Dorotheum (25/20/15% buyer’s premium) in Vienna holds regular sales of memorabilia from the Habsburg and Austrian imperial era and achieves some remarkable prices.
The auction on June 18 proved to be no exception. The fact that personal possessions of the Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabeth ever came onto the market is due to the permission granted by the monarch that close attendants, in particular his personal valet Eugen Ketterl, were allowed to sell items of clothing and the like that were no longer in use.
Other items in the sale were one-time imperial presents to members of the court or trusted servants. This time around, a pair of the emperor’s personal silk-lined goatskin slippers was bid to €9000 (£7965). Another pair changed hands (or feet) for the estimated €5000 (£4425).
Star of the show at this auction, not for the first time eclipsing her husband, was Empress Elisabeth, known as Sisi (1837-98). Not least because of a trilogy of films from the 1950s, starring Romy Schneider, and the tragic nature of her death (she was stabbed by an anarchist in Geneva in 1898 and the wound went unnoticed until it was too late) Sisi has fans throughout the world, even as far away as Asia.
At this auction, however, a buyer from closer to home purchased the two top lots. First up was a pair of Sisi’s satin slippers, which were knocked down for €17,000 (£15,045), more than three times the lower estimate.
Shortly afterwards, a silk umbrella with floral motifs, dating from about 1890, when Elisabeth was Queen of Hungary (she and her husband had been crowned in 1867), was sold for €15,000 (£13,275).
Both pieces were purchased by Schloss Schoenbrunn, the former imperial summer residence on the outskirts of Vienna which is now a UNESCO world heritage site.
Spotlight on Munich
The unexpected highlight at the June 29 sale at Munich auction house Scheublein (26% buyer’s premium) was an Iranian brass lamp stand from the second half of the 16th century.
The 19in (47cm) high stand was a fine example of art from the time of the Safavid dynasty, engraved from top to bottom with meandering floral motifs and arabesques. The base and the top are covered with calligraphic inscriptions.
“ The monarch gave permission for close attendants to sell items of clothing and the like that were no longer in use
Lamp stands of this type were first created in Iran around the middle of the 16th century and can be found in numerous museum collections.
A very similar piece was sold by Christie’s in London in December 2005 as part of the Wildenstein Collection for £43,200 (including premium). The modest guide of €1500 in the Munich catalogue attracted numerous bidders, among them an international dealer, who saw off his competitors at €46,000 (£40,710).
Vibrant van Dongen
The top lot at the sale of modern and contemporary art at Koller (25/20/15% buyer’s premium) in Zurich on June 29-30 lived up to its expectations.
It was the 3ft 3in x 2ft 5in (1m x 73cm) canvas Rouge et Jaune (L’Egyptienne), painted in 1910-11 by Kees van Dongen (1877-1968).
The Dutch artist had recently visited Spain and Morocco and was fascinated by the colours he encountered there, which found their way into his work. Van Dongen developed his own personal Orientalist style; his paintings from this period were a highly expressive triumph of vibrant colour. Rouge et Jaune is a prime example of his oeuvre. It was first shown at the Société des artistes indépendants at the Quai d’Orsay in Paris in 1911.
A further attraction of the painting was the provenance. It had been purchased by the Swiss collector Otto Welter and his wife Helene in the 1920s and had remained, by descent, in family possession ever since.
Koller was expecting between SFr1m-2m and in the event the bidding stopped at exactly the halfway point – a European collector securing his prize for SFr1.5m (£1.14m). Another Van Dongen from the same source, Portrait de Femme, a 2ft 1in x 21in (65 x 55cm) canvas from 1913, changed hands for SFr200,000 (£151,800). This was less than the SFr250,000 that had been hoped for.
Ugly sight but welcome result
There was obviously more than met the eye about the unflattering Portrait of an Old Woman, attributed to Quentin Massys (1466-1530), which caused the biggest stir at Hampel (29.5% buyer’s premium) in Munich on July 4.
It was painted on a 12 x 10in (29 x 25cm) oak panel, inscribed on the reverse Quintinos Maesys/ fecit A 1510 and bearing the hand-written inventory or collection numbers 35 and, on a paper label, 609.
The auction catalogue provided no information about the provenance and in their estimate the in-house experts were very restrained: the guide was €15,000-25,000. A furious bidding match ensued, at the end of which the hammer fell at €440,000 (£389,380).
If it is an original work, as the numerous bidders were obviously convinced, this painting would pre-date the most famous portrait by Massys: The Ugly Duchess from about 1513, which was bequeathed to the National Gallery in London in 1947.
The grotesque portrait in London is thought in some quarters to depict the 14th century Tyrolean princess Margarete Maultasch, while other experts consider it to be a satirical depiction of an elder woman attempting to recapture the looks of her youth.
Gold and silver tradition
From the 15th century onwards, the Bavarian city of Augsburg was a major centre of German gold and silversmiths, a tradition which continued well into the 18th century.
On July 4, Neumeister (27% buyer’s premium) in Munich sold a silver and enamelled beaker from 1709-12, created by Esaias Busch III, one of the most renowned craftsmen of his era. He had become a master in 1704 and was active until 1759, the year of his death.
The central band is decorated with finely painted scenes in enamel on copper; on one side a woman pours wine from a ewer, on the other an old man, beguiled by a woman, is having his pocket picked by a young boy.
On account of comparable pieces, among them several in museums, Neumeister attributed the enamel decoration to Johann Jacob Priester I, a highly accomplished painter who was active between 1688-1726.
The estimate of €4000-6000 motivated a handful of collectors and dealers, who stopped bidding only at €64,000 (£56,640), with an anonymous buyer successful.
Cologne sparks Chinese bids
Chinese porcelain led the field at the Lempertz (24/20% buyer’s premium) sale of Asian art on June 15-16 in Cologne.
The auction house had expected €100,000-150,000 for a 10in (25cm) high underglaze-blue and copper-red bottle vase from the Qianlong period (1735-96). The vase was decorated with a pomegranate, a finger citron and a peach, the so-called ‘Three Abundances’ (sanduo). It had been purchased in the Netherlands in the 1930s and had been in a German private collection ever since.
Bids came in from several countries and the vase was eventually knocked down to an unnamed buyer for €280,000 (£247,790).
Much more of a surprise was the international interest for a pair of 8in (20cm) high, blue-glazed bottle vases, dated to the Qing period (1644-1911).
In this case the provenance could also be traced back to the 1930s, having been purchased then in South America and passing by descent to the current consignor.
The catalogue price of €5000- 7000 tempted dealers and collectors from China in particular, and it was only when the price reached €290,000 (£256,640) that a Chinese bidder in the room could shake off the competition.
£1 = €1.13