Archive for the 'M.S. Rau Blog' Category

Collecting the Brueghel Dynasty: Burgeoning Excitement Surrounds Pieter Brueghel the Younger

December 6th, 2016 | posted by Ludovic Rousset

A palpable excitement is building around Pieter Brueghel the Younger. Celebrated as a faithful copyist of his father’s most popular compositions and a remarkable painter is his own right, collectors are scrambling to acquire works by the rediscovered master.

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“The Payment of Tithe” by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Oil on panel, c. 1616

The Life of the Artist

Born in Brussels in 1564/5, Pieter Brueghel the Younger was the eldest son of the famous Netherlandish artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He is sometimes called Pieter Brueghel II or “Hell Brueghel,” a nickname attached to the artist because of the ghoulish, gruesome scenes once thought to have been painted by him (they have since been reattributed to his younger brother Jan Brueghel the Elder). Left fatherless at the age of 5 and orphaned by his teenage years, Pieter Brueghel the Younger most likely received early artistic training from his maternal grandmother, a talented watercolorist and painter of miniatures. In 1585/6, Pieter Brueghel the Younger was made a free master in the Guild of St. Luke in Antwerp, a promotion that allowed the artist to run his own workshop. It is from this workshop that Pieter Brueghel the Younger supplied both the local and export markets with paintings of popular genre scenes, most often completed in oil on panel.

The Payment of Tithe

The artistic career of Pieter Brueghel the Younger may easily be divided into two periods: until approximately 1614, the artist almost exclusively reproduced his father’s best works while from approximately 1615 onward, he painted his own original compositions. One such original composition is The Payment of Tithe (also known as The Country Lawyer). The subject must have been very popular because there are twenty-one signed and dated extant paintings of this composition, in addition to several more unsigned versions. Of these, there are two sizes: the large versions measure 74

One of 21 known signed copies, this particular piece is one of the largest and very best

One of 21 known signed copies, this particular piece is one of the largest and very best

x 125 cm while the smaller versions measure 55 x 89 cm. The Payment of Tithe depicts a crowded, cluttered interior as seen from the high, tilted perspective typical of both Pieter Brueghel the Younger and his father. In the scene, uncomfortable Flemish peasants cower as they bring forward meager gifts to the taxman (or lawyer) seated at the table. The “enthroned” authority, a caricature of King Charles V of Spain, shows visible disdain.

When comparing the c.1616 The Payment of Tithe illustrated here with others of the same composition, including those housed in world-renowned museums, it becomes clear that this particular version far surpasses every other. With its precise detail, large scale, and luminous colors, it is almost certain that this painting was a special commission from a very wealthy client—one who insisted on having the absolute best of the best. It comes as no surprise that Klaus Ertz, the world’s foremost Pieter Brueghel the Younger scholar, writes in the painting’s letter of authenticity, “It is one of the best versions of this subject matter by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, which he painted after 1616 in Antwerp.”

Burgeoning Excitement 

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Signed “P Breughel” (lower left)

Because Pieter Bruegel the Elder died at the age of 45, leaving behind only 45 known works, it is highly unlikely that one of his oil on panel paintings ever becomes available on the open market again. In fact, a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder was discovered approximately 10 years ago, and it was immediately whisked into the permanent collection of the Prado in Madrid. Therefore, art collectors are now acquiring the second generation of the “Brueghel dynasty,” Pieter Brueghel the Younger. In fact, no less than four works by the artist will be available at auction this very week, and auction powerhouse Christie’s has chosen to spotlight Pieter Brueghel the Younger ahead of their Old Masters Evening Sale.

Painted by the Old Master Pieter Brueghel the Younger, world-renowned for his mastery of oil paint, use of vibrant color, and satirical depictions of contemporary Netherlandish life, The Payment of Tithe would be an ideal addition to any fine art collection.

Intimate Impressions: The Art of Mary Cassatt

December 5th, 2016 | posted by Phillip Youngberg

Art…circumscribed her life and engrossed it, and to separate her life from her art would be impossible. Therefore, they must be considered together as the story of an American woman whose high ambitions overcame her limitations of precedent and sex and the era into which she was born, to drive her on to a place in the foremost ranks of creative art endeavor of her time.

Adelyn Breeskin

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This serenely beautiful pastel, “Clarissa, Turned Left, with her Hand to her Ear,” is the work of the renowned female Impressionist Mary Cassatt

Celebrated for her colorful, intimate portraits, often depicting the modern woman, Mary Cassatt is counted among the greatest Impressionist artists in history.

