“What’s in a name?” Not in the Romeo and Juliet sense, but in terms of old master paintings, we know that an artist’s name is inextricably tied to a work’s market value. A work authenticated as painted by “Pieter Brueghel the Younger” commands a massive premium compared to a work whose authorship is listed as “after Pieter Brueghel the Younger” or “school of Pieter Brueghel the Younger.”
But when a work of art cannot be definitively tied to an artist, are there factors of an anonymous painting that impacts the price the work can command in the marketplace? This question is explored in a fascinating new volume, “Anonymous Art at Auction: The Reception of Early Flemish Paintings in the Western Art Market (1946 – 2015),” by Anne-Sophie V. Radermecker (Brill, 2021). This is a must-read for those who want to better understand the features that impact the market value of anonymous Flemish art.
Radermecker was a co-author of a 2017 article, “The Value Added by Arts Experts: The Case of Klaus Ertz and Pieter Brueghel the Younger,” which researched the impact of an art expert’s opinion on the market price for Brueghel the Younger’s paintings at auction. The authors concluded that when Klaus Ertz, the author of Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s catalog raisonne, provided authentication for a Brueghel work, it had a meaningful impact on the price paid. Buyers paid roughly 60 percent more for works authenticated by Klaus Ertz than works without authentication.
Radermecker’s current monograph makes clear from the outset that an artist’s name is the equivalent of a “brand.” But what about the thousands of paintings for which the artist in unknown? The book details the market reception of indirect names, provisional names, and spatiotemporal designations, which are identification strategies that experts and art historians have developed to overcome anonymity.
Building a brand name during an artist’s lifetime was clearly important, conveying three key attributes: recognition, reputation, and popularity. But because many paintings were not signed, the scholarly community used stand-in authorship titles for works that were painted by the same artist or studio.
These stand-ins for names act as identifiers and play a role in determining a work’s economic value. Example of stand-ins for names include “Master of the female Half-Lengths,” “Master of the Legend of Saint Lucy,” and “Master of the Prado Redemption.” This volume points out that value increases when works are ascribed to a painter, in the form of a stand-in name, when the true author’s name is not known.
By ascribing identities for works without named authors, authorship uncertainty is reduced, and new, alternative brands are created. The reduction of authorship uncertainty leads a buyer to feel more confidence in a work, which adds to buyer’s willingness to pay higher prices. Interestingly, the author suggests that the somewhat haphazard nature of application of name labels over the period of the study (1946 – 2015) was a stumbling block that diminished the efficacy of labels.
The author defines a broad set of stakeholders, including art historians, experts, curators, restorers, dealers, etc., who are involved in proposing and establishing names for otherwise anonymous artists. The author makes the point that while the motives of parties from the scholarly field are not theoretically commercial in nature, they must understand their considerable impact on the market.
Further, Radermecker makes the case for the impact of the scholarly field when ascribing certain works as “significant” or disparaging works by referring to their authors as “minor masters” or “pale copyists.” The role of museums as authorities is discussed in the context of historicizing and legitimizing artistic output. The author argues that museums can place artist brands as well as anonymous artist in context and help the general public understand the value conveyed by artist brands.
The book details the curious fact that an objectively lower-quality work linked to a known artist (and their brand) can command significantly higher price than a higher-quality work that is not connected with secure authorship or artist brand.
Further complicating authorship is the very real studio environment in which Netherlandish artists worked. The old master as a “lonely genius” which solely created paintings is a very nineteenth-century notion and colors the market still today. Research conducted over the past 50 years has shown that most artists did not work alone but were frequently part of a larger workshop. The attribution of many paintings continues to be given to a sole artist when the actual participation of the artist and their workshop often varied greatly.
A case is made for anonymous works providing an alternative artistic experience than those of brand name artists. Without artist’s names, the viewer (and potential buyer) focuses on the physical object and its properties in order to provide an option on the work, which then leads to a value determination.
