LONDON - Sotheby’s 19th Century European Paintings sale in London on 22 May 2014 brings together important works by leading 19th century European masters that when viewed as a group paint a compelling picture of the diversity of subjects and styles in confluence during the period. Spain’s Joaquín Sorolla leads the auction with two complementary and highly evocative visions of fishing in his native Valencia, Denmark’s Vilhelm Hammershøi is present with two maritime subjects, Swedish painter Nils Dardel with a gloriously colourful and delightfully spirited painting, Czech painter Jakub Schikaneder with a cityscape of Prague, while Austria’s Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller and Norway’s Johan Christian Dahl provide pastoral mountain scenes.
Following highly successful single artist exhibitions in Paris in 1906, in Germany in 1907 and in London in 1908, Joaquín Sorolla (1863-1923) felt he had reached a new peak in his career. By the time he journeyed to his beloved Valencia for his summer holiday, the artist had already met the founder of the Hispanic Society of America, Arthur Huntington, and made arrangements for what would be a landmark exhibition tour of the United States in 1909. Painted on the beach in 1908, Camino de la pesca. Valencia (Setting out to Sea. Valencia) and Recogiendo la vela, Playa de Valencia (Gathering the Sail, Valencia Beach) describe wonderfully complimentary aspects of the daily lives of the local fishing community, with one set on water, the other on shore. In Camino de la pesca, a gentle gust of wind fills the sail as a fishing boat sets off in the morning light. The sail and its reflection on the water dominate the composition in which the fishermen are barely present. In contrast, Recogiendo la vela is set at the end of the working day with an elderly fisherman taking centre stage as he gathers the sail that spills beyond the frame. In each of these paintings, the sail represents the beating heart of the Valencian fishing community. Camino de la pesca is estimated at £1,200,000-1,800,000 (ˆ1,450,000-2,180,000) and Recogiendo la vela at £600,000-800,000 (ˆ725,000-970,000). The sale includes a further work by Sorolla, Naranjos, el camino del mar, Valencia (Orange Trees on the Road to the Sea, Valencia) painted in 1903 and estimated at £120,000-180,000 (ˆ145,000-218,000).
Among the other Spanish painters included in the sale is Ramón Casas (1866-1932), renowned as the best portrait artist of his time in Catalonia. He dedicated a series of paintings to the local girls of Madrid known as chulas. Chula con pañuelo azul (Girl with a Blue Scarf), is estimated at £150,000-250,000 (ˆ182,000-303,000). In 1918, a year after receiving the First Prize at the National Beaux Arts Exhibition in Madrid, Catalan artist Joaquim Mir (1873-1940) painted Camino de la Casa Güell. Santa Perpetua de la Mogoda (The Path to Casa Güell) in the gardens of the estate at Santa Perpetua de la Mogoda, situated to the north of Barcelona. Estimated to bring £70,000-100,000 (ˆ85,000-121,000), this exuberant and large work demonstrates Mir’s interest in capturing the effects of light on nature.
The sale includes a painting by Danish artist Vilhelm Hammershøi (1864-1916) that is rare if not unique in the artist’s oeuvre. Sun over the Sea, estimated at £100,000-150,000, is one of the only known marines by the artist, and in which he paints directly into the sun. Dated to circa 1902, the work is comparable to Hammershøi’s signature interior scenes in its masterly evocation of space and light, though the closure and introversion that characterises so much of his output is cast aside here to reveal a vast and sublime vista. The picture leaves much open to interpretation, but it echoes the spiritual connotations of the German Romantic marines and landscapes by Caspar David Friedrich painted a century earlier. Hammershøi often sought inspiration from the past, most notably from Vermeer in his interiors, and both the German Romantics and Danish Golden painters resonated deeply throughout Scandinavia. At the same time, the painting is extremely modern in its conception, with the uncompromisingly cropped ships and the horizontal tonal layers. In this respect, it is akin to the watery nocturnes of Hammershøi’s contemporary James McNeill Whistler, an artist whose work he admired but to his great regret never met. A second painting by Hammershøi with a maritime subject, The Old Warehouse in Christianshavn, is estimated at £80,000-120,000. Both pictures, from Danish private collections, come to the auction market for the first time.
