Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Wilted Sunflowers," = $21.7 million

By Belinda GoldsmithThu Jun 22, 2:04 AM ET

A painting by Austrian expressionist Egon Schiele that was discovered after being missing for over 60 years has been snapped up by a private collector after making a brief public appearance.

New York art dealer and advisory firm Eykyn Maclean bought the painting, "Herbstsonne" or "Wilted Sunflowers," or "Autumn Sun II," inspired by Vincent van Gogh's "Sunflowers," which was one of a half a dozen Schiele pictures thought to have been destroyed in World War II, was sold this week at Christie's in London for more than $21 a Christie's auction in London.

This was almost double the estimated price for the painting, which was feared destroyed after being seized by the Nazis during World War Two.

Painted in 1914, the picture was bought by Mr. Grunwald, from Schiele whom he had befriended during World War One and helped by obtaining for him non-combat posts.

"An artist in the army is like a fish out of water," co-director of the Galerie St. Etienne in New York and author of the first comprehensive Schiele catalogue raisonne, Egon Schiele: The Complete Works, Jane Kallir, said. Mr. Grunwald "essentially allowed him to resume his career as an artist rather than serving as a soldier."

Schiele went on to paint an oil portrait of Mr. Grunwald, and watercolor portraits of his family.

According to Christie's, the painting was confiscated by the Germans in Strasbourg and was auctioned in 1942. The picture, considered to be one of Schiele's masterpieces, then disappeared.

Mr. Grunwald, who eventually found his way to America, spent much of his life trying to recover his art collection. Though he was only partially successful - he managed to recover the portrait Mr. Schiele painted of him - he could not find the "Herbstsonne" before his death in 1964, when the quest for his art was continued by his family.

Chris Eykyn, one of two former Christie's employees who set up Eykyn Maclean this year, said he acquired the painting on behalf of an anonymous European buyer who intended to keep the painting in his private collection.

"This painting is a true masterpiece, a really sophisticated and challenging picture, and this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The buyer now just wants to enjoy it," Eykyn told Reuters.

"It is one of the most important paintings by the artist in existence ... and its story is just extraordinary."

The painting was among a collection of about 50 paintings owned by Austrian art collector Karl Gruenwald that was confiscated by the Nazis in France and sold at auction in 1942.

Gruenwald unsuccessfully tried to find his collection after the war. He died in 1964 and attempts by one his sons to locate the paintings were also unsuccessful.

But in late 2005, Christie's was contacted by a person who had acquired a painting along with an apartment he had bought in France a few years earlier. He had no particular arts knowledge and wanted a routine valuation of the painting.

Christie's specialists were amazed to discover the painting was the lost masterpiece that was painted in 1914.

When the owner -- who remains anonymous -- realized the importance of the painting, he gave it back to Gruenwald's heirs. They put it up for auction.

The price tag makes it the second most expensive Schiele painting after the landscape "Krumauer Landschaft" which sold for $23.2 million in 2003.

Another painting seized by the Nazis -- a 1907 portrait by Gustav Klimt -- was bought by cosmetics magnate Ronald Lauder for $135 million, the highest amount ever paid for a painting, The New York Times said on Monday.


Reuniting for the first time since 1663 the panels of an altarpiece that the young Raphael completed in 1504, the exhibition can feel both stretched thin and a bit padded. It struggles to fill three relatively modest galleries at the Met, yet within its borders aesthetic interest and art historical insights abound, as do big personalities and world-shaking events, vivid aesthetic minutia and other serendipities.

"Raphael at the Metropolitan: The Colonna Altarpiece" is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art through Sept. 3; Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street, (212) 535-7710.

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Photograph from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"Madonna and Child Enthroned With Saints," the large central panel by Raphael, about 1504-5, oil and gold on wood.

Photograph from The Metropolitan Museum of Art

"God the Father Blessing, With Angels and Cherubim," the semi-circular lunette once owned by J. P. Morgan.

The museum had a head start in this show, since it owns three of the altarpiece's seven panels. The large central panel, which depicts the Madonna and Child enthroned, with the infant John the Baptist, St. Peter, St. Paul and two unidentified female saints, and the semicircular lunette of God blessing the world, were both gifts to the museum from the estate of J. P. Morgan in 1916. In 1932 the museum purchased its third and final portion: the small, soft-edged predella image of the Agony in the Garden. The seller was Clarence Mackay, a mining magnate, former trustee and the unwilling father-in-law of Irving Berlin who had suffered some reversals in the stock market crash.

The show has moments of inadvertent oddness. One gallery is presided over by the Virgin and Child, with God on an adjacent wall. The next is ruled by Morgan, glowering Moses-like from Edward Steichen's large, dark photograph of 1903. Perhaps nothing less could be expected of a show that by following the art, traces the migration of wealth and power for more than two centuries from Italy to France, to England, to the United States.

It may also seem strange that the reunited panels have not been physically reassembled, perhaps because of the galleries' relatively low ceilings. The upside here is that everything is at eye level, thrillingly available for close visual examination. This is especially true for the lunette and central panel, which have not been so near the ground in years. (The lunette is usually 10 feet overhead.) And nothing could be more fitting for Raphael, who always set out to deliver an eyeful.

