Press Release  September 10, 2018

Sotheby's Presents Extensive Selling Exhibition of Old Masters

Courtesy Sotheby's

Rudolf Wiegmann, Rome, A View of the River Tiber Looking South with the Castel Sant’Angelo and Saint Peter’s Basilica Beyond, 1834, oil on canvas

Hong Kong -- From September 28 to October 3, Sotheby’s will present A Brush with Nature - the most extensive selling exhibition ever staged in Asia dedicated entirely to European Old Master paintings and drawings.  

Showcasing 46 works, representing all the major fields of this great Western canon from the Renaissance to the 19th century, the exhibition will bring together works by some of the most influential artists of all time, such as Dutch master, Rembrandt van Rijn, along with high quality works by lesser-known artists who strove to emulate their forebears.

The exhibition will examine the key genres of the Western Old Master category, beginning with the devotional and spiritual language of Renaissance art, circa 1500, through to the advent of landscape and still-life painting in the following years and its full flowering in the 17th and 18th centuries. Examples of works exploring representations of the human form, both formal portraiture and scenes of everyday life, from the 16th through to the 19th centuries, will also be featured.

Patti Wong, Sotheby’s Chairman for Asia, said, “Sotheby's is the first international auction house to open in Asia in 1973 and we have been credited to successfully develop the markets for Classical and Modern Chinese Art in the region. Another key area that we have focused and invested is growing the interests and demand for Western art within Asia, both through auctions and private sales. In the last five years (2013-17), we have seen the number of Asian bidders at Sotheby’s Old Master Paintings sales doubled and the spend increased ten folds compared to the prior five year period (2008-12), reflecting the growing appetite for more traditional Western art.”

Speaking of the exhibition, Andrew Fletcher, Head of Department, Old Master Paintings, said, “This exhibition presents a full range of works from the Old Master category and showcases works across a variety of price points, starting from as low as US$25,000, to well over US$1million. With the market for the most prominent Old Masters already well-established in Asia, we are keen to help develop collections at all levels, and hope that in shining a spotlight on the talents of lesser-known artists offered at attractive prices, we will be able to engage new and established collectors alike.”

Fletcher added, “Interestingly, there are subtle but innate parallels between Western Old Masters and art created in China during the same period, particularly in landscape painting and drawings. While wholly coincidental, the similarities are nonetheless intriguing.”

Courtesy Sotheby's

Carlo Dolci, Holy Family with the Trinity, circa 1630, oil on copper


Christianity became the predominant power shaping European culture between the 13th and 19th centuries, which is widely reflected in its visual tradition. Focussed largely on representations of the Virgin or Christ, these images which often took inspiration from biblical texts, were made to inspire and strengthen faith through public and private devotion in churches or domestic settings. 

An Italian Baroque painter, Carlo Dolci was one of the 17th century’s technical magicians. Created very early in the artist’s career, this exquisitely finished work which presents an unusual take on the traditional theme of the Sacra Conversazione, is offered in immaculate condition.





Courtesy Sotheby's

Jan van Goyen, Village Scene with a Dove House, 1653, black chalk and grey wash, within partial brown ink framing lines


Before the 16th century, landscapes were confined to the background of portraits or paintings dealing principally with religious, mythological or historical subjects. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries however, landscape painting became an increasingly popular genre in itself, driven by a demand for secular art. Within the broad genre of landscape, two principal types developed – one highly stylised and evocative of the landscapes of classical antiquity, the other more topographical and concerned with depicting specific locations.

German painter, architect and archaeologist, Rudolf Wiegmann's Rome, A View of the River Tiber Looking South with the Castel Sant’Angelo and Saint Peter’s Basilica Beyond (1834), is representative of the 18th century taste, across Europe, for Italian topographical landscape painting. The meticulous care with which Wiegmann rendered monuments is seen to particularly good effect in the this work, as seen in the forms of the Castel Sant’Angelo on the right, and the Basilica of St Peter in the middle distance beyond, its distinctive dome reflected in the River Tiber.

In the first half of the 17th century, artists from the Netherlands celebrated ordinary, down-to-earth corners of their native country, and people going about their daily business, in a way that had never been done before in the history of Western art. Van Goyen was the key painter at the very heart of this tradition, and his superbly skillful drawings and paintings of scenes such as this elevate their subjects to a level of nobility and grandeur that had previously only been thought suitable for historical and religious subjects.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Johannes Bosschaert, Still life of tulips and other flowers in a basket, with shells and fruit on a stone ledge, 1624, oil on panel


Still life painting as an independent genre first flourished in the Netherlands during the early 17th century. Prior to this, still lifes formed part of religious works or portraits, appearing not for their own sake but as attributes to holy figures or props to sitters of portraits. Although developed largely in response to the urbanisation of society and its increasing taste for paintings with a secular subject matter, still lifes continued to maintain their previous pictorial meaning. Bouquets of flowers, for example, not only served as illustrations of artistic prowess but also evoked a moral message, reminding viewers of the transience of earthly splendours. The often fantastical array of flowers depicted, with combinations from different countries at one moment of blooming, also alluded to Dutch knowledge of botany as well as their pre-eminence in the international trade of exotic plants.

An infant prodigy, Johannes was the second son of Ambrosius Bosschaert the Elder, justly regarded as the founder of Dutch still-life painting, and nephew to celebrated still-life artist Balthasar van der Ast. Signed and dated 1624, this beautifully preserved work constitutes the earliest known flower and fruit painting by the artist.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Victor-Louis Mottez, Nude combing her hair, 1887, oil on canvas


Figural representation has always been a central theme of visual art, and became especially prevalent starting in the 15th century when studying and depicting the human figure became a staple of an artist’s training. Being the most direct means by which art can address the human condition, artists have explored the theme in a boundless variety of formats.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Rembrandt van Rijn, Study of a Seated Mother, and Child in a high chair, 1640s, black chalk, within brown ink framing lines

Victor-Louis Mottez was a French painter, well known for his decorations of numerous Parisian churches and for the frescoes in the Pavillon de Marsan in the Louvre. He also painted many portraits and intimate scenes which illustrate his acute sensibility and skill as a colourist.

Rembrandt was one of the greatest draughtsmen that ever lived, with an unparalleled genius for conveying an immense amount of mood and feeling with only a very few, delicate strokes of the chalk or pen. In the middle of his career, he made a number of rapid sketches such as this work, exploring the relationship between mother and child. Generally, these were not made as studies for any paintings, but simply as moving observations of humanity. Rembrandt’s drawings have been highly prized ever since his own lifetime, and most of his surviving works on paper are in major museum collections in Europe and the USA.

Courtesy Sotheby's

Andrea Urbani, A trompe l’oeil with flowers, a drawing, scissors, a watch, and plates, a jug and a letter on a wooden shelf, circa 1750, oil on canvas


Trompe l’oeil is French for ‘deceive the eye’, an art historical tradition originating in ancient Greece in which the artist uses realistic imagery to create optical illusions and fool the viewer into thinking that the depicted objects before them exist in three dimensions. Works in this style became very popular in Flemish and Dutch paintings in the 17th century with artists reaching unprecedented levels of realism.

Urbani was a Venetian painter most commonly known for his vedute and palatial decorative schemes. The discovery of this present work – the only signed still life by the artist – may represent a keystone with which to reattribute other still life paintings by Urbani which have previously been given to other artists.

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