Swedish avant garde artist Nils Dardel (1888-1943) is represented in the sale with an important work. Painted in oil in 1931, Gräshoppan (The Grasshopper) comes to the market for the first time in over 15 years, with an estimate of £250,000-350,000. Dardel's love affairs inspired some of his most characteristic works, and The Grasshopper is an exceptional example. With its vivid palette and dramatic composition, the picture is suffused with the excitement of the new love affair that Dardel was then embarking on. In 1930, aged forty-two, Dardel met the 25-year-old beauty and fellow Swede Edita Morris (née Toll). While remaining married to the American writer and journalist Ira Victor Morris, Dardel began an affair with Edita which would last for the rest of his life. The figure in eccentric dandy dress in The Grasshopper – a typical personification of Dardel – is born aloft on the psychedelically-coloured grasshopper and slides down towards the reclining woman on the grass beneath him. Provocatively-posed, she meets his gaze with one eye. Sotheby’s auction of The Grasshopper will precede the exhibition of Nils Dardels and The Modern Age at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, opening on 29 May 2014, which aims to re-examine Dardel's prominence within the cosmopolitan avant-garde in Paris, a city he frequented often throughout his career.
A painting by Norwegian artist Johan Christian Dahl (1788-1857) that has not been seen in public since 1843, the year it was painted, comes to auction from a Swiss private collection with an estimate of £50,000-70,000. View at Skjolden in Lyster was exhibited in 1843 in Dresden in Germany, and purchased by the grandfather of the previous owner circa 1930. The painting’s appearance at auction marks an important discovery as its location has until now been unknown, its existence recorded only through the after-drawing of the work that Dahl kept for his own records. The foreground elements of the composition (the boat and the houses) derive from a painting that Dahl completed during his first return to Norway from Dresden in 1826, now in the National Museum, Oslo. The subject of the first version, which was a well-rounded composition in its own right, was elaborated further in this later scene. The mountain ranges in the background create greater depth here, in the diagonal system Dahl has employed.
A Street Corner in Prague by Jakub Schikaneder (1855-1924), estimated at £120,000-180,000 (ˆ145,000-218,000), was painted circa 1900-1910 in Prague’s Old Town and epitomises the artist’s atmospheric nocturnes of the city, characterised by a sense of poetic mysticism with isolated light sources punctuating the all-enveloping twilight. Schikaneder was a prime exponent of Symbolist expressionism in Europe at the turn of the century, and he is now most highly regarded for his diffuse nocturnes. The mood conveyed has strong resonances with Czech fin de siècle literature of the period, including the novels of Franz Kafka, and in its ambiguous quiet is comparable to the paintings of Hammershøi and 20th century American artist Edward Hopper. The painting was owned by Josef Rotnágl, the Mayor of Prague and was illustrated on the cover of Zlatá Praha in 1924.
Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller (1793-1865), Austria’s leading painter of the Biedermeier, is represented with two important works. Wildbad Gastein (The Wildbad Gastein Falls), estimated at £150,000-250,000 ($182,000-303,000), depicts the fashionable spa town in the Salzburg region of Austria where the international upper classes would go to take the waters. Waldmüller considered his calling to be the representation of nature, and here he builds up a symphony of colour in his acute attention to the play of light and shadow in the rich greens of the mountainside. From the collection of Antal Post de Bekessy, Ein Knabe, der in der Schule die Fleissmedaille erhalten hat (Diligence Rewarded), painted in 1830, is one of Waldmüller’s earliest paintings of figures in a landscape, for which he later became so renowned. Estimated at £200,000-300,000 (ˆ242,000-363,000), the composition focuses on the life and traditions of Austria’s rural communities, blending naturalism and idealism in his own inimitable style. The setting appears to be a valley near Pernitz, to the south west of Vienna, with the peak of the Schneeberg in the background. Despite the attention to verisimilitude, Wallmüller remained faithful to the tenets of academic teaching, the staged, pyramidal structure of the figures harking back to Leonardo, Raphael, and the Renaissance masters.