In an intriguing chapter titled “Paintings without Names,” the market reception of painting that lack all nominal designations was analyzed. A sample of 1,578 auction sales results were put through regression analysis, with the finding that works labeled “Netherlandish” were, on average, 22.6% more expensive than works labeled “Flemish.” Further, works that contain the names of locations where major masters settled and created their work also led to higher valuations. Specifically, works labeled “Antwerp” and “Bruges” commanded +30.6% and +59.2% higher prices. The author concludes that these city names not only function as a location of origin, but also as a label of quality related to the artistic hub.
The author has created a nomenclature made up of eight designations that each had a different impact upon sale price, depending on the specificity of the information provided. Designations specifying a work’s location of production led to prices that are higher on average, as noted above. The author also found that 3 other factors were correlated with higher prices – the work’s state of preservation, the length of catalog notes (which in theory correlate to an expert’s potential involvement) and the mention of earlier attributions.
Radermecker‘s thorough analysis and thought-provoking conclusions provide stakeholders (particularly auction houses) with valuable information to leverage when working to maximize the price paid for anonymous artworks.
The new monograph, Bruegel The Master, published by Thames & Hudson, is a highly engaging tour through Pieter Bruegel The Elder’s print and painting oeuvre. Published in conjunction with the recently concluded exhibition in Vienna, the monograph details Bruegel’s corpus of prints and paintings. Best of all, the monograph includes recent research into Bruegel’s painting techniques undertaken in advance of the Vienna exhibition.
Many Bruegel monographs divide his output by format, with separate sections on his prints and paintings. Bruegel The Master instead weaves both print and paintings together in a roughly chronological review of his output, while delving into the fascinating process undertaken by Bruegel to create his masterpieces. The monograph details Bruegel’s painting techniques, which differed greatly between works. For example, his earlier painted works, such as Children’s Games, The Battle Between Carnival and Lent and Christ Carrying the Cross, have precise, mechanical figure contours, suggesting the transfer of image using a cartoon. In contract, Bruegel’s later works, such as his series of the months (which include The Return of the Heard and The Gloomy Day), have loose and sketchy underdrawings. For these later works, Bruegel’s painting process could only have been possible by preparing a precise conception of the painting prior to beginning his work.
One of the biggest revelations in Bruegel the Master is that many of his paintings were cut down from their original size. Such well-known works as The Suicide of Saul, The Tower of Babel, and The Conversion of Saul are specific examples of works that were altered. The reason for their being cut down remains an intriguing mystery yet to be solved.
The monograph is rife with comparisons, using infrared reflectograms, between the final painting and the preparatory under drawing. This analysis draws the reader into the book and asks them to study the images carefully. For example, a corpse visible in the under drawing of Children’s Games is covered by paint in the final paint layer, as are two children lying on the ground in front of a church, which was also overpainted.
Several works were cleaned in preparation for the exhibit. Some of the cleaning, such as for The Suicide of Saul, is dramatically presented in the book, shown mid-cleaning.
There are five additional essays available online that can be unlocked with a code found in the monograph. These essays take a deeper dive into aspects of Bruegel’s art, including Bruegel’s creative process, his painting materials and techniques, and the history of the works now in Vienna.
It would be nearly impossible for those interested in early Renaissance art history not to be thoroughly engaged by this monograph, as it engages readers in both new historical findings and timeless Bruegelian imagery.
This monograph is an indispensable addition to Bruegel art historical literature.
We were fortunate enough to obtain an exclusive preview of the upcoming event, “The Bruegel Success Story,” to be held 12-14 September 2018 in Brussels, Belgium. (http://conf.kikirpa.be/bruegel2018/) This can’t-miss conference kicks off a number of activities celebrating the life and work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder, who died 450 years ago. We corresponded with one of the conference organizers, Dr. Christina Currie, Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA), who gave us this exciting preview of the conference:
1) What led to focusing on Bruegel and his family for this conference?
