel with crayon onto a flat stone, he could hardly have guessed that this would become the printing process of the industrial age.