Born in 1844 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Mary Stevenson Cassatt spent time abroad with family in France and Germany during her formative childhood years. She received early artistic training at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; however, Cassatt found the courses to be restrictive and uninspiring. Even from a rather young age, she believed that the best way to learn to paint was not in a classroom but by studying the work of Old Masters. And so, in 1866 Cassatt departed home for France, returning to Europe to take private lessons from academic painter Jean-Léon Gerome and to examine the masterpieces at the Musée du Louvre. The artistic culture overseas must have utterly captivated the young artist because she only rarely returned to the United States during the rest of her life. Seemingly insatiable, Cassatt traveled extensively throughout Europe during her first years abroad, copying the work of Caravaggio, Velasquez, Rubens, and Frans Hals (just to name a few).

The intimate scene reveals the influence of the famed Edgar Degas on Cassatt's work

The intimate scene reveals the influence of the famed Edgar Degas on Cassatt’s work

In 1868, Cassatt exhibited her work at the Paris Salon—a huge honor! Despite this first major success, the artist’s family failed to support her. In fact, her own brother wrote of her accomplishment, “She [Mary] is in high spirits as her picture has been accepted for the annual exhibition in Paris…Mary’s art name is ‘Mary Stevenson’ under which name I suppose she expects to become famous, poor child.” Only four years later in 1876, Cassatt decided that she no longer wished to exhibit at the Paris Salon due to their limiting, “academic” rules.

In 1877, Cassatt was formally invited by Edgar Degas to join the Impressionist group. She delightedly accepted, later explaining, “At last I could work in complete independence, without bothering about the eventual judgement of a jury.” And so began Cassatt’s journey as the only American and one of only four female members of the elite group of artists. She would later exhibit work in four of the eight Impressionist exhibitions, in 1879, 1880, 1881, and 1886. During her time within the Impressionist circle, she grew particularly close to Degas, who served as her harshest critic, mentor, and friend. Known to be a rather caustic man, it has been suggested that Degas enjoyed Cassatt’s company because his mother was also American, a creole woman from New Orleans, LA.

Cassatt flourished artistically during the 1880s and 1890s, creating numerous paintings and pastels depicting thoughtful women in repose and the tender relationship shared by mother and child—two motifs for which she is best known. While her lively, harmonious color palate is typical of the great French Impressionist movement, her technique was ground-breaking. Whereas her contemporaries tended to fracture images with the use of quick, dot-like strokes, Cassatt preferred long, lose strokes which lend her artwork unsurpassed fluidity, confidence, and tranquility.

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Mary Cassatt’s initials (lower right)

Like her fellow Impressionist Claude Monet, Cassatt began to lose her eyesight after many years of producing artwork, and by 1910, she was forced to retire her paints and pastels almost entirely. She lived for 12 more years, dying in 1926 at her country home in northern France.

Today, the work of Mary Cassatt hangs in some of the most respected museums in the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Brooklyn Museum, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Art Institute of Chicago. Her legacy is that of a revolutionary artist and creator of beautiful images, particularly depicting female figures as attractive, although not idealized, strong individuals worthy of admiration and respect.

Aromatic Artistry: Perfume Bottles Through the Ages

December 1st, 2016 | posted by Danielle Halikias
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By the late 19th century, perfume and scent bottle popularity was at an all time high and designs consisted of complex artistry combined with some of the foremost designers in the world, like this ornate pliqué-à-jour enamel bottle, circa 1890

 

“A perfume is a work of art, and the object that contains it must be a masterpiece,”

Robert Ricci, with The House of Nina Ricci.

 

Perfume, the fragrant liquid eternally linked to the ideals of elegance and luxury, has a long and fascinating history. Today, the word perfume is used to describe lovely scented mixes. However, the origins of perfume take us back to something quite different from the modern fragrances we admire. Tied to expressions of religious devotion, health precautions, and cleanliness efforts – and pure pleasure – perfume’s earliest origins are a point of great intrigue.

 

 

 

As one of the earliest examples of perfume bottles in history, this Egyptian examples is a testament to the high regard of the fragrant substance

An early example of a perfume bottle from Ancient Egyptian culture that is a testament to the Egyptians high regard for liquid fragrances

 

Evidence of perfume making first appeared in the Ancient Egypt, when plant-based balms and essential oils were worn by both men and women for both religious and daily wear.  In recent times, archaeologists have uncovered elaborate Egyptian recipes for perfume-making that undeniably assert the importance of perfume in the Egyptian culture. In fact, Egyptians even had a god of perfume, Nefertum. Undoubtedly, these humble beginnings paved the way for other cultures experimentation in perfume craft. The sophisticated Greek and Roman empires heralded their fragrances as valuable works of art. In the 12th century, perfumery spread into Western Europe, particularly Paris, where production became an art form and the demand reached a feverish pace. However, the first of modern-type, alcohol-based perfume was proudly made for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary in 1370. Soon after that, the art of perfumery proliferated throughout the continent.