The year 2019 is the 450th anniversary of Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s death. In Belgium and in Vienna, this is being marked by a series of events that will celebrate his career and his influence on later generations. The Bruegel Success Story conference, organised by the Royal Institute for Cultural Heritage (KIK-IRPA) in collaboration with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts in Belgium, will kick off this season of activities and will give a riveting context for all the subsequent Bruegel themed happenings.
2) What will attendees of the conference learn?
Attendees will be exposed to the very latest in Bruegel research through the eyes of experts from all around the world. Eminent keynote speakers Leen Huet (Belgium), Elizabeth Honig (USA) and Matt Kavaler (Canada) will introduce each of the three days. Over the course of the conference, presentations will cover the life and work of Pieter Bruegel the Elder as well as that of his artistic progeny, including the astonishingly exact replicas of his paintings produced by his elder son Pieter Brueghel the Younger and the exquisite paintings of his younger son Jan Brueghel the Elder. Fascinating new findings on the creative process of Bruegel the Elder as well as that of his dynasty will be presented for the first time, thanks to new high resolution scientific imagery. But the conference does not neglect the essential meaning behind these beautiful works of art. Several speakers will concentrate specifically on the interpretation of Bruegel’s paintings and drawings, which can be quite subversive when seen in an historical context. Interesting new facts about the life, family and homes of the Bruegel family will also be revealed.
3) Who should attend this conference?
The Bruegel Success Story is intended for all art lovers with an interest in Flemish painting and particularly those attracted to Bruegelian themes such as peasant dances, landscapes, proverbs and maniacal scenes. Students of art history, art historians, restorers and collectors should not pass up this opportunity.
3) There are a number of papers focusing on Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s painting “Dulle Griet.” Why is that painting receiving attention now?
The Dulle Griet, in the collection of the Mayer van den Bergh Museum in Antwerp, has just undergone the most thorough conservation treatment in its recent history. This has brought to light many original features that were previously hidden behind a murky brown varnish and overpaint. The restoration, carried out at the Royal Institute for Cultural Institute in Brussels, was accompanied by in-depth technical examination that resulted in fascinating discoveries about Bruegel the Elder’s creative process. The conference attendees will hear how this great artist conceived, developed and painted this bizarre macabre composition. Leen Huet, one of the keynote speakers and author of a sensational recent biography on Bruegel the Elder, will delve into the hidden meaning behind the Dulle Griet.
4) One of the biggest bombshells in recent years was the revelation in your book (“The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon”) that Bruegel the Elder’s two versions of “Landscape with the Fall of Icarus” were not painted by Bruegel the Elder. Will there be similar surprises unveiled at the conference?
I can say that attributions will be debated during the conference. This is always the case when a group of experts on a particular artist or dynasty get together. And it can lead to sparks flying as opinions naturally diverge!
5) There has also been a good deal of investigation into Bruegel’s extended family lately. What will attendees learn about Bruegel’s family at the conference?
Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s paintings were so loved that his son and heir Pieter Brueghel the Younger made his entire career out of producing replicas for an insatiable art market in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth century. Jan Brueghel, his younger brother, updated the family tradition, branching out into flower paintings, allegories and mythological themes. The next generation produced several renowned painters too, including Abraham Brueghel, who traded on the family name. The paintings of the Bruegel dynasty, as well as those of lesser-known artists working in the Bruegel tradition in the Low Countries and abroad, will feature amongst the exciting new material presented during the conference.
A blockbuster conference containing the latest research on the Bruegel / Brueghel family of painters is being held this fall in Brussels. Many of the leading Bruegel scholars are presenting new findings related to the Bruegel dynasty.
Discoveries related to the Bruegel clan – including patriarch Pieter the Elder, sons Pieter Brueghel the Younger and Jan Brueghel the Elder and other members of the family – will be presented at the symposium. One of the highlights will be presentations related to Pieter Bruegel’s “Dulle Griet,” a painting in Antwerp which has recently undergone extensive investigation, research and cleaning.
