Lot and his daughters by German artist Hans Baldung Grien (c.1484-1545), to be offered at Christie’s New York on May 1 with a $700,000- 900,000 estimate, comes with a remarkable history.
Long ago cut up into four fragments, three elements have been recently reunited with the search continuing for the final piece.
It seems likely that Baldung painted two oil on panel versions of Lot and his daughters, perhaps for the same patron, which were later dissected on account of the ‘difficult’ Old Testament subject matter.
Until recently, just two fragments were known, both sections of the composition depicting Lot in a belted green coat drinking wine from a cylindrical cup.
One is in the collection of the Gemäldegalerie in Berlin. The other, acquired in Italy by Count Karol Lanckoronski (1848-1933) and restored to his family in the post-war era, was sold at a Paris auction in 1973.
However, the latest rediscovery began in 2003 with the purchase by a London dealer of a ‘16th century German school’ panel painting of a reclining nude at the Drouot in Paris.
Taken to Shepherd Conservation in London for restoration, the removal of overpaint revealed both the quality of the original painting but also a whole hidden section depicting the burning city of Sodom, with the haunting figure of Lot’s wife turned into a pillar of salt.
This element, which had been turned on its side to make a rectangular panel, was once again separated by the conservators and vertically aligned to remake the panel as an L-shape.
The project was sold to “a connoisseur in France” who made the link to the Lot drinking fragments (thanks to a hint of pale flesh and drapery appearing to the very bottom of the Gemäldegalerie panel).
After a 15-year hunt, he was recently able to acquire the Lanckoronski fragment of Lot drinking through a Paris dealer. It too fitted perfectly.
With the majority of Baldung’s original composition now reunited, the three sections – now measuring a total of 3ft 2in x 5ft 4in (96cm x 1.58m) – will be offered for sale at Christie’s.
Works by Baldung, who painted in the workshop of Albrecht Dürer in the early 1500s, are extremely rare on the market. Dendrochronological analysis has suggested a date for this panel of between 1530-60.
The auction catalogue states that it is hoped that the auction and public exhibition in New York will lead to the reappearance of the missing panel that evidently depicts Lot’s second bare-breasted daughter.
It is thought to be the half-length portrait pictured in Gert von der Osten’s 1983 catalogue raisonné – Lot’s green coat is visible to one edge and lines up perfectly with the other fragments – but its whereabouts, last recorded in 1972, remains unknown.