Yet, no other era in history saw the perfume industry flourish quite like the 19th century. A time of burgeoning fashion, socio-economic change and scientific advances, perfume was brought to the state as we know it. In fact, wearing perfume became as much as a part of a ladies’ beauty regime as hair and makeup. Of course, with these developments came an entirely new craft: perfume bottles. Because such an elegant substance practically demands all surrounding things luxurious, these small bottles witnessed immediate success.

In the late 19th century, designers like Thomas Webb crafted ornate, complex perfume bottles like this red cameo glass example.

In the late 19th century, designers like Thomas Webb crafted ornate, complex perfume bottles like this red cameo glass example.

As vessels for these lovely fragrances, perfume bottles are often considered a necessary and ideal accessory for perfume. Though they have existed since ancient times, when earlier Egyptians used containers of wood, glass, and clay, it wasn’t until the 19th century that perfume bottles became an art form of their own. In this time, an era that observed an unbounded fascination for finery, it was recognized that a bottle that encloses such an irresistible scent must be as striking and beautiful as the scent that is envelops.

In the early 1800s, early Europeans crafted a wide variety of one-of-a-kind bottles that featured materials such as gold, silver, shells, and even semi-precious stones. Within elite circles, these bottles experienced enormous popularity. In fact, some women even wore their most delicate bottles as jewelry and most proudly carried them in their evening pouches.

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Craze for one-of-a kind perfume bottles continued well into the 20th century with the help of renowned manufacturer, Rene Lalique.

By the late 1880s, perfume bottle craftsmanship flourished into unfathomable popularity. Building upon earlier motifs, styles of perfume bottles became much more sophisticated and intricate. This period saw the emergence of famous perfume manufacturers, such as Thomas Webb and Rene Lalique. Largely in part due to the extravagant floral Art Nouveau and Rococo styles and advances in glass making, craftsmanship was taken to an entirely new level. Now, perfume bottles began to represent distinct schools of design. Bottles wrapped in vibrantly colored cut glass, shrouded in silver overlay, porcelain, and even crystal mediums in complex designs like ornate plique-à-jour patterns, delicate enameling, and opaline glass demanded talented artistry and brought considerable attention. The perfume market consequently clamored for these intimate objets d’art, coveting the rich foliate and colorful designs which until then had only existed in the dreams of perfume connoisseurs. The 20th century ushered in a designer’s craze for perfume and the emergence of classic perfume staples that we know today.

Perfume bottles have long been prized for their functionality and as beautiful objets d’art. Today, these tiny treasures possess an incomparable charm regarded by both collectors and admirers. Viewed as a staple commodity in today’s culture, perfume’s long history epitomizes the importance its held for thousands of years. Without question, there are few things that evoke such a pleasant feeling quite like a fragrant perfume

The Sweetest Melody: Singing-bird Tabatières

November 19th, 2016 | posted by Lyndon Lasiter

Equal parts stunning objet d’art and mechanical marvel, few antiques evoke more delight than a singing-bird tabatière. Holding the beautiful box in the palm of your hand, all is calm. Until, that is, a vibrant feathered bird emerges singing, twirling, and flapping his tiny wings! At the conclusion of his song, the minute bird slips back into the box and the lid automatically closes behind it, leaving his audience enchanted.

This type of compact music box is a mechanical singing-bird tabatière, a word which means “snuffbox” in French. The term tabatière, however, has come to encompass any small decorative box that resembles a snuffbox in form, although it may not necessarily contain snuff or tobacco. Generally, singing-bird tabatières are rectangular in shape (although oval variations do appear in fewer numbers). These cases showcase a range of decorative techniques ranging from intricately etched and encrusted in precious stones to sleek, polished tortoiseshell and enamel. Each singing-bird tabatière has a hinged oblong lid that conceals the tiny bird within and is often adorned with idyllic landscapes or portraits. On the front of the case, there is a small slider; when it is activated, the oval lid opens and the star of the show, a brightly feathered bird, springs to life! The bird energetically turns to the right and left, flaps it wings, lifts its tail, opens its beak, and most importantly, produces a crisp, clear, and lovely birdsong.

The bird itself is comprised of a brass frame and the finest feathers, traditionally from South American hummingbirds. Because each bird is crafted by hand with authentic feathers, each tabatière is unique.