The Bruegel / Brueghel clan continues to be top draws at museums and set records at auction (including toping high estimates at this week’s Old Master’s auctions in London).
Registration is open now for this impressive symposium.
More information and registration at http://conf.kikirpa.be/bruegel2018/.
Conference Venue: Royal Museum of Fine Arts of Belgium, Place du Musée, B-1000 Brussels.
12 September 2018, WEDNESDAY
9:00 – 9:45 Registration at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
9:45 – 10:00 Welcome by Hilde De Clercq, director of the KIK-IRPA and Michel Draguet, director of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
CHAIR Lieve Watteeuw
10:00 – 10:40 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Leen Huet, The Surprises of Dulle Griet
10:40 – 11:00 Larry Silver, Sibling Rivalry: Jan Brueghel’s Rediscovered Early Crucifixion
11:00 – 11:20 Véronique Bücken, The Adoration of the Kings in the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium: Overview and new perspectives
11:20 – 11:30 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:30 – 12:00
CHAIR Dominique Allart
12:00 – 12:20 Yao-Fen You, Ellen Hanspach-Bernal, Christina Bisulca and Aaron Steele, The Afterlife of the Detroit Wedding Dance: Visual Reception, Alterations and Reinterpretation
12:20 – 12:40 Manfred Sellink, Marie Postec and Pascale Fraiture, Dancing with the bride – a little studied copy after Bruegel the Elder
12.40 – 13.00 Mirjam Neumeister and Eva Ortner, Examination of the Brueghel holdings in the Alte Pinakothek/Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Munich
13:00 – 13:10 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 13:10 – 14:30
CHAIR Elizabeth Honig
14:30 – 14:50 Amy Orrock, Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Oil Sketches of Animals and Birds: Form, Function and Additions to the Oeuvre
14:50 – 15:10 René Lommez Gomes, Regarding the Character of Each Animal. An essay on form and colour in non-European fauna painted by Jan Brueghel the Elder
15:10 – 15:30 Uta Neidhardt, The Master of the Dresden “Landscape with the Continence of Scipio” – a journeyman in the studio of Jan Brueghel the Elder?
15:30 – 15:40 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 15:40 – 16:10
CHAIR Bart Fransen
16.10 – 17.10 Christina Currie, Steven Saverwyns, Livia Depuydt, Pascale Fraiture, Jean-Albert Glatigny and Alexia Coudray, Lifting the veil: The Dulle Griet rediscovered through conservation, scientific imagery and analysis
Christina Currie, Steven Saverwyns, Sonja Brink, Dominique Allart, The coloured drawing of the Dulle Griet in the Kunstpalast, Dusseldorf: new findings on its status and dating
Dominique Allart and Christina Currie, Bruegel’s painting technique reappraised through the Dulle Griet
17:10 – 17:20 Discussion
18.00 Opening reception in Brussels Town Hall (Gothic and Marriage rooms)
13 September 2018, THURSDAY
9:00 Doors open
CHAIR Ethan Matt Kavaler
9:30 – 10:10 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Elizabeth Honig, Copia: Jan Brueghel and the Rhetoric and Practice of Abundance
10:10 – 10:30 Yoko Mori, Is Bruegel’s Sleeping Peasant an Image of Caricature?
10:30 – 10:50 Jamie Edwards, Erasmus’s De Copia and Bruegel the Elder’s ‘inverted’ Carrying of the Cross (1564): An ‘abundant style’ in Rhetoric, Literature and Art?
