One of the earliest example of a painting by Caravaggio titled, ‘Boy Peeling a Fruit’ dating from 1591 will go under the hammer on 28 January at Christie’s New York. The painting is similar to one of the centrepieces of the Royal Collection Trust belonging to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The Royal example was acquired by Charles II and first recorded in the reign of James II, in 1688 ‘By Michael Angelo – A piece, being a boy in his shirt, paring fruit’.
The masterpiece up for auction was painted soon after Caravaggio arrived in Rome from his native Milan in mid 1592. Biographical information dating from this period is sketchy but according to his contemporary Giulio Mancini, Caravaggio lodged with Monsignor Pandulfo Pucci in the Palazzo Colonna, but disliked the way Pucci treated him and left after a few months. The painter copied a number of religious pictures for Pucci, (none are known to have survived), and apparently created a few pieces for his own for personal inventory, of which Boy Peeling a Fruit would be one example of many painted of the subject.
Cardinal Scipione Borghese mentions a half-length painting of a boy peeling a peach by Caravaggio, which had turned up in the estate of the Perugian collector Cesare Crispolti. From these records it appears either that Caravaggio painted several other versions of this composition or others, perhaps from within his circle, made copies or variants of them. Today at least ten documented versions are known, all showing the peeling of a green Seville or Bergamot orange (rather than an apple, peach or pear), with other fruit scattered on the table – peaches, cherries and nectarines. They belong with a group of quite small paintings dated c.1593-7, all depicting half-length youths against simple backgrounds, evocatively lit, with prominent still lifes in the foreground; other examples include the Self-portrait as Bacchus and Boy with a Basket of Fruit.
The Caravaggio has a pre-sale estimate of $3 to $5 million and has a strong provenance including at one point being owned by the English painter Sir Joshua Reynolds, in the late 18th century. This particular example was exhibited in “The Age of Caravaggio” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, in 1985, as well as in “The Genius of Rome” at the Royal Academy in London. The painting was previously auctioned in London in 1976.