The origins of the singing-bird tabatière can be traced back to the second half of the 18th century and the Swiss city of Geneva. Although the exact date of completion is unknown, Pierre Jaquet-Droz, with the help of Jean Frederic Leschot, developed the first successful singing-bird tabatière around this time. The two gentleman had previously produced singing-bird cages, a similar concept yet much larger and in which the bird’s tune is created using a miniature pipe organ, each note being produced by a separate pipe. Not easily satisfied, the duo esteemed to create a compact, mechanical marvel in which the bird was further miniaturized and a single pipe of variable pitch could produce an endless stream of song. By 1785, singing-bird tabatières, complete with minuscule bellows and fusee movements, were known throughout England, France, and Germany. Originally intended as entertainment for royalty and the exceptionally wealthy, these automatons continue to delight collectors today.

 

 

Never Arrive Empty Handed: Hostess Gifts Around the World

November 18th, 2016 | posted by James Gillis

 

The custom of gift-giving goes back thousands of years, pre-dating human civilization. Whether a symbol of appreciation, love or admiration, gift giving is a time-honored tradition cherished by every culture around the world.

In Chinese customs, tea is the ideal gift to bring your host or hostess

In Chinese customs, tea is the ideal gift to bring your host or hostess

Since the earliest times, the bestowing of gifts has been symbolized as a token of love and appreciation. For primitive man, gifts from tribe and clan leaders symbolized status. Later, Native Americans celebrated the presence of others with a potluck. By the Middle Ages, gifts were used to secure the personal favor of a king or show allegiance in times of war.  In other instances, heads of state and other important dignitaries gave gifts as a sign of good will and peace. Gifts are also given to express love. When cunning Count Gregory Orlov of Russia gave Catherine the Great a 198-carat diamond to win her back, the bar established was certainly set high for all others.

Undeniably, no other type of gift more perfectly displays admiration and appreciation than that of a gift given to a host or hostess.

With the Holiday season close at hand, selecting the ideal gift for your host and hostess can be daunting. As a lovely way to thank someone for their hospitality, the ideal gift for your host or hostess is one that is both personal and meaningful. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive, but rather a reflection of the nature of the occasion and local custom.

Over the years, gift giving traditions have evolved to reflect changes in social norms. In some countries, a hostess gift is considered obligatory, while in others, the gesture is reserved for the most special occasions.

Let’s navigate the different customs of hostess gifts below:

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A blue & white porcelain crane teacup that epitomizes the importance of tea in Chinese customs

China

In China, a home or party guest typically gives their host any item related to tea. In this culture, tea holds an ultimate social and spiritual importance. In fact, it is so vital that there is never a day when a cup of tea is not consumed! Symbolizing spirit and wisdom, tea represents the depth and weight of a friendship between two people, making it the perfect token of appreciation to bring to your host. Note: a guest in this culture should never gift a clock, as the word for clock in Mandarin has the same phonetic sounds as “terminating” or “attending a funeral” and those of Cantonese heritage view the passage of time as a representation of inevitable death.

A silver gilt wine trolley that can convenientely rolls across the dining table, ensuring that each guest receives a glass

A silver gilt wine trolley that can convenientely rolls across the dining table, ensuring that each guest receives a glass

 

France

Synonymous with the finest wine producing regions in the world, it is no surprise that any guest in France typically brings their host a wine-related gift. Indeed, France is practically the pole bearer for the world wine industry. Undoubtedly the tastiest, many of wines from this country are not surprisingly benchmark styles in the wine industry. It is most fitting, then, that any guest bring their host a bottle for the entire company to enjoy, or even any wine-related accessory to fit this custom.

Italy

In Italy, there is no other perfect host or hostess gift than that of flowers. Simple, fresh, and delicate, gifting flowers is thoroughly characteristic of true Italian culture. However, like in every culture, some things are simply not done. If you’re ever invited to dinner by a native Italian family, there are certain stipulations when choosing the perfect flowers for your host: avoid chrysanthemums and any stems in red or yellow variations. Ever further, never gift your host or hostess with an even number of flowers. Why? Because these aspects are associated with death and mourning. To play it safe, no matter the occasion, roses are among the most frequently brought flowers.

Crafted of of cloisonné enamel, this delicate cigarette case would make for the perfect hostess gift.

Crafted of of cloisonné enamel, this delicate cigarette case would make for the perfect hostess gift.

Russia

Considered a country with some of the most sound and long-lasting customs, Russian gift-giving traditions may be described as utterly magnificent. In Russia, one always picks a gift for the hostess, who is typically the female head of the household. When selecting a gift for your host, Russians favor smaller items with care and consideration towards the receiver’s personality and preferences. Favorite items typically include any small, delicate items or gifts associated with sweets, desserts, or perfumes.

 

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