10:50 – 11:00 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:00 – 11:30
CHAIR Leen Huet
11:30 – 11:50 Tine Meganck, Behind Bruegel: how “close viewing” may reveal original ownership
11:50 – 12:10 Annick Born, Behind the scenes in Pieter Bruegel’s success story: the network of the in-laws and their relatives
12:10 – 12:30 Petra Maclot, In Search of the Bruegel’s Homes and Workshops in Antwerp
12:30 – 12:40 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 12:40 – 14:40
CHAIR Christina Currie
14:40 – 15:00 Lieve Watteeuw, Marina Van Bos, Joris Van Grieken and Maarten Bassens, ‘View on the Street of Messina’, circle of Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Drawing techniques and materials examined
15:00 – 15:20 Maarten Bassens, “Diet wel aenmerct, die siet groot wondere”. Retracing Pieter Bruegel’s printing press(es) by means of a typographical inquiry
15:20 – 15:40 Edward Wouk, Pieter Bruegel’s Subversive Drawings
15:40 – 15:50 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 15:50 – 16:20
CHAIR Valentine Henderiks
16:20 – 16:40 Jürgen Muller, Pieter Bruegel’s “The Triumph of Death” revisited
16:40 – 17:00 Jan Muylle, A lost painting of Pieter Bruegel, The Hoy
17:00 – 17:20 Hilde Cuvelier, Max J. Friedländer’s perception of Bruegel: Rereading the connoisseur with historical perspective
17:20 – 17:30 Discussion
14 September 2018, FRIDAY
9.00 Doors open
CHAIR Manfred Sellink
9:30 – 10:10 KEYNOTE LECTURE: Ethan Matt Kavaler, Peasant Bruegel and his Aftermath
10:10 – 10:30 Christina Currie and Dominique Allart, The creative process in the Triumph of Death by Pieter Bruegel the Elder and creative solutions in two versions by his sons
10:30 – 10:50 Anne Haack Christensen, David Buti, Arie Pappot, Eva de la Fuente Pedersen and Jørgen Wadum, The father, the son, the followers: Six Brueg(h)els in Copenhagen examined
10:50 – 11:00 Discussion
COFFEE BREAK 11:00 – 11:30
CHAIR Dominique Vanwijnsberghe
11:30 – 11:50 Lorne Campbell, Bruegel and Beuckelaer: contacts and contrasts
11:50 – 12:10 Patrick Le Chanu, Pieter Bruegel the Elder and France
12:10 – 12:30 Daan van Heesch, Hercules et simia: the Peculiar Afterlife of Bruegel in Sixteenth-Century Segovia
12:30 – 12:50 Francesco Ruvolo, The Painter and the Prince. Abraham Brueghel and Don Antonio Ruffo. Artistic and cultural relations in Messina from the seventeenth century. With unpublished documents
12:50 – 13:00 Discussion
LUNCH BREAK 13:00 – 14:30
CHAIR Véronique Bücken
14.30 – 14.50 Lucinda Timmermans, Painted ‘teljoren’ by the Bruegel family
14:50 – 15:10 Pascale Fraiture and Ian Tyers, Dendrochronology and the Bruegel dynasty
15:10 – 15:30 Jørgen Wadum and Ingrid Moortgat, An enigmatic panel maker from Antwerp and his supply to the Brueghels
15:30 – 15:50 Ron Spronk, Elke Oberthaler, Sabine Pénot, and Manfred Sellink, with Alice Hoppe Harnoncourt, The Two Towers: Pieter Bruegel’s Tower of Babel panels in Vienna and Rotterdam
15:50 – 16.00 Discussion
16:00 – 16:10 Closing Remarks: Christina Currie and Dominque Allart
Several weeks ago I wrote about the catalog for the exhibit Bruegel Defining a Dynasty by Amy Orrock. Now, having seen the exhibit firsthand, I can confirm what I suspected after reading the catalog; that the exhibit, presented by outgoing museum director Jennifer Scott, is a marvelous exploration of the Bruegel family brought vividly to life.
Smartly, the exhibit begins with an overview of the Bruegel family tree, showing the relations of family members whose paintings will be viewed in the coming rooms.
