Saturday, 27 February 2021

Catalogues of Old Master Drawings


I have always enjoyed trawling auction catalogues for medieval manuscripts. Sometimes an entire catalogue is dedicated to medieval manuscripts, but more commonly a few medieval items are are listed together with later manuscripts, and/or printed books; sometimes there is only a single medieval leaf or cutting among hundreds of other items. The same applies to medieval manuscripts in the catalogues of rare book dealers; there are very few dealers in any generation who devote entire catalogues to medieval manuscripts.

When you find a medieval item in a catalogue that is mostly filled with other things, one of two situations typically applies. The most common situation is that the item is something very uninteresting, such as a leaf from a mediocre Book of Hours or choirbook. In a tiny minority of cases, however, you can find somethign much more interesting, and because it is hidden among lots of non-medieval material, it is likely to have been overlooked by most other medievalists. It is these discoveries that makes the hours of fruitless page-turning worthwhile.

It was only relatively late -- about four or five years ago -- that I realised how often medieval illuminated leaves and cuttings can also be found in auction and dealer catalogues of Old Master Drawings  -- a type of catalogue that I had previously ignored. This post provides a few examples.

The miniature at the top of this post, and the two immediately below, come from the catalogue of the collection of Highly Important Old Master Drawings ... Collected by the late Mrs Irma N. Straus and her Late Husband Ambassador Jesse Isidore Straus, at Parke-Bernet Galleries, New York, 21 October 1970.

All three miniatures come from the collection of Edouard Kann, whom we met in November. They were nos. 21 and 8 respectively in the 1926 catalogue by Boinet, and in the 1927 Wildenstein exhibition catalogue. Apart from their appearance at the 1970 auction, I know nothing else about their whereabouts since 1927.
EDIT, 28 Feb. 2021
Jörn Günther has kindly contacted me to let me know that he owned these two Simon Bening miniatures a few years ago; they are now in a private collection. He also sent me colour images and his description, from which I learn that they were formerly in the collection of the American writer Mabel McAfee (1884-1976) [NY Times obituary; behind paywall] and her husband, the art collector and army officer Sir Edmund Vivian Gabriel (1875-1950) [Wikipedia]:


Also from the Straus collection, but not from Edouard Kann, were these two leaves:

The following day, Parke-Bernet had another sale of Fine Old Master Drawings From American Collections (i.e. other than the Straus collection), which included two cuttings by our old friend the Master B.F., as lots 58 and 59:

These must be the two initials that formed lot 130 in the auction of the Northwick Park collection in 1925:
"The Presentation in the Temple ... signed B.F. ... Christ and a Disciple ..."

They can therefore confidently be identified as lots 81 and 89 in the 1838 Ottley sale:
81  The Presentation to the Temple, marked B. F., splendidly gilt and coloured 
89  Christ calling Peter, with picturesque back-ground
Both were bought by Rodd in 1838 (as were most of the other cuttings that formed the Northwick Park collection), and both were bought by Maggs in 1925 (which suggests that they both went to the same client, who kept them together until 1970).  To the best of my knowledge, these are the only known reproductions of these two cuttings.

Another cutting that could possibly come from the early 19th-century Celotti or Ottley collections is this one, offered in 1973, also in New York, by the drawings dealer Herbert E. Feist:

Perhaps my most intersting find in a dealer catalogue of drawings (Paul Prouté, Paris, 1980), is this pair of Bible leaves:

The full story would take too  long to tell here, but in brief: I recognised these as coming from the Léau Bible. They had been stolen from the Grand Seminaire of Liège at an unknown date between 1972 and 1993, and appeared separately on the market in the early 1990s and early 2000s.

Thanks in part to Judith Oliver, who had examined them in situ -- still within the Bible -- in 1972, they were eventually returned to Liège, and the discovery of the above catalogue narrowed-down to an eight-year period the date at which they must have been removed from their parent volume.

1 comment:

  1. Nicholas Herman2 March 2021 at 09:10

    Hi Peter,
    The two French Renaissance leaves here, the Birth of the Virgin and All Saints, appear to be from the same book as a leaf in a private collection in the US with a miniature showing a man in prayer before the House of Loretto, by Étienne Colaud or his workshop. The leaf was included in my "Making the Renaissance Manuscript: Discoveries from Philadelphia Libraries" exhibition last year. Cat 37, pp. 152-153 in the catalogue.

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