An interesting Pieter Brueghel II painting came to our attention in late May of this year. Listed as “PIETER BRUEGHEL (attr. a)” in the June 1, 2016 auction catalog for the Genoa, Italy auction house Wannenes, this small 18 cm tondo work leapt from the catalog pages with its delicate brushwork and exacting execution. The work had an estimate of only €1,600 – €1,800, yet shimmered from the catalog pages.
Details such as the delicate red thread winding around the pants of one of the peasants was a clear sign that this work should not simply be attributed to Pieter Brueghel II, but was likely an original work by the artist. A quick review of Klaus Ertz’ catalog raisonne of Pieter Brueghel II showed that other similar works were painted by the artist and his workshop, but this clearly escaped the notice of the seller as well as Wannenes.
The day of the auction arrived, and when the lot (number 504) was put up for bid, prices quickly skyrocketed beyond the paltry estimate. Within a minute bidding was already over €30,000. The auction ended with the work selling for approximately €68,000 (€74,400 with buyer’s premium). We wondered how soon we would see the work at auction again, this time with a much larger price attached.
It didn’t take long for the work to reappear. Scarcely more than three months after the June 1 auction, the work has appeared again, to be sold by Dorotheum in Vienna on October 18, 2016. In a new frame and with a certificate of authenticity from world renowned Brueghel II expert Dr. Klaus Ertz, the work now carries an estimate for €180,000 – €220,000.
In the intervening moths the painting appears to have undergone cleaning, with some of the paint loss evident in the Wannenes version corrected and the overall work removed of centuries of grime (see comparison of images below).
Congratulations to the initial buyer who will likely be able to turn a tidy profit of €100,000 or more, depending on the final sale price. This is another classic example of how cleaning a painting, fitting it in a handsome new frame and, most importantly, authentication from Dr. Klaus Ertz can transform the value of a Bruegel II.
Version sold At Wannenes – June 2016
Version to be sold October 18, 2016 at Palais Dorotheum
Currie & Allart’s “The Brueg(h)el Phenomenon” monograph set which I wrote about recently has been an invaluable resource in conducting research about a Pieter Brueghel III painting.
As background, in preparation for a recent trip to Australia, I was interested in determining if any works derived from Bruegel the Elder were to be found on the continent. I learned of a “Peasant Wedding Dance,” attributed to Pieter Brueghel III, in the collection of the University of Melbourne.
According to the University of Melbourne’s catalog entry written by Dr. Jaynie Anderson … “In 1968 Professor Carl de Gruchy bought the work from the Pulitzer Gallery, London, which had bought it from a Dr. J. Henschen of Basel, Switzerland.” Denise de Gruchy gave the work to the University in memory of her brother in 1994. The work is thought to be from the early seventeenth-century (c. 1610), and is 116 X 138.5 cm on canvas. The Melbourne work is neither signed nor dated, and is currently displayed in the Karagheusian Room at University House (see below – “Peasant Wedding Dance” by Pieter Brueghel III, Melbourne Museum of Art Collection.)
I’ve been interested in learning more about Pieter Bruegel III’s paintings, since there is little known about the artist or his works. I’ve uncovered no monographs about him, and scant bibliographic information is available. It seems that Brueghel III was born in 1589 and is said to have first worked in, then later taken over, the workshop of his father, Pieter Brueghel the Younger.
Thanks to Currie & Allart’s detailed description of the painting, I learned that “Wedding Dance in the Open Air” (which has the same figural group as “Peasant Wedding Dance”) was a popular small-format (approx.. 40 cm X 60 cm on panel) work for Brueghel the Younger, with over 100 versions cataloged. The Melbourne version does not appear in Klaus Ertz’s (2000) or Georges Marlier’s (1969) catalogue raisonne of Brueghel the Younger, nor in Currie & Allart.
Most of the Brueghel the Younger compositions of “Wedding Dance in the Open Air” follow the format seen below, which Currie & Allart refer to as a “left handed” orientation (see below: “Wedding Dance in the Open Air” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Belgium)
However, an engraving after a presumably lost Bruegel the Elder painting as well as copies by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Bruegel’s contemporary Maerten van Cleve show a “right handed” orientation, which is the style of the Melbourne painting. If the Melbourne work is by Brueghel III, then he would have vastly increased the size of the work, reversed the format of his father’s work by painting a “right handed” version, and switched from panel to canvas. I have searched databases listing Brueghel II’s works, and found no other horizontal version of the painting by either Brueghel the Younger or Brueghel III that had a right hand orientation in the small format. (There is one vertical format signed by Pieter the Younger.)
Viewing the painting in person, it is certainly “Bruegelian,” but lacks the subtlety and painterly expertise of the other Pieter the Younger versions. The work is particularly unrefined in certain areas, such as in the middle right section of the work with the men near the tree. Further, the color of the clothing of the dancers in the Brueghel III work differ substantially from the colors in the Brueghel the Younger versions.
It is hoped that an X-radiograph can be created for the Melbourne work, which would provide additional insight. In addition, it would be helpful to view photographs of the reverse of the painting to learn if they would provide further clues regarding the creation of the painting. Finally, since the Brueghel the Younger versions were painted with a cartoon, it would be interesting to examine the work to attempt to determine if a scaled up cartoon was used.
Thanks to Currie & Allart’s monograph, I was able to very quickly do further research into this rare and interesting example of a Bruegel-related work in Australia.
(My gratitude to Dr. Jayne Anderson, Professor, Art History and Robyn Hovey, Collections Manager, The Ian Potter Museum of Art, for their generous assistance discussing and viewing this work.)