A work from the genius at the top of the family tree, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, greets us as we enter the first room. The Adoration of the Kings, 1564, is Bruegel at his finest, a visual feast for the eyes along with not-subtle commentary that reflects how some on-lookers appeared to be more interested in the gifts brought for Christ than the child himself.
One of the exhibition’s aims was to show that Pieter the Elder’s two male children, Pieter the Younger and Jan the Elder, were not simply copyists, but added their own personalities to scenes that their father first painted. Comparing Jan the Elder’s version of The Adoration of the Kings, for example, is a wonderful example of how Jan adjusted and enhanced his father’s composition, by adding elements like a town in the background and details of the dilapidated stable where the scene is set.
The Bruegel exhibit also showcases works painted outside of the family, such as the version of Netherlandish Proverbs included here. This work is intriguing because it omits one fourth of the proverbs found in Bruegel the Elder’s painting. Further, it is much smaller than the copies made by Pieter the Younger and his studio, and does not contain the characteristic underdrawing found in Pieter the Younger’s works. Scientific analysis indicates that it was produced at approximately the same time as the works by Pieter the Younger’s studio in the early seventeenth century. However, this work contains aspects of the completed Bruegel the Elder painting that are not included in Pieter the Younger’s copies. This means that while Bruegel the Younger did not have access to his father’s completed painting, the painter of this work did have access. How non-family members could have accessed the painting is just one of the mysteries discussed in the exhibit.
Family members showed their expertise with other genres such as still lifes, which Jan the Elder and Jan the Younger were undisputed masters. Jan Brueghel the Elder’s grandson, Jan van Kessel, is represented in four small paintings that depict insects set against a light background. The pictures gleam through the copper substructure, with the insects painted in minute detail.
There are many mysteries still to be solved within the family, such as what was Pieter Bruegel III’s role in his father Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s workshop. Exhibits like this one allow us to revel in the depth and breadth of the family’s output, and consider the many mysteries still be examined.
(Bruegel: Defining a Dynasty at the Holburne Museum, Bath, England, February 11 – June 4, 2017 £10 Full Price | £9 concessions | £5 Art Fund, Full Time Student | FREE Entry to under 16s and All Museum Members)
Bosch and Bruegel: From Enemy Painting to Everyday Life
By Joseph Leo Koerner
Princeton University Press, 2016
Koerner’s beautifully illustrated book focuses on the rise of secular European art after centuries’ of religious-themed works. He chronicles the growth of secular painting, which later became known as “genre painting,” or works which portray everyday European life. Koerner’s thesis is that the transition to secular painting had its roots in Bosch’s depictions of demons and phantasmagoric creatures, which were representations of human weakness and sin (referred to as “enemy painting”). Bruegel’s paintings, 50 years after Bosch, also contained “undesirable” images, but instead of fantastic creatures, Bruegel focused on human foolishness in his depictions of peasants dancing and other imprudent antics.
Koerner constructs a compelling argument for this thesis, which is greatly enhanced by the book’s abundant images from both Bosch and Bruegel’s paintings. Koerner demonstrates that surviving paintings by both artists show a commonality of subjects; demons, fools, and knaves (“gluttons, lazybones, drunkards, dupes, thieves, bullies, charlatans and quacks”). Lost paintings by Bosch also included subjects that are now closely associated with Bruegel, including “peasant dances and peasant weddings, a huge Battle between Carnival and Lent, a Tower of Babylon, a feast of Saint Martin and works on linen of beggars, merrymakers” and others. As Koerner notes, Bosch appears to have painted nearly all of the subjects now typically associated with European genre painting.
Not only was Bosch and Bruegel’s subject matter similar, but the gestalt of the paintings were also parallel. A bird’s-eye point of view is common to both artist’s compositions. In addition, Bosch and Bruegel filled their works with richly detailed, intricate figures. Their paintings overload our senses with characters and figures that seem to stretch far beyond the limits of the physical works. Further to the similarity of the two artist’s paintings, Koerner points out that until fairly recently, major works by Bruegel were attributed to Bosch, including “The Triumph of Death” in the Prado and “The Fall of The Rebel Angels” in Brussels.
