Unlike the Master Drawings dealers’ shows discussed in last week’s Country Life which include 20th-century and contemporary examples, together with older works-with admirable confidence and despite its generalised title, the concern of Master Paintings Week is traditional Old Masters and 19th-century artists. In an important foreword to the catalogue, Nicholas Penny, director of the National Gallery, notes that, after a lamentable fall from fashion during the 20th century, things have changed:
‘Although the identities of many of the British collectors who have begun to collect on a large scale are not generally known outside the small area of London shown on the map in this booklet, it is clear that London now has its own collectors of Old Masters just as New York has.’ This is a most important cultural development, not only in market terms. Private collecting is vital for the future of public galleries and the soul of the nation, and its significance should be impressed upon the Treasury and governments of whatever persuasion.
The Week, which concludes on Friday, brings together 25 leading galleries and three auction houses for the second year, and the strength of the exhibitions and sales gives the lie to the pessimistic mantra of the old-time dealer-‘You just can’t find the stock any more’. The auctions at Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams this week match those of last December for great names and works, and some of the winter’s stars, including the glorious late Van Dyck self-portrait (Country Life, January 6) now with Philip Mould, are to be seen again with the dealers.
Another splendid 17th-century portrait is Lely’s 51¾in by 61¼in Aubrey, 20th Earl of Oxford and his Countess with William Thuillier. The sitter was the last of the de Vere earls-the title was created by the Empress Matilda-and the painting descended with his heirs, the Dukes of St Albans.
As several of the dealers have also been participating in one or more of the June fairs, one cannot be certain that paintings featured in the catalogue will still be available-Moretti’s gold-ground Crucifixion triptych by the Florentine Jacopo di Cione (documented 1365-98) being one that has already sold. A little charmer still on offer with John Mitchell at the time of writing is the 7¼in by 10 in Le Voleur adroit ou la Cage dérobée by Nöel Hallé (1711-81). However, this, like the Lely, will have been shown at the Masterpiece fair in June.
Naturally, many of the galleries are showing the best of their general stock, but a number have put together themed or celebratory exhibitions. Colnaghi’s show marks 250 years of art dealing, making it the oldest art dealer in London, and one of the younger, the Weiss Gallery, celebrates a very distinguished quarter century. Robilant + Voena, in collaboration with Stair Santy, offers ‘A History of Taste-Highlights of Italian and French Painting’, and Thuillier has ‘Classical Vistas and Noble Sitters’, combining 17th- and 18th-century landscapes and portraits.
At Whitfield, ‘Caravaggio’s Friends and Foes’, including both loans and works for sale, continues to July 23, and Rafael Valls, who has a number of items from stock, is also showing an exhibition of still-life and trompe l’oeil paintings (to July 30). Other themed shows include religious works at Deborah Gage, and the best of Dutch painting can be found at Richard Green and Johnny Van Haeften (www.masterpaintingsweek.co.uk).
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