Brian Sewell Collection Reveals New Attributions During Cataloguing At Christie’s

Christie’s have made further discoveries and positive attributions while cataloguing the collection of the late Brian Sewell critic for the Evening Standard. An oil on paper study has now been linked to a group of pictures hanging in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in Venice. A drawing formerly thought to have been by a follower of Michelangelo, and two other long-unattributed works have now been identified. The auction, Brian Sewell: Critic & Collector, to be held on 27 September, will include 248 lots, ranging from Old Master Paintings and Drawings to 19th and 20th-century British art. 

A long-standing mystery, a study on blue paper of a soldier carrying a ladder towards a besieged town, has been deftly solved by a museum curator in the United States. The Florentine artist Agostino Ciampelli (1565-1630) made this in connection with a Medici marriage in 1589. The technique used in this sketch, one of Ciampelli’s most accomplished and striking sheets, is characteristic in its use of black chalk heightened with white on blue paper (estimate: £20,000-30,000). As significant is Dido reclining, asleep by Daniele da Volterra (1509-66), only recently identified through extensive research undertaken at Christie’s (estimate: £100,000-150,000). It was acquired in the early 1960s as a work by an accomplished follower of Michelangelo and Brian Sewell would have undoubtedly relished its identification as one of Daniele’s most exquisite drawings. A profile study has been found to be typical of the technique of Jusepe de Ribera (1591-1652) when using red chalk (estimate: £6,000-8,000). The two-sided study in oil on paper by Domenico Tintoretto (1560-1635) has just been associated with a series of pictures in the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, one of Venice’s greatest churches. One of the collector’s notable finds, which demonstrates his flair at spotting rarities, is a meticulously drawn view, from 1794, of the Schmadribach Waterfall near Lauterbrunnen, a favourite subject of the celebrated German Romantic Joseph Anton Koch (1768-1839) (estimate: £20,000-30,000). Estimates in the auction range from £600 to £600,000 providing opportunities for buyers at all levels. 

Highlights of old master paintings in the collection include three paintings by Matthias Stomer (circa 1600 – after 1652?); Saint Jerome, (estimate: £100,000-150,000), The Adoration of the Magi (estimate: £150,000-250,000) and Blowing Hot, Blowing Cold (estimate: £400,000-600,000), which were key elements of the collection. Typified by Leonard J. Slatkes as the ‘quintessential Caravaggist’, Stomer was one of the most eminently recognisable and prolific artists of the 17th century who painted glowing candlelit compositions of religious subjects. Further centrepieces include a grey wash study of A girl with her dead fawn by George Romney (1734-1802) (estimate: £15,000-20,000) and a great rarity, the earliest drawing in the collection, Design for a bench: the five niches above containing figures of ancient heroes by the distinguished artist and architect Baldassare Peruzzi (1481-1536) (estimate: £100,000-150,000). In 1527 Peruzzi was appointed Architetto della Repubblica in Siena and it was no doubt in that capacity that he executed this presentation drawing of a ceremonial bench, intended for the Palazzo Pubblico in the centre of the city. 

Another feature of the collection is the number of Modern British artists which testifies to the empathy that he felt with this period. There is a group of twelve paintings, predominantly still lives in tempera, by his friend and loyal supporter Eliot Hodgkin (1905-87), such as Twelve Pheasant Eggs (1959, estimate: £20,000-30,000). Bomb-damaged buildings, Poplar, (1941, estimate: £7,000-10,000) by John Minton (1917-57) evokes the urban decay and destruction of the war years. Lucian Freud by John Craxton (1922-2009) (1946, estimate: £50,000-80,000) and a double-sided painting by Duncan Grant (1885-1978), Chrysanthemums in a Jar, Charleston (recto) and Reclining Male Nude (verso) (1935, estimate: £20,000-30,000) are further highlights. 

Orlando Rock, Christie’s UK Chairman: “Brian Sewell’s collection was founded on his love of great art and this is strongly represented in the selection of pieces in the auction. The power of art to move and inspire motivated our esteemed former colleague and this is an opportunity to obtain examples from British and European masters that he built up over decades.” The sale will also offer Modern British art by the likes of Sewell’s loyal friend Eliot Hodgkin (1905-87) a study of Lucian Freud by John Craxton from 1946 that is estimated at £50,000-80,000 And a major Duncan Grant Oil. 

Noël Annesley, Honorary Chairman, Christie’s UK: “The variety of material in this sale will surely attract and delight Brian’s many friends and admirers as well as dedicated collectors, and serve as a demonstration of his special gifts as a collector as well as a critic.”

Images Top: Reclining Male Nude by Duncan Grant Left: Florentine artist Agostino Ciampelli. Right: Daniele da Volterra. ‘Dido reclining, asleep’ Courtesy Christie’s 

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