In this 16th century portrait by Corneille de Lyon (c.1500-75), shown above, a young woman in a headdress and jewelled necklace gazes into the distance smiling wistfully from between the pillars of an ornate frame.
The oil on panel, which is postcard sized, had been tucked away in a private French collection for over a century and, until recently, the identity of the sitter unknown.
She is now revealed to be Madeleine of France, the favourite but frail daughter of King Francois I, painted here from life, aged 16, on the cusp of her marriage to James V of Scotland.
Sadly, Madeleine died from tuberculosis in Scotland within two months of the wedding and before her official coronation. She became known as James’ ‘Summer Queen’.
The painting is available to buy from The Weiss Gallery with an asking price of £950,000 and is among a string of new discoveries at the latest edition of London Art Week (LAW), the in-gallery event focused on Mayfair and St James’s.
The high number of unveilings announced by LAW this summer – around half a dozen – demonstrates not only the limited opportunities dealers have had to showcase their discoveries during the pandemic but the preference to do so at a physical event rather than exclusively online.
“Dealers have been sitting on works they would have wanted to show at the big fairs like Maastricht, Frieze or Masterpiece,” says chairman Stephen Ongpin. “LAW offers exhibitors the best of both worlds with the opportunity to showcase their works in the gallery while also giving them an online platform.”
For Ongpin, nothing trumps showing art in the flesh. “Human contact is so important,” he adds. “It is something a lot of us have been missing, including the clients. Online can’t recreate the intimacy one gets from standing in front of a work of art.”
With most single-venue art fairs postponed or shifted online this summer, LAW emerges as the focal point of the capital’s high season. Provided galleries are allowed to remain open under Covid-19 regulations, its ‘live’ format runs from July 2-16 with a VIP preview on July 1.
Around 40 participants have signed up, offering high-quality sculpture, works on paper, paintings, ceramics and works of art encompassing 5000 years of art history.
This edition will also incorporate dealers operating in other parts of London for the first time, including Abbott and Holder in Bloomsbury, The Fine Art Society in Soho, Piano Nobile in Holland Park and Johnny van Haeften in Richmond.
LAW has rented space at Cromwell Place in South Kensington as it looks to extend its geographical reach to affluent neighbourhoods south of the Thames. The venue will showcase a few choice pieces for sale by participating dealers across a range of disciplines.
For those unable to attend (Ongpin does not expect many overseas visitors to London this summer, especially American buyers), individual works and exhibitions will be available to view via the LAW Digital platform, which was set up in response to the pandemic last summer. It includes the event’s group selling show, Revolution and Renewal, which is curated by Dr Arturo Galansino of the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi in Florence.
Discoveries are dotted throughout the extensive schedule of shows.
A previously lost oil portrait of a young man by the famous Venetian painter Tintoretto (c.1518-94) is included at Benappi Fine Art’sSummer Highlights show, while a previously unknown Carrera marble bust of Victorian writer Jessie White Mario is displayed in Literary Women: Writers and Revolutionaries, an exhibition at Ben Elwes Fine Art.
‘Hurricane Jessie’, as she was known, advocated for the Italian Risorgimento, protested against poverty and slavery and made a stand for women’s rights in education.
Elsewhere, Johnny van Haeften unveils a rare portrait by the Dutch Golden Age landscape painter Aelbert Cuyp (1620-91). Portrait of a Gentleman holding a Watch, which re-emerged last year after over 100 years in an English private collection, belongs to a small number of portraits Cuyp painted early in his career.
Works on paper exhibits are in good supply, with Guy Peppiatt Fine Art showing marine drawings by Charles Gore (1729-1807) and the new exhibitor Piano Nobile hosting Drawn to Paper.
Stephen Ongpin Fine Art holds two exhibitions. Master Drawings 2021 at the dealership’s London gallery offers drawings, watercolours and oil sketches from the 16th through to 20th centuries and A Sense of Place at Cromwell Place focuses on landscapes from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Animal sculpture takes centre stage at Sladmore Gallery with a selection of traditional and modern works depicting wildlife of the savannahs and jungles of Africa. The gallery is asking £75,000 for a c.1920 bronze by Albéric Collin (1886-1962) of a young running elephant.
Meanwhile, the Laocoon Gallery holds Laocoon Z00 showcasing 100 animal works ranging from antiquity to the present day.
The Fine Art Society showcases the idiosyncratic ceramics of South African artist-potter Hylton Nel (b.1941), while Galerie Chenel of Paris teams up with Tomasso to hold Baroque: Ancient to Early Modern. The show revolves around the Baroque aesthetic with works selected on their ‘grandeur and theatricality… opulent detail and narrative flair’.
Other shows include From Still-lives to Socialites – British Art Through the Ages from returning exhibitor Philip Mould & Company, Treasury Objects of the Middle Ages at Sam Fogg and Vive la Révolution! from Daniel Katz Gallery, which showcases a selection of sculptures produced in France during a century of political upheaval and unrest.