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Brueghel The Younger

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Book Review: Anonymous Art at Auction

The Reception of Early Flemish Paintings in the Western Art Market (1946–2015) by Anne-Sophie V. Radermecker

“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.

“Children’s Games” Variant – What Do We Know?

Over the past few months we have had an opportunity to study an interesting “Children’s Games” variant.

We have studied the infrared reflectography image taken, as well as an X-ray image and several images created with various light and dark shading.

Let’s review the images and discus what they reveal about the painting:

First, this image (below) clearly indicates that the painting is quite dirty through age and discoloration of varnish.

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This image (below) with light raking from the right side make clear the few small places on the painting which have been cleaned, so the bright colors of the original panel come through, such as in the upper right corner where the sky has been cleaned and the middle left, where the young girl has been cleaned.

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An ultraviolet light image (below)  shows clearly some of the damage to the painting that has occurred over the decades.  The most pronounced damage is along edge where the first and second panels were joined together.  There also is damage in the middle of the painting with a few scratches.

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One of the mysteries that we are trying to solve with this analysis is to determine when the painting was created.  The image below of raking light on the back of the painting clearly shows that the 3 boards which comprise the painting were created with saw-type tools, and don’t appear to be created by a machine.

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A recently published monograph “Frames and supports in 15th- and 16th-century southern netherlandish painting” by Hélène Verougstraete has been instructive in our analysis of the marks on the back of the panel.  This has been instructive relative to how the panel was created.  While none of the images in the monograph are an exact match, some, such as the figure a (page 33) appear to be somewhat close.

However, we aren’t able to date the panel with certainty based on this information.

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The image below clearly shows the repair that panel has undergone, most noticeably the increased support that the panel has had to repair and support the joining of the first two panels, where the damage in the other panels can readily be seen.

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We are continuing to examine this panel and look forward to sharing our findings here!

Summer Auction Highlights

The summer auction season is upon us, with Christie’s and Sotheby’s offering stellar works by Brueghel the Younger.

Massacre of the Innocents

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of most interesting works at auction is the version of “Massacre of the Innocents” at Christie’s.  It is interesting for the mystery related to the signature.  From the Lot Details:

“The form of the signature on the major versions is considered to be of significance in placing them within the chronologies of Pieter the Elder’s and Pieter the Younger’s oeuvres. The Royal Collection picture is signed ‘BRVEGEL’, which is now accepted as the Elder’s signature; the Vienna version is signed ‘BRVEG’ at the extreme right edge, although the letters ‘EL’ or ‘HEL’ may have been inadvertently trimmed off; a version in Bucharest is signed ‘P. BRVEGEL’. At the time of its sale in Paris in 1979, the present version appears to have born a fragmentary date in addition to the signature, ‘.BRVEGEL. 15..’ (see Campbell, op. cit., p. 15). We are grateful to Christina Currie of KIK/IRPA for noting that the present version is unusual in that it is signed with the signature form of Bruegel the Elder after 1559, ‘.BRVEGEL.’ without an ‘H’ and without the initial ‘P’. No other versions of the Massacre of the Innocents are securely known to be signed in this way; the implications of this for its primacy in the sequence of versions painted by Brueghel the younger remains to be established.”

What happened to the date on the painting?  Having the date on the work in 1979 but not present now is mysterious.  Was the painting subject to a botched cleaning?  Or, did a cleaning reveal that the date was likely false, and was it removed?  Hopefully this mystery will be solved soon.  Further, it will be very interesting to learn where this version sits in the multiple versions painted by Brueghel.

“Nord on Art” has a great write up of the upcoming Brueghel works at auction:

http://nordonart.wordpress.com/2012/06/14/brueghel-the-warhol-of-the-old-master-market/

 

 

Brueghel Auction Update – Fall 2011

There was big news in the Bruegel-verse, with the fall 2011 auction season generating a new record for a price paid for a Brueghel the Younger painting.  Brueghel expert Klaus Ertz called the version of “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent” which was sold “of masterly quality”, which certainly helped the work achieve a the record price of £6,873,250.

Of this sale, the New York Times’ Souren Melikian said:

“In the days of abundance, Pieter Brueghel the Younger’s vast allegory “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent” would not have aroused wild enthusiasm. No fewer than five versions of the subject have been recorded, of which three are from the painter’s own hand. These are not even original but are interpretations of Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s composition. On Dec. 7, 2006, “The Battle Between Carnival and Lent” cost £3.26 million at Christie’s. On Tuesday it rose to £6.87 million. The easy, large Brueghelian image appeals to a new generation of bidders loath to spend much time parsing the subtleties of great masters, whether in compositional inventiveness or the brilliance of brushwork.”

(NYT, 12/9/2011)