Bosch and Bruegel’s painterly styles were similar too, in that both artists allowed the ground paint layer to penetrate the upper paint layer in certain sections, contributing to the final look of the pictures.
Koerner connects the two artists via their patrons as well. Both were sought out by the elite of their day, including high-ranking politicians and famous humanists. Bosch and Bruegel frequently signed their works, which was not typical of artists of this time period (with the exception of Jan van Eyck).
Koerner spends equal time discussing the artist’s differences as well, stating that “no one makes Bosch seem more historically remote than does Bruegel.” With Bosch, the enemy is the Devil and sin, while Bruegel demonstrated that “genuine evil flourishes in the activity of ordinary people.”
The second two-thirds of the book are comprised of detailed sections relating the life and artistic output of first Bosch, then Bruegel. Koerner reviews key works from both artists and how these works fit into the themes of the book. For Bosch, Koerner zeros in on The Garden of Earthly Delights, which to this day continues to baffle viewers trying to “crack the code” of this enigmatic work. In a later chapter Koerner focuses on Bruegel’s The Magpie on the Gallows, tying this work back to Bosch’s heaven and hell imagery, with peasants dancing beneath the gallows.
Koerner convincingly links Bosch and Bruegel together as the originators of “genre scenes” and brings a fresh perspective to both artist’s works, tying them to the larger context of subsequent European paintings. This book is an excellent addition to both Bosch and Bruegel scholarship, leaving the reader with an even greater admiration of these two towering artist’s talents.
Recently we’ve been given the opportunity to examine first hand a very interesting copy of Bruegel’s Children’s Games. The painting is large – 28″ X 39″, seemingly painted on a single panel (or two panels), potentially painted on larch (birch).
Below is the original version from 1560
Below is the copy from ?
What makes this copy so interesting is how it diverges from Bruegel’s original. There are many Children’s games that are missing from the copy, as seen in the illustrations below.
Figures that appear in both versions are in yellow. Those not highlighted are missing from the curious copy:
This blog will document the research done on this painting to ascertain when it was painted, and potentially who painted it.
We love a detective hunt!
It comes to no surprise to any collector that a firm attribution to an painter positively impacts a painting’s value. But what does this mean in the world of Bruegel / Brueghel? The recent attribution of “Wine on St. Martin’s Day” to Bruegel the Elder from a previous attribution of Brueghel the Younger catipulted this painting’s value to 25M Euros if sold on the open market (1). An upcoming auction for Brueghel the Younger’s “The Wedding Dance” at Palais Dorotheum on October 21, 2014 will test the value of attribution for his son, in one of Bruegel / Brueghel’s most popular painting motifs.
In February of last year at rather rough looking painting of “The Wedding Dance” was put up for auction at Bill Hood and Sons in Florida in the USA.
This work, “attributed to Brueghel the Younger” was estimated at $10,000, but on the day of the auction soared above the estimate to land at a sale price of $21,000.
In the time since the auction, the painting was carefully restored, and the owner (or Palais Dorotheum, the seller) worked with the preminant scholar in the area of Brueghel the Younger, Klaus Ertz, to determine whether the work was an autograph Brueghel the Younger.
The Dorotheum website explains the attribution, “The present painting was analysed using X-ray technology and infrared reflectology. The analysis found that the pigment matched that usually used by Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Furthermore, the manner of working is that of Pieter Brueghel; the wooden panel was prepared using a white chalk base and the imprimatura was applied on the diagonal using a wide brush, as is the case with most of Brueghel’s paintings. The entire composition was meticulously sketched on to the prepared panel. In the underdrawing there are multiple pentimenti.” (The phrase “meticulously sketched” is interesting, since Christina Currie and Dominique Allart in “The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon” show that Brueghel the Younger and his workshop typically used pouncing to transfer images from the preparatory cartoon to the surface of the paining. Hopefully Currie and Allart can examine this painting to tell us more about how the image was tranferred, since it is only one of two examples of this scene in round (“tondi”) form.)