With Leonardo and Michelangelo he forms the Big Three of the High Renaissance. He was routinely called "the prince of painters" but was perhaps more like a Sun King: glowing, formidable yet benign. His pellucid light, majestic compositional sense, idealized figures and radiant palette imbued the new system of one-point perspective with clarity, repose and happiness. Few other Renaissance painters attained such gleaming, supple wholeness.

His career was short and driven. The Colonna altarpiece, one of the last he painted, is a telling transitional work from an artist who was in a sense always in transition, always picking up ideas and making them his own. Commissioned by the Franciscan convent of St. Anthony of Padua in Perugia, Raphael's birthplace, it was completed when he was barely 21, already considered a master and in the process of relocating to Florence. He decamped four years later to Rome, the patronage of Pope Julius II and a stimulating rivalry with Michelangelo. In Rome, Raphael finally escaped both Christian themes and oil paint in his great frescoes for the Papal apartments. By 1520, at 37, he was dead; his tomb is in the Pantheon.

This exhibition has been organized by Linda Wolk-Simon, associate curator in the museum's department of drawings and prints, in collaboration with Keith Christiansen, curator in its department of European paintings. It traces its evolution in the altarpiece through Raphael's drawings and preparatory studies and works of the artists he learned from, including Perugino, a formative influence, and Fra Bartolommeo, the dominant artist in Florence in the early 1500's. There is one brilliant drawing by the inescapable Leonardo that is arguably the most intense work, inch for inch, in the exhibition.

Also on hand are two predella panels from an altarpiece that Raphael painted in 1501-2. Their crowded compositions accent the relative spare, spacious compositions of the Colonna predella images, and a predella panel of a Resurrection by Perugino from the 1490's indicates a source of that spaciousness.

The altarpiece was both conservative and forward looking in ways that reflect the working conditions of the Renaissance, in particular the desires of the client. The clothing on the Christ Child and the infant John the Baptist was probably dictated by the convent, as was the Gothic gold on the base of the Madonna's throne, her black, stippled robe and the textile hanging behind her head. In the lunette God is surrounded by a flat, heavy blue; dark ribbons flutter vivaciously around him in the manner of Perugino. The sleeves of the angels flanking God are highlighted with contrasting colors to indicate shadow and volume, an effect also visible in Perugino's full-length life-size painting of St. John in the first gallery; the saint's brown habit is highlighted, beautifully, but startlingly, with lavender.

And yet the central panel is another story: the sky is a white-to-blue fathomless space, and the thoughtful dignity, monumental stasis and sculptural yet solid-colored robes of Peter and Paul indicate an awareness of Michelangelo's latest innovations. In this panel especially, Raphael's light and space radiate with full force, and his colors dance. Saturated shades of red, yellow, blue and green rotate in changing pairs, among the robes and garments of the figures in the central panel and the small predella images.

So how did the altarpiece end up in pieces? It stayed put in Perugia until 1663, when the convent, deeply in debt, sold the five small panels of the predella. Matters did not improve, and in 1677 the altarpiece's large central panel and lunette were also sold. And so this work became telling in another way. Divided, it moved through history like a series of barium tests through the body, accumulating a stupendous collective provenance and providing localized illuminations of the effects of war, revolution, greed, aesthetic passion and, of course, death. The owners came and went, but the panels kept moving.

Rare catalogs of auctions and princely collections highlight the altarpiece's post-convent progress, as do engravings of various owners. The five predella panels stayed together until 1798, when they appeared in a famous London auction that introduced the English public to Italian Renaissance painting. (The sometime art critic William Hazlitt wrote ecstatically that the scales had fallen from his eyes.) By the early 1800's the small, full-length images of St. Francis and St. Anthony had entered the collection of the Dulwich Gallery near London.

The central panel and lunette spent more than a century in the collection of the Colonna family in Rome — hence the name — and then nearly as long in the hands of the Spanish Bourbon kings of Naples and the two Sicilies. Between 1860 and 1896 they were famously and unsuccessfully for sale, sent on approval to the Louvre and the National Gallery in London and then stored ignominiously in the South Kensington Museum. Finally they were purchased by the British dealer Martin Colnaghi, whose descendants remain active in the art business, and soon sold to Jacques Sedelmeyer, a French dealer.

Isabella Stewart Gardner considered buying the central panel and lunette, but Bernard Berenson advised against it. Morgan bought them in 1901, without benefit of a consultant, the first time he saw them. He paid two million francs, a record at the time. By then Mrs. Gardner had settled on a different part of the altarpiece (with Berenson's approval): the predella's Pietà. The predella's elongated Procession to Calvary entered the collection of the National Gallery in London in 1913.

This exhibition illuminates the enduring proximity of art and money, which lately has been lamented as if invented last spring by young, opportunistic art-school graduates. And the strangest thing is that except for two small sins of omission committed nearly 350 years ago, none of it might have happened. Each time the Franciscan sisters wrote to the Vatican for permission, in contemporary lingo, to deaccession, they neglected to mention that the altarpiece was by Raphael. Had they been more forthcoming, permission might have been denied and the altarpiece still intact and peacefully on display in either the Vatican Museum in Rome or the National Gallery of Umbria in Perugia. It houses an altarpiece by Piero della Francesca once owned by the convent — still whole.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Paul Klee qoutes:

Beauty is as relative as light and dark. Thus, there exists no beautiful woman, none at all, because you are never certain that a still far more beautiful woman will not appear and completely shame the supposed beauty of the first.
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