Sunday, 28 February 2016

"The Property of a Gentleman": Gustav Nebehay (1881–1935)

Some months ago, Consuelo Dutschke very generously gave me some old auction and dealer catalogues, including Sotheby's, 14-16 June, 1926:

Lots 116150 were sold as "An Important Collection of Fine Illuminations, The Property of a Gentleman". I recognise some of them from the plates in the catalogue.

Lot 117, for example, is now Gulbenkian M. 1, and is described by François Avril in the forthcoming catalogue of the collection:
in which he also records that four leaves from the same manuscript were in the collection of Henry Yates Thompson, one of which is now at the British Library:
BL, Yates Thompson MS 25 [Source]
Lot 122:
is now Getty Museum, MS 13:
Lots 124 and 125:
are cuttings from a Boccaccio, Des cleres et nobles femmes made for Jacques d'Armagnac, now in New York Public Library (Spencer MS 33):
[Source: Digital Scriptorium]
Lots 138-141 are four miniatures from a choirbook, the first of which:
was in Maggs catalogue 802 (Seven Centuries of Colour), 1951, no.13 (ill.); and was more recently sold at Sotheby's, 7 July 2009, lot 108:
Lot 148:
is now in the Wildenstein Collection, Paris:

According to Brigitte Buettner in the New York Public Library exhibition catalogue (The Splendor of the Word, 2005, p.421), the anonymous vendor of the Boccaccio cuttings was Gustav Nebehay.

Although I had never heard of him before, we can find out a lot about him, and the circumstances surrounding the sale of his illuminated manuscript cuttings and leaves, from a biography written by his son, Christian M. Nebehay, Die goldeneden Sessel meines Vaters: Gustav Nebehay (1881–1935), Antiquar und Kunsthändler in Leipzig, Wien und Berlin (Vienna, 1983), in which there is a chapter about "Der Verkauf der Sammlung mittelalterlicher Miniaturen meines Vaters", which took place at Sotheby's "Im Sommer 1926", and "im Katalog der Versteigerung zu lesen stand: 'The property of a gentleman'". Although he states that the prices realised were disappointing, I have seen a copy of the sale catalogue in which the anonymous vendor is not only identified as Nebehay, but there is also a pre-sale list of the prices which he hoped to achieve: in most cases the lots actually made far more than he was expecting.

As the image at the top of this post shows, the cuttings and leaves were sold "in fine old frames of carved wood or other materials". A cutting recently sold in Cleveland, said to come from Nebehay, but apparently not in the 1926 sale, may give an indication of what one such frame looked like:

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