The Dorotheum description concludes by stating, “The present painting is of an exceedingly high quality and should be considered among Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s masterpieces.”
In other words, the attribution raises the price from $21,000 to up to $378,000 (the high end of the sales estimate, which I think this painting will achieve.)
Below is an image of the restored patining on sale at the auction.
A wonderful new exhibition at the Royal Cornwall Museum from September 20 to November 8 2014 explores Bruegel the Elder via art created by Laurence Smith.
From the introduction:
Pieter Bruegel the Elder (c.1525-1569) was a Flemish artist who illustrated
people’s everyday lives and the worlds they inhabited. His work is often seen
as being one of the earliest forms of social satire in art history.
In the drawing Nobody and Somebody (1558) the character of Nobody
is shown staring at himself in a mirror, below Bruegel has written the line
“Nobody looks at himself”. Bruegel loved to turn proverbs into pictures and in
doing so held his own mirror up to what he saw as the foolishness of society.
Bruegel was predominantly known for his large, colourful oil paintings of, what
were known as, ‘peasant scenes’. These were commissioned by wealthy
patrons and rarely seen in public. However, many of his drawings were made
into engravings allowing them to be reproduced and seen by a far wider
Laurence Smith has made a study of Bruegel’s little known graphic works and
turned some of these drawings and engravings into oil paintings whilst trying
to mirror the colour and energy of Bruegel’s paintings. Enlarged and vividly
coloured Bruegel’s highly detailed graphic images can now be seen like never
Pieter Bruegel the Elder wanted to hold up a theatrical mirror in order for us to
see our own selves, with all our virtues and vices, reflected back at us.
Of course it is not unusual to find a Brueghel painting in a public art collection, or in a private museum, or, increasingly, in the residence of a wealthy citizen of Russia. What is unusual is finding a Brueghel in an out of the way location. In what is perhaps the strangest setting in which I’ve seen a Bruegel, recently I visited the Church of Saint-Severin Paris’ Latin Quarter knowing that this church had a large format Brueghel, The Crucifixion.
Upon entering the typically fairly dark interior of the Roman Catholic church, I scanned the walls for the painting. I wasn’t surprised that I did not see it, since I expected that it might be in one of the small chapels of the church.
After circling the church several times and not seeing the painting, I noticed an open door into a sort of closet, or anti-chamber, where there was activity. It appeared that the church was preparing for a concert performance.
Amid the activity I stepped into the small room, scanned the walls, and much to my surprise, just above the door to another room, was the painting. It hung approximately 15 feet above floor level and gleamed luminously. While members of the choir were running in and out of the room, I stood back and took in the painting. It was fantastic, large, and had the attributes of a typical Brueghel work.
The painting is similar to other versions of the painting, showing Christ and two others being crucified in a large format landscape. A city extends further in the distance with the temple of Jerusalem. A field of wheat can be viewed behind the figure on the left. In the background two peaks can be seen connected by a natural bridge. Marlier notes that in this version of the painting, the sky is darker than in other versions. It is thought that this painting is a copy after a lost work by the elder Bruegel.
As the activity in the small church room was dying down, it appeared that a concert performer was preparing to lock the door and wanted me to leave. I exited the room, and the door was closed behind me.
I wondered if my visit hadn’t coincided with musicians preparing for a performance, if I would have been able to see the painting. It seemed like the door to this room was normally closed, and only happened to be open because of the performers preparing for the concert.
In life, as with seeing Bruegel/Brueghel paintings, timing is everything. Particularly when there is a Brueghel in a